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Women in Trouble (review)

Trouble Is Right

I’m guessing that Women in Trouble is intended as an honest, authentic depiction of real women with real problems, because writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez talked to The Los Angeles Times last week about where the movie sprang from, and he said this:

It’s nothing new that women don’t get to do much in Hollywood. They usually get stuck playing the girlfriend, so they can be the good girlfriend or the bad girlfriend and that’s the extent of it. And I don’t know any women like that, the women that I know are smart and sexy, confident and confused, just full of contradictions — which is why they are interesting and mysterious.

Apparently, in Gutierrez’s mind, expanding the range of humanity available to women on film means they can be porn stars or prostitutes, they can be neurotic and indecisive, they’re all almost certainly suvivors of physical and emotional abuse, and they can be so catastrophically dumb that they are unable to prevent themselves being hit by cars multiple times in a single day or can say things such as, “I loved him so much I didn’t even realize I had a meth problem.”

If this is what Gutierrez thinks women are all about, no wonder he finds them “mysterious”: he’s taking lessons from Jack Nicholson’s misogynist author in As Good as It Gets, who said he creates his female characters this way: “I think about a man, and I remove reason and accountability.” Without my own sense of reason and accountability, I might find it mysterious, too, how a person could not reason she has a meth problem. Or could be unable to remove herself from the path of moving vehicles.

It could explain, too, why Trouble is more like a male fantasy about who women are and how we relate to one another than anything based in actual reality. I can’t pretend to speak for all women, but I, at least, have never had anything like the experience of porn star Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino: Race to Witch Mountain, Watchmen) and Doris (Connie Britton: Friday Night Lights), strangers to each other, who find themselves trapped in a stuck elevator, and so proceed to strip down to their skimpy, sexy, lacy lingerie and get down to some girl talk about anal sex and sucking cock.

Then again, I am not a porn star. I also generally save my sexy lingerie for those times when I hope someone else is going to see it, because that shit is too expensive and too uncomfortable to be wearing every day. Maybe porn stars feel differently about this, but that’s the kind of stuff that would distinguish actual knowledge about real women from pretense about such.

On the third hand, I am probably to whom Gutierrez is referring in the Times when he said:

It’s very hard to do sexy and funny at the same time without choosing if it’s funny and sexy to men or women. But I don’t like the negative connotation of either, the piggish guy who would only go see a movie because there’s a woman in lingerie in it or the clichéd perception of a cartoon feminist who scoffs at that because it’s demeaning to women. The movie is neither of those things.

It’s sort of frightening that he appears to believe that anyone will find this sexy and funny — sexy, maybe: the whole stripping down and talking about sex stuff is clearly intended to appeal to men (and lesbians, in part, I guess: there’s lots of stuff about lesbians here, though I don’t imagine many of them are interested in eating cock). But funny? That elevator scene gets so preposterous, especially in Doris’s story about the addict boyfriend and how she got rid of him, that I found myself thinking that if only they had played it for laughs, it might have worked. Because played so seriously as it is, it invites only derision.

There’s also the bit in which Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki) — who is both a prostitute and a porn star! — tells the tragic tale of why she can’t eat pussy. It’s so absurdly melodramatic — and not in a good way — that it’s laughable. In the laughing-at sense, not the laughing-with one.

I only found out later that they were playing it all for laughs. Weird.

But Women in Trouble is demeaning to women not because some of them happen to appear in the film in their skivvies but because, you know, the whole thing is demeaning to women. If Gutierrez believes that stories about women’s lives can be about more than being the “good girlfriend” or the “bad girlfriend,” then why is every women in the movie — with the exception of 13-year-old Charlotte, played by the director’s daughter, Isabella Gutierrez — either a good girlfriend (or wife) or a bad one? Because there’s also therapist Maxine (Sarah Clarke: Twilight, Happy Endings), the extent of whose story is about her reacting to her husband’s (Simon Baker: The Devil Wears Prada, George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead) infidelity. And flight attendant Cora (Marley Shelton: W., Planet Terror), who barely gives a moment’s thought to the unfaithfulness she is engaging in herself regarding her financé when she boffs a rock star (Josh Brolin: W., Milk) — and Elektra’s boyfriend — in an airplane toilet. The only female whose tale does not revolve around pleasing men, or worrying about pleasing men, or talking about pleasing men is Charlotte’s… the implication appearing to be that as soon as men come into a woman’s life, that’s all it’s about from then on.

Oh, and this really, really cheesed me off. In one scene, Holly — she’s the really stupid one who keeps getting hit by cars — asks a bartender for a pina colada. The bartender returns with a beer, and tells her to have that instead. And she accepts it. She lets herself be treated like that without even a shrug. I can’t imagine what Gutierrez is attempting to say with that, but it cannot be anything good.

And you know, it’s not that real women don’t have problems like those discussed in the movie. And it’s not that porn stars and prostitutes aren’t real women, too, or that real women don’t worry about the men in their lives and whether their relationships are working, or not. It’s that every single woman in this movie is fucked up in a way that is pornographically perverse, and that we learn nothing else about them beyond how spectacularly screwed up they are. It’s that this movie reduces women entirely to the sexual, as if women cannot have trouble that isn’t sexual, and aren’t even really equipped to cope with it when they do.

I feel sorta sorry for the women whom Gutierrez knows, if this is all he knows about them.

MPAA: rated R for sexual content including strong dialogue, and for language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Karen

    Wow! Just saw this movie. Hilarious.
    Couldn’t disagree more with your views, Maryann. Then again, I saw it with an audience and they were laughing so hard you couldn’t hear the next line. You saw it with critics?
    I thought the cast was sensational, in particular Adrianne Palicki, who was AMAZING in that scene you disliked.

  • zoots

    exactly why i am going to avoid this flick. thanks for saying what a lot of women must be thinking looking at this trailer. male fantasy of a movie that women would like. think again.

  • Lee

    “I only found out later that they were playing it all for laughs. Weird.”

    Every mention of this movie from the festivals like SXSW has made clear this is a comedy, no?

    “I’m guessing that Women in Trouble is intended as an honest, authentic depiction of real women with real problems”

    Why? See above comedy comment. This looks by all accounts like an over-the-top raunchy comedy starring women, some of whom work in seamy jobs.

    I sense a misunderstanding of tone in this review…

  • Accounting Ninja

    I only wish this shit wasn’t true like, 90% of the time. It’s sad. When I protest these types of movies in a group of males (and sometimes females!), they tell me that they are too real women! They’ll usually smirk amongst themselves that most chicks are so fucked up. And it’s kind of hot. If I say that my experiences, or those of women I know, don’t even come close to resembling this shite, I’ll get the old “well, you guys must be Different Women”. We don’t count, I guess.

    I’m proud to be a “humorless feminist”.

    Karen, you sound like a PR troll. They were laughing nonstop? Come on.

  • Karen

    Not only were they laughing, Accounting Ninja, they were hysterically laughing. Especially during the Holly monologue and during the interview with Joseph Gordn Levitt. How was the audience in your theater?

    Also that bra and undies Gugino wears costs $15 at American Apparel. I know because I own the same set. So Maryann’s comment:
    “I also generally save my sexy lingerie for those times when I hope someone else is going to see it, because that shit is too expensive and too uncomfortable to be wearing every day. Maybe porn stars feel differently about this, but that’s the kind of stuff that would distinguish actual knowledge about real women from pretense about such.” is a little forced.
    Just a little. You don’t have to appreciate the lingerie, but at least say it like it is. It seemed to these eyes that the lingerie worn in the porn movie was fancy and the one the porn actress wore in “real life” was less ornate and more every day cotton.
    Whereas the “square” businesswoman (Connie Britton) did seem to have very nice underthings that made it seem as if she was on her way to a date. Maybe she was, I don’t know.

  • JoshDM

    Tellin’ ya.

    Probably NSFW; I haven’t actually clicked:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duLEq6KJMyY

  • MaryAnn

    Especially during the Holly monologue and during the interview with Joseph Gordn Levitt.

    The bit with Levitt was a moment in which I was more embarrassed for an actor than almost ever before. It was so appallingly written, and Levitt clearly had no idea how to make it work. (Not that I think anyone could have made it work.)

    Every mention of this movie from the festivals like SXSW has made clear this is a comedy, no?

    I try not to read too much about a movie before I see it. That’s easier in some cases than in others. I hardly ever read coverage from festivals.

  • Lucy Gillam

    I had not even heard of this movie until I saw it advertised on IMDB, and the reader summary just summed up nearly everything that frustrates me about gender in entertainment today:

    A serpentine day in the life of ten seemingly disparate women: a porn star, a flight attendant, a psychiatrist, a masseuse, a bartender, a pair of call girls, etc.

    A porn star, two prostitutes, a flight attendant (and hey, maybe she’s depicted as a professional in a service field, but really?)…I’ll even give the benefit of the doubt to the masseuse and assume she’s a massage therapist, but again, really? You can’t make a movie about “disparate women” without making at least a few of them sex workers?

    I give up.

  • MaryAnn

    and hey, maybe she’s depicted as a professional in a service field

    The only servicing she does is of Josh Brolin.

  • tomservo

    Has there been any debate about why there are better roles for women on TV than in movies?

  • MaryAnn

    Because TV is considered less prestigious than film?

  • Jen

    Thanks for the review. You hit on so many good points as it pertains to this movie and perceptions about women in general.
    None of these women are “real” to me, I don’t know anyone like these women. The strong women I know don’t have time for this crap. They are too busy working in and out of their homes, contributing to their communities and educating themselves. When we talk to each other, we have far more better topics to discuss and we can keep our clothes on while doing it.
    The reality is strong women who don’t need to kick ass, wrap themselves around a stripper pole or over-analyze their existence as it relates to relationships, don’t resonate with the film industry. There are incredible (and funny) women all over this world who could make for an interesting script but you won’t hear about their stories any time soon. We like to spend time with the screwed up, sexually pleasing types on the screen.

  • CB

    I dunno, pretty much all women wear sexy lingerie and talk about blowjobs in my mind… And having only 30% of them be sex workers is certainly disparate, since in reality (of my mind) it’s more like 70%.

    It’s good to see another movie portraying the realistic struggles of real women like that other classic movie of female empowerment, Showgirls.

    Now if I may snark from the other direction: If this is the best Hollywood can do to ‘give women something to do’, then the title is all too true. Women are in Trouble.