An Education (review)

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A-Plus

Someone once said that perfect movies are boring and only flawed movies intriguing, and I would generally agree with that: there is a charm in roughness, and a power in pushing envelopes too far in the wrong direction, and a fascination in a filmmaker’s reach exceeding his grasp.

And then along comes a movie like An Education, about which the number of things that are absolutely perfect is impossible to measure… and it’s thrilling and captivating anyway.

It’s exhilarating to see a movie so polished a piece of craftsmanship as this one, and yet not so glossy and shiny that you have to avert your eyes lest the glare blind you. It’s exhilarating to see a movie so elegant that it becomes a welcome throwback to Hollywood’s golden era of the late 1930s and early 1940s as well as an ironic just-right reflection of its young heroine’s aspirations and desires, right down to how unrealistic and inspired by impossible fantasy they are. It’s exhilarating to see a movie so confident in itself that it allows its protagonist to be deeply flawed and terribly worthy of the one-liner smackdown she gets toward the end of the film, and allows its “villain” to be so charming and likeable that I, at least, completely understand my own irresistible temptation to put softening quotation marks around villain even though he doesn’t deserve them.

It’s almost an unneeded bonus that An Education is that rarity: a movie about a female character that treats her like a person, and not like a prize or a foil or a motivating factor for the flawed hero to make himself a better man so as to be worthy of her. The cinematic pedestal that The Movies so often put women on — as faultless and complete, as unrequiring of growth… as, in other words, less than human — is nowhere in sight here. And that may be the most exhilarating thing about this wonderful, wonderful film.

It’s 1961 when 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan [Pride & Prejudice], so perfect you’ll want to weep) meets 30-something David (Peter Sarsgaard [Orphan, Rendition], perfectly nailing the accent). She is smart and bored in suburban London, which is weighted down by lingering postwar deprivation: this is a drab place, pre-swinging and pre-Beatles, and she longs for Paris and the sophistication of art and glamour and fashion and anything that will make her feel alive. David drives a sporty roadster and takes her to concerts and supper clubs in the West End; he has posh, enchanting friends (Dominic Cooper [The Duchess, Mamma Mia!], perfectly unexpectedly profound, and Rosamund Pike [Doom, The Libertine], perfectly petty); he is handsome and suave. He is everything a teenaged girl could possibly want in a first boyfriend.

He is not everything he seems, of course.

Based on the memoir by Lynn Barber — she is something of a celebrity journalist in England, if unknown in the U.S. — and directed by another woman, Lone Scherfig, there is an undeniable ring of truth to An Education that will resonate, I think, with many women, whether or not you experienced the kind of wakeup call that Jenny does as a result of her relationship with David. Because we all do experience something similar, and in many ways it’s not the same coming-of-age that boys have (the varied stripes of which have been well documented in film). Maybe it’s not happening to today’s 16-year-olds, but even for me, 25 years younger than Barber and Jenny (and ten years younger than Scherfig), there was, at every turn, the reminder that expectations would be somewhat different for you had you been born a boy. And that’s woven through Jenny’s experiences here, too, in the whiplash speed with which her parents (Alfred Molina [Nothing Like the Holidays, Silk] and Cara Seymour [Hotel Rwanda, Birth], both perfectly lovely as people with small minds but big hearts) shift gears to welcome David — and the prospect of marrying off their only child to a charming, apparently well-off man — and away from the goal of getting Jenny into Oxford: after all, university was only going to be good for snagging her a husband anyway, right?

Nick Hornby’s (Fever Pitch, About a Boy) screenplay — see? men can understand girls and women perfectly well, as long as they accept that girls and women are people too, just like boys and men — is rife with pitch-perfect examples of adolescent life that are particular to women but also those that are recognizable to men, in the figuring out who you are and what you want out of life, in the taking your lumps when you choose poorly. And there’s the looming sense that Jenny’s awakening is the same one that’s about to rock the entire Western world, with the invention of sex as something people actually talk about, and the arrival of music that is actually dangerous, and the breaking free of the past in favor of a future that — at least at the time — looked to be radically different than the past.

It all couldn’t be a more perfect depiction of a world that was not perfect, and was, perhaps, on the verge of becoming even less so. But no one knew that then, and Jenny’s yearning becomes our yearning, even still today, that the future will be all the better for us having taken a hard knock now. That might be a foolish notion, but it’s a perfectly hopeful one, and one that An Education knows is worth hanging on to.

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Amy S.
Fri, Oct 09, 2009 10:19pm

Wonderful review. I just didn’t get the same feeling from the film. I guess I don’t like the whole “coming of age” with a 16-year-old and a 30-year-old guy. I liked Mulligan’s performance just not the relationship.

RogerBW
RogerBW
Sat, Oct 10, 2009 5:04am

You mean Nick Hornby can actually write characters who aren’t idiotic boy-men, sex-toys or castrating bitches? I’d assumed his books were a product of incompetence; clearly it’s malice.

Go
Go
Sat, Oct 10, 2009 9:56am

This movie is boring.. not good

Kevin
Kevin
Sat, Oct 10, 2009 5:00pm

Sounds like softcore porn turned into so-called art. You should go see Panoramic Activity instead of this filth.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Sat, Oct 10, 2009 7:13pm

Please, Kevin, explain what about this film constitutes “softcore porn” or “filth.”

Amy S.
Sat, Oct 10, 2009 11:03pm

Oh it’s definitely an art film and softcore porn– what? Comments like that from someone who has not seen the film are just ridiculous. My “mini-review”: http://entertainmentrealm.com/2009/10/10/an-education-mini-review/

Left_Wing_Fox
Left_Wing_Fox
Sun, Oct 11, 2009 8:59am

“Panoramic” Activity? :D

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Sun, Oct 11, 2009 12:47pm

lol Panoramic Activity! Is he a PR troll for Paranormal Activity (which I wouldn’t put past them, given the aggressive marketing of it)? If so, he even fails at that.
@Amy S. : Maybe there’s a skeeve factor, I don’t know. BUT, how many times have I seen a teenage or college boy with an older woman??
I want to see this. I had a similar experience in that I was 18, and my older man, who had actually lied about his age and was even older than I thought (said he was 27, turned out to be over 30), was also not what he seemed and taught me a lot about not being so naive about life. He wasn’t a villain either, just terribly confused like I was. ;)

Tonio Kruger
Sun, Oct 11, 2009 1:29pm

“Panoramic” Activity? :D

Heh. Damn English language. Always trying to confuse people and would-be spambots with all these big words!

bronxbee
Mon, Oct 12, 2009 2:03pm

the supposed “skeeve” factor is a product of our times, not the times the movie was set in… i also had “experience” with a much older man when i was young — i don’t think it did me any harm and may have even done me a lot of good. it certainly taught me a lot of things … good and bad. and isn’t that what we all want out of life?

Der Bruno Stroszek
Der Bruno Stroszek
Wed, Oct 14, 2009 4:51am

Listen to Kevin, Kevin knows that the only legitimate and entertaining way to explore female sexuality is in porn. Sitting through a movie that pretends to be a ‘real’ movie but is about women having sex (therefore: porn) would likely cause him to be confused, bored, frightened and aroused at inopportune times (not necessarily in that order), and make him wish he was watching something profound and non-pornographic like Superbad.

james herod
james herod
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 7:27am

An Education – Yet another story about a horrible man who abuses a woman — in this case, a married man who seduces a sixteen-year-old teenage girl, proposing marriage and getting engaged in order to do so. He has done this repeatedly. Statistically speaking, how frequent a crime is this in real life? Is this a major aspect of women’s oppression that needs to be exposed? Or does it just make for a good story for sale to “feminist” audiences who enjoy seeing men denigrated and portrayed as monsters? And what’s with the banana? He wants to use it to end her virginity, to get over the messy part. Has this ever even happened? It is certainly a good scene to demean a man though isn’t it. What a total jerk the guy is? With all those multiple seductions, you’d think he would at least have developed some skill as a lover. He is skilled at everything else. Apparently not, however, because she wonders why so much poetry has been written about something that lasts no time at all. I’m surprised the screen writers didn’t have her joke about the size of his dick. A lot of women do nowadays in a lot of movies, a practice that has not been opposed by feminists to my knowledge, although they sound off loud and clear whenever derogatory remarks are made about a woman’s anatomy. There are three other men in the movie – the father, the teenage friend from her orchestra, and the friend of her suitor. The father is overbearing, and after pushing for years to get her into Oxford, suddenly reverses himself when he sees a chance to marry her off to a rich man, and ends up awkwardly apologizing for having made a mess of things. The teenage friend is clumsy and lacks self-confidence. He stutters and stumbles. He tries to pull a piece of cake out of the middle of the stack and of course it breaks apart. The suitor’s friend is a crook and can be imperious, plus he didn’t expose the con. In other words, all the men are jerks. There is some balance, in that the girl friend of the crook is a frivolous ignoramus, and the mother is passive and silent most of the time, even in scenes where one would expect conversation between mother and daughter. The headmistress and the teacher are normally portrayed. So this is mostly the story of the young girl. And indeed, it is a captivating film. She is an interesting person. It is understandable that reviewers would focus on her, the main character. But was it really necessary to dump on all the men? Who writes these things? And why? Where did this cultural pattern come from? Does this have anything to do with genuine feminism and the struggle for gender equality? Why has “Hollywood” invested so heavily in faux feminism, going on forty years now? Who gains? As for going to Oxford, schooling is greatly over rated, is a key mechanism for defending the established order, and thus should not be held up for anyone to aspire to. Those were her best lines, when she was debunking the value of a degree. But they brought her back on track, didn’t they?

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 9:51am

You know, I was gonna bite. But, naaaah.

All I can picture is James clutching his hair dramatically and screaming “Dear god! Won’t SOMEBODY think of the poor MEN?!”

And that makes me giggle.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 10:39am

James Herod appears to be under the impression that because there are (and were!) jerks in the world, feminism is “faux.” Weird.

Grinebiter
Grinebiter
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 10:39am

Yo, James, I see you’ve decided to call the thing you dislike “faux” feminism. Good choice.

I shan’t cover all your bases, just a few. Haven’t seen the film and don’t particularly want to.

I have no idea how many women have been deflowered with a banana, but it’s a seriously bad idea on medical grounds.

If we regard the penis and the breasts as equivalents, in that their owners don’t like them belittled, then I think there is greater equality of denigration than you suggest. For every woman who mocks a man for having a small dick, you get a man who mocks a woman for not having porn-star boobs.

On the other hand, I would agree with you that in many milieus nowadays, women get to make cruel jokes about men and their anatomy in mixed company, and not contrariwise. Q. “What do you call a malignant lump attached to the base of the penis?” A. “A man”. OK, I can laugh at that around the water-cooler, provided that I get the right to tell a humdinger of a misogynist joke back to even the score, but if not, then not. I am seriously unimpressed with the argument that I must listen quietly because my remote ancestors burned a bunch of witches (actually, they would have hanged them, shows how much history these people know). A friend of mine hates all gender jokes equally, which is also fair enough. Either way, it’s symmetrical.

In the same way, in some milieus women can joke in mixed company about Bobbiting any man who disagrees with or inconveniences them, but can you imagine what would happen if he reciprocated? The thing is, genital mutilation is extremely unfunny in either sex, period. But in some milieus women get to talk as if a man’s not wanting to be forcibly deprived of his penis, which after all even monks need to pee with, is ludicrous and unsympathetic, even somehow proof of his essential wickedness; whereas there is, in no milieu of which I am aware, any equivalent discourse. Haw haw haw, stupid Jane Doe is afraid of having her clitoris scraped off, haw haw haw, let’s scrape them all off.

But Hollywood didn’t invent this double standard of progressive right-thinking society, James, it merely reflects it. I’m sure the women I’ve met who talked like this didn’t learn it from movies. They learned it from one another, then continued their women’s-group jokes (female bonding, snigger snark) in mixed-sex environments, while at the same time invoking authorities and lawyers against demeaning speech against themselves, real or imagined. Now this is one or both of two things: it is a failure of civility (maybe the Victorians were onto something) and a failure of socialisation (the Categorical Imperative). Perhaps a third thing, too: cowardice, in that they ought to be talking like this to unreconstructed rednecks, but for reasons of bodily integrity they don’t dare, so they take it out instead on the very men who are attempting to be civilised, thus undermining their own objectives, because these are the only males they can make sit still for it. And so men of original goodwill become thoroughly pissed-off. Is that what happened to you?

As an Oxford graduate, I’d be up for a discussion of how its degree might be overrated. But then again, perhaps those of other universities are even worse? I have some stories to tell.

Grinebiter
Grinebiter
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 10:49am

James Herod appears to be under the impression that because there are (and were!) jerks in the world, feminism is “faux.” Weird.

No, MaryAnn, he’s been looking for a term of art to describe a certain way of thinking that calls itself feminism but is actually something else, a way of thinking I have the impression that the Ninja despises as well. This suggests it might be a legitimate enterprise. I myself prefer the term “female chauvinism”.

Whether James over-eggs the pudding is another question, but applying an adjective to a noun does not mean that all members of the noun class are qualified by the adjective. Au contraire, that’s why you apply the adjective in the first place, to restrict the class. Next time you call someone a “incompetent film critic”, shall we then complain that you are calling all film critics incompetent?

Gee
Gee
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 10:51am

For those uncomfortable with the age difference, the age of consent in the UK is 16 years old, and at the time this film was set, people left school at 15 years old and got jobs, unless they were headed for higher education – a small minority. They were adults.

My teenage years were a little later than 1961 but certainly it wasn’t unusual for 16 year old girls to be involved with 30 year old men. A girl in the year above me left school at 16 and married our history teacher shortly thereafter! The rest of us were more amused at her choice – seriously, him?! – than shocked at the age difference.

MaSch
MaSch
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 10:51am

Well, grinebiter, you must admit that in a society ruled by patriarchal structures, jokes against the oppressed group of women are far more harmful than jokes against the oppressing class/sex/gender, men? It’s only if you ignore the power structures which actively support the denigration, belittlement and othering of the female sex (also known as the “other sex”, the “fair sex” or the “unfair sex” hee hee -not!) that you may be able to see jokes about cutting off a male penis and jokes about horribly mutilating female genitalia as remotely equivalent.

James, if you don’t want to watch “man hurts woman” movies, no one forces you to. If you think there are too many of them, consider how many “woman is helpless without big strong patriarchal man” movies women had to cope with since the invention of cinema. If you would direct your anger at “older woman seduces young boy, and it’s a goooood thing” movies, it would be more appropriate, but you would still have to take into account a) the power structures I mentioned, and b) that those movies were made by men who fantasized about getting seduced by older women when they were young and were given the chance to put this onanistic fantasy on screen.

Really, this *is* feminism 101, if not common sense 101.

Do I get cookie?

Grinebiter
Grinebiter
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 11:36am

@MaSch: Thank you for actually illustrating my point with your contrast between ” cutting off a male penis” and “horribly mutilating female genitalia”. We now understand that the former is not horrible at all.

in a milieu where men and women have the same kind of education, jobs, finances and political power (obviously I’m not talking about southern-fried or other Pashtuns here) — and by the way, I call “strawman!” upon you for your “fair sex” stuff, no one talks like that in such milieus — I have difficulty seeing how the female members are still so desperately oppressed by the male as to justify exemption from normal civility. What you appear to be saying is that because A happened to B at time C, X may say whatever she damn well pleases to Y at time Z.

You may think in terms of the abstractions like patriarchy and oppression groups, I just reflect on how strangely and wonderful convenient this must be for Y as an individual, and how little incentive she will ever have to discover that equality may one day have arrived, for such a day would mean that she has to act “as if the maxim of her action were by her will to become a universal law”. Clearly no such day will ever be deemed to have dawned.

Really, to me this sounds like Speculative Theology 101, if not Self-Serving Tactics 101.

No cookie, only a transubstantiated wafer.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 11:55am

Masch, you nailed it.

As for “female chauvanism” and it being rampant and denigrating to poor males, I’ll have to disagree. There are women who believe all men are x, or make Bobbit jokes. Whether this is appropriate in polite company depends on the individual. I, myself, don’t care for stupid generalizations of either sex or gender put-downs. But when men joke about and “Otherize” women, there’s always the reminder of the very real threat of violence, rape and oppression that women still face, as a class and around the world.
Women as a whole just don’t have the societal power to actually oppress men as a whole through their jokes and put downs. They don’t have media and cultural backing. In fact, look at James’s reaction to this movie, where the girl is portrayed as fully human and happens to be wronged by men who seek to control or use her. Even MAJ said that the “villian” is indeed likeable and human himself, though this doesn’t make him hurting her any less wrong. But this is shouted down as man-hating?? Given the pervasiveness of women onscreen who are not fully realized human characters but merely male reflections of male fantasies or stereotypes, and very few people decry these as essentially “women-hating” (and if they do, they are shouted down as humorless feminists), well…let’s just say that “poor-men” arguments like James rings very hollow to me. The privelege to be the preferred protragonist 90% of the time, the privelege to have their bodies respected by being portrayed in various body-types and ages, the privelege of having their stories told with authenticity: these are all very male priveleges in the movies.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 12:12pm

And might I add that the girl here did NOT make fun of his penis or anything like that, he even said she didn’t but that she might as well have? So a lot of James’s rant was purely the product of his defensive posturing.
None of us are required to suffer jerks of either gender. So, Grinebiter, no, she can’t just do whatever she pleases in social situations. No one can, really. We’ll find ourselves with no friends and a rep as a complete ass. :)
But when we are talking about genders as a class, and the power behind an insult, we can’t look at the individual example. Hence, why calling a woman a slut or cunt carries a LOT more sting than calling a man a slut or a dick. The reason they sting more is the power of privelege behind these words, and the implication that women really ARE all of these things we say they are*.
You call a man a dick because this one man is a dick. You call a woman a whore because most women are sort of whores, aren’t they, if we admit it? Am I making any sense?
*I am NOT saying that you, Grinebiter, think this. I am saying that a lot of American culture does.

Grinebiter
Grinebiter
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 12:59pm

@Ninja: I’m glad that you joined in, you argue so honestly. I won’t always agree with you, but will always listen.

I know the penis thing isn’t in the film, I was answering James’ tangent — surely not the first tangent to be sighted here by reliable witnesses? — and like before, over “Volver”, I was yes-butting him.

I don’t entirely agree with your third paragraph, but can we take a rain-check on this, I have been trying to debate and work at the same time, and it’s not working out. I don’t agree with your fourth paragraph at all, but I can’t pull rank on you over American culture.

I would, however, like to say this: in my experience I have been unable in certain milieus to call an entirely individual woman a jerk, because then other women exclaim “You’re only saying that because you think all women are jerks! You must really hate women”. (If you were to call John Doe a jerk, however, I would not make the equivalent response.)

This is what you have taught me to call a “silencing technique”, so thanks for the neat phrase, I owe you. :-) Now, the payoff of this technique is to place this entirely individual woman above criticism. Nice work if you can get it! And this is a far more serious matter than silly jokes, because immunity from criticism does really bad things to the human mind. We touched on this before, and you agreed.

Since I suspect that James has been exposed to the same sort of manipulation, I feel called upon to analyse it. For what I am interested in is the way individuals sail under the flags of various ideologies and abstractions in order to forward their individual agendas. I analyse religion along those lines, for instance, as a set of technologies for getting what one wants — not least the right to look down on inferior creatures. Such as heathens, heretics…. and men?

JoshB
JoshB
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 1:49pm

Grinebiter, I think you’re confused. A transubstantiated wafer is not generally a proper reward for espousing a feminist viewpoint. Back to Oxford with you!

You call a woman a whore because this one woman is a whore. You call a man a dick because most men are sort of dicks, aren’t they, if we admit it?

Yup, that statement works equally well both ways.

MaSch
MaSch
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 2:48pm

JoshB: What *is* generally the proper reward for espousing a feminist viewpoint?

It’s getting more and more off-topic, I know, but I’d like to know what happy surprises the future has in store …

JoshB
JoshB
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 3:02pm

I’m kinda partial to bananas foster myself…or this local steakhouse makes a heavenly pear tart. [Colicchio] The wafers just don’t have enough flavor.[/Colicchio]

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 3:13pm

No, MaryAnn, he’s been looking for a term of art to describe a certain way of thinking that calls itself feminism but is actually something else, a way of thinking I have the impression that the Ninja despises as well. This suggests it might be a legitimate enterprise. I myself prefer the term “female chauvinism”.

I’d love to hear someone explain how this movie is female-chauvinist.

You know, just to keep things on topic.

If James Herod wants to go on a rant against feminism at my site, and others want to support him, you’ve got to at least connect it to the film in question.

Because I, for one, am utterly perplexed by the notion that because women might be feminist, no men can ever be terrible lovers. How does the one follow from the other?

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 5:39pm

What an amazing thread. I’m getting popcorn crumbs all over my keyboard!

I’m surprised the screen writers didn’t have her joke about the size of his dick. A lot of women do nowadays in a lot of movies, a practice that has not been opposed by feminists to my knowledge, although they sound off loud and clear whenever derogatory remarks are made about a woman’s anatomy.

Dear james, would it make you feel any better if I tell you that I am a raging feminist and totally transgressive woman, to boot, as I work in construction, and — guess what!?? — I call bull$hit when there are size comments. On the other hand, I don’t publish anywhere, nor do I write movie scripts.

@ Grinebiter: I’m not in disagreement that there is a female chauvinism; although I would definately NOT equate it with feminism or womanism or anti-sexism. It is, in fact, nasty and a glib what’s-good-for-goose-gander response to sexism and does nothing to advance anti-sexism. (It can be a great stress-reducer though; when I’ve told that to a guy, your “mixed company”, it is when they’ve already rammed a male chauvinist joke down my throat and are berating me for not having a sense of humor. Note: that is a nasty situation and I don’t think a nasty response is always out of place.) However, I’m really loath to accespt james herod’s claim that this movie is a great example of female chauvinism. It is a portrait of one person and pretty much everyone making the setting or filling the background is pretty weak or dismissable. Even he describes the female supporting roles as such.

And, we all have our anecdata. We all have to be EQUALLY carefully about extrapolating it. Ahem.

So, I think this topic is a red herring.

By Accounting Ninja: All I can picture is James clutching his hair dramatically and screaming “Dear god! Won’t SOMEBODY think of the poor MEN?!”

There is a woman on LJ who has a wonderful animated icon with Tonya Harding and some other choice targets that asks “Won’t someone thing of the white woman?” Maybe we should make a suitable reinterpretation for this thread.

By MaSch: Well, grinebiter, you must admit that in a society ruled by patriarchal structures, jokes against the oppressed group of women are far more harmful than jokes against the oppressing class/sex/gender, men?

BINGO!

Yes, you get a cookie! But, you are in Germany. I don’t think Homeland Security will let me send you any. May I just give you permission to go out and have a Weissbier?

Because I, for one, am utterly perplexed by the notion that because women might be feminist, no men can ever be terrible lovers. How does the one follow from the other?

Now, for the *cough* meat of this thread:

;-)

You know, despite feminism, there is also the possibility of WOMEN being terrible lovers, too!

If only anti-sexism guaranteed great sex. Wow. Everyone would sign up, right?

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 6:05pm

–“You know, despite feminism, there is also the possibility of WOMEN being terrible lovers, too!”

Actually, that’s because of feminism. Or, at least, that anyone cares is because of feminism.

To a highly chauvinist and troglodytic male, or in a sufficiently patriarchal and oppressive society, whether a woman is a good lover is almost irrelevant – unless she’s a courtesan or mistress, which is the exception that proves the rule.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 7:53pm

I’ve got to think about that. I don’t know that I agree “that anyone cares is because of feminism.”

I’d say that to a consumerist model of sexual relations, then, yes, I agree with

To a highly chauvinist and troglodytic male, or in a sufficiently patriarchal and oppressive society, whether a woman is a good lover is almost irrelevant – unless she’s a courtesan or mistress

But, I can imagine that some of the basic building blocks of good sex (IE: responsiveness and being-here-nowness) were always desirable even if the women might not have been courtesans or mistresses.

james herod
james herod
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 8:47pm

Hello MaryAnn. I did consult with one of my house mates, who is a producer for 48 Hour Film Festival, and is very savvy about computer, internet, and film etiquette, about whether it was appropriate to post my comment on your web site. Looking at the kinds of comment that you have banned – abusive, trollish, spammish, and idiotic – he said he didn’t think mine was any of those, and so gave me a thumbs up. I certainly wouldn’t want to abuse or piggy back on your Comments feature. But you do call yourself the FlickFilosopher, which I take to mean that you are interested in the interpretations of movies, as indeed your reviews prove on a regular basis. I used to read James Berardinelli. He can write two pages of detailed descriptions of a movie and never once even hint at what the film is about. After discovering your site I’ve never read him again. Also, you are a feminist film reviewer, so again I thought that my comment would be appropriate for your web site. But if you disagree, please let me know. You have my email address.

Just to set the record straight, however, my posting was not a rant against feminism. Far from it. It was a question, actually, as to whether films that are usually thought of as feminist really are. My first posting on your site was not about gender issues at all (the movie 9). Again, you write: “James Herod appears to be under the impression that because there are (and were!) jerks in the world, feminism is “faux.” Weird.” I said no such thing. You also write: “Because I, for one, am utterly perplexed by the notion that because women might be feminist, no men can ever be terrible lovers. How does the one follow from the other?” I never came even close to saying anything like that.

Now to briefly answer your question, Grinebiter. You write: “And so men of original goodwill become thoroughly pissed-off. Is that what happened to you?” Pretty much. I’ve finally gotten really sick of Identity Politics and have decided to attack it head on, with a written critique. It is a politics gone badly awry. (But my unhappiness with movies is only a minor aspect of it.) I’m coming at this from years of experience in radical (mostly anarchist) meetings, assemblies, conferences, and organizations where the struggle for gender, racial, and sexual equality gets fought out in a very face-to-face and personal context. Something is seriously wrong with the analysis. I’m going to take a stab at unraveling it. But of course I’m hoping to write a lot of things. Certainly, however, the absolute ban against any man criticizing feminism, a ban that has been in place now for forty years, is no small part of the problem.

I have found this discussion through all the comments extremely interesting and enlightening. Thanks to all, and to MaryAnn, for her wonderful web site.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 9:07pm

I want to add to LaSargenta’s general sentiment: the more progressive and feminist-minded a woman is, the less likely she is to use gender based slurs, or racial, sexuality or class slurs as well. I know I try not to and try to remain aware of any pre-existing assumptions I might make. Just as I don’t like when someone makes a sweeping generalization about me because I am a woman, so I try not to do the same thing, to either men or women. Nor do I think nasty putdowns about someone’s body are appropriate, doesn’t matter who the target is. Though I happen to think, culturally, that women’s bodies are judged far harsher, that doesn’t mean I condone it when a man is attacked for a body he can’t help.

Re: feminism helping women’s sex lives, I can see that. The more women are regarded as fully human and not just existing to pleasure men, the more likely that her sexual needs will be addressed or that she would feel free to speak of them.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Oct 21, 2009 10:39pm

James Herod, you wrote:

Apparently not, however, because she wonders why so much poetry has been written about something that lasts no time at all. I’m surprised the screen writers didn’t have her joke about the size of his dick.

If by this you do NOT mean to suggest that a feminist would never deign to think, in the privacy of her own brain, that a man’s lovemaking did not measure up to what she was expecting, then please explain what you DID mean.

And please note several things: The character in question is not a feminist, at least not as we would use the word today, but a protofeminist (Betty Friedan has not yet even put her finger on the malaise depressing many women in the postwar period). And the character does not say anything derogatory to anyone else about her initial sexual experience, so there is no equation whatsoever to a “joke about the size of his dick.” (I think it’s safe to assume that the character has never even *seen* another penis.) There simply is no foundation whatsoever for you to suggest that there’s anything anti-male in this movie, unless you think men cannot be less than perfect in the eyes of women.

And again, I ask: How is this movie “female chauvinist”?

Finally: The screenwriter is a man — Nick Hornby — in case that makes any difference to you.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 2:38pm

–“But, I can imagine that some of the basic building blocks of good sex (IE: responsiveness and being-here-nowness) were always desirable even if the women might not have been courtesans or mistresses.”

Some examples to consider while you’re pondering the matter:

Cultures that practice genital mutilation: They remove the clitoris for the express purpose of reducing responsiveness. That’s more important, to the men of those cultures, than good sex.

Victorian-era English sensibilities (at least in the upper class): Frigidity was a hallmark of good breeding, and women read advice books on how to tactfully discourage their husbands from making advances. Women that enjoyed sex were regarded by men as more vulgar and common than those that did not. To men, sex with the wife was strictly for procreation, and for enjoyment one sought out prostitutes or kept a mistress.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 3:42pm

@ bitchen frizzy: I think I’ve hit on what made me disagree — what I am writing about is the actual state of not being a good lover (due to narcissism, or intense fear, or distractedness and not being into the other) and what you are writing about (I think) is the judgment by a partner or other “observer” about whether or not someone is a good lover. To me, a thing is a thing whether or not it is observed, although I would concede that act of observation can change a thing.

I’d agree with your statement if it wasn’t in reply to that particular sentence I wrote.

On the other hand, (WARNING: Anecdata alert!) I can think of a time and place that I would definately hesitate to name “feminist” but that apparently valued women as lovers: Mediaeval Aquitaine (or Provence or Burgundy or wherever Eleanor of Aquitaine and her admirers travelled) with the idea of amour courtois. Now, admittedly, the ideal of courtly love was NOT to have this between a husband and wife, yet, I’m not sure we can actually refer to the women taking part in this upper-class-only game as mistresses or courtesans in the later use of the words.

Actually, and this is a bit of a tangent here, I’m not entirely happy with the use of the word feminist for a lot of these topics. I tend to go with anti-sexist these days as feminist seems to root it too strongly to a paradigm emerging in a particular place and period. Women’s (and men’s) experiences and their own anti-sexist responses vary somewhat around the world and I don’t feel comfortable grouping them all under the tent of the history that led to our US/UK/CA/AU use of the word feminist.

Sorry for the delay in answering, I needed to do more thinking than one can do on a coffee break.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 4:14pm

–“what I am writing about is the actual state of not being a good lover (due to narcissism, or intense fear, or distractedness and not being into the other) and what you are writing about (I think) is the judgment by a partner or other ‘observer’ about whether or not someone is a good lover.”

I thought I was being clever enough to provide examples that encompassed both the internal and external perception. I’m almost certain that the Victorian example covers both: a woman who is being cold and distant, in the bedroom at least, because she believes that to be the ideal of womanhood is both objectively and subjectively failing at being a good lover. I’m not female, so I can’t state with certainty that lacking a clitoris is a significant hindrance to being a good lover, so I’m less sure that example works both ways; though I am certain that the men in cultures that practice genital mutilation believe that it’s a hindrance.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 5:25pm

I’m not female, so I can’t state with certainty that lacking a clitoris is a significant hindrance to being a good lover, so I’m less sure that example works both ways; though I am certain that the men in cultures that practice genital mutilation believe that it’s a hindrance.

Oh, dear, this is getting *so* off the topic of the film, but I cannot resist: Men in cultures that advocate female genital mutiliation are not interested in women as “lovers” as we would think of the term. They are interested in keeping women as their property. And while they may value what women can do *to* them to give them physical satisfaction, they *clearly* are *totally* uninterested in giving women physical satisfaction (in the same way that a woman who only wanted “lovers” whose penises had been removed would be entirely uninterested in a partner who was able to be as satisfied as she would be). If being a “good lover” means only what someone can do *for* you, and not in any sense that involves a genuine give and take, I don’t think most modern, progressive, feminist women would want anything to do with that.

(And please note, this is entirely a different issue from women who have been genitally mutilated who escape their oppressive cultures and manage to find sexual satisfaction with sensitive partners outside the oppressive culture. This is a completely different matter that what I’m talking about here.)

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 5:46pm

–“Men in cultures that advocate female genital mutiliation are not interested in women as “lovers” as we would think of the term. They are interested in keeping women as their property. And while they may value what women can do *to* them to give them physical satisfaction, they *clearly* are *totally* uninterested in giving women physical satisfaction ”

Bingo. But furthermore, she doesn’t necessarily have to *do* anything, particularly if his own conditioning has left him with low expectations of her capabilities and interests.

–“If being a “good lover” means only what someone can do *for* you…”

To a chauvinist troglodyte, that’s what it means. If he happens to also take pride in what he can do for her, it’s still all about him.

–“…I don’t think most modern, progressive, feminist women would want anything to do with that.”

I should hope not. And that’s why I said that feminism promotes interest in whether the woman is a good lover or not. The greater the perception of equality and fellow humanity, the greater the interest in give-and-take, or something.

james herod
james herod
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 9:09pm

Well, I see that this thread has run on without me into other debates in my slowness in working out a response. Whatever. To reply to your request, MaryAnn, I called attention to the inadequate lover scene only because it is a representative sample of a cultural pattern that has somehow become firmly established: demeaning men in movies. I’ve been raising questions about where this pattern came from, what it means, who benefits, and the like. I remember my response the first time I saw such a scene (a poor lover scene) in a movie years ago. I thought, well, this is good. This is undoubtedly a real problem in real life that needs to be corrected (and I was foolish enough then to think that movies were actually trying to do things like that). But now, decades later, after having watched dozens and dozens of such scenes, one has to ask, and I do, whether something else might be going. Being shown to be a poor lover is only the start of it, however. Men now are regularly shown, in the movies, getting kicked in the balls, being called dick-heads, pissing (virtually obligatory now), or having their genitals ridiculed, to mention only a few of the milder put downs.

I have a theory about it, because I see a pattern, a frequently repeated pattern. I’ve described this pattern in my two comments, on Whip It, and now on An Education. I could add many more such reviews. The pattern I describe is not the most important thing about the movies, but neither should it be ignored or denied. You said you didn’t think any of the men in Whip It were belittled. They were just not central. I don’t see how you could possibly not have seen that they were being trashed. This is puzzling. There must be cases where you would admit that a man is being demeaned in a movie, but I sometimes wonder what they could be. You seem to be able to turn almost any film in a feminist direction. If the women are lousy, but the men are fine, the film is anti-women. But if the men are lousy while the women are fine, it is still anti-women (the women being only props for the betterment of men!!). The only time that I can recall your being disgusted by how a man was portrayed was the husband in Knocked Up. But then you were equally disgusted by the wife’s portrayal. (But I’m pretty new to your site.)

You say about my comment on An Education: “There simply is no foundation whatsoever for you to suggest that there’s anything anti-male in this movie…” I beg to differ. The men are negatively stereotyped, in the ways I described earlier. Though not the worst case by far the film definitely fits into the by now well-established pattern of denigrating men. I don’t see that its being a period piece much undermines my argument. It was written (the screenplay) and filmed currently. (There might be a test: was the banana scene in Lynn Barber’s memoir? If not it would show that the film was shaped in part by current fashions.)

This is not a question of my wanting men to be perfect, or without flaws, but just that they be real, believable, and presented fairly, the same things feminists have always demanded for women in movies. But this is not what has been happening. What has been happening is simply that the tables have been turned: men are now the prop characters instead of women, in these kinds of movies. Which is why I claimed in my post about Whip It that a guiding principle of this ideology of (what I am now calling) faux feminism, is the assertion that “It’s Our Turn.”

I don’t think it makes much difference whether a man or woman writes the script if the script is promoting the ideology. You also say in your review of this movie that it “is that rarity: a movie about a female character that treats her like a person.” Are we living in the same country? The theaters are awash with women-centered films where the women are treated as real persons. What we don’t see much of are films where both men and women are treated as real persons.

So this is my contribution to this discussion for now. I hope that FlickFilosophers find it useful.

bree
bree
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 12:25am

The theaters are “awash” with women-centered films where the women are treated as real persons?

Out of curiosity, James Herod, would you please name some of these many films?

james herod
james herod
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 12:57pm

I’d like to respond to several remarks made by other participants in this thread. It may shed light on some of the difficulties this discussion has run into.

(1) First, Accounting Ninja, who wrote:

“All I can picture is James clutching his hair dramatically and screaming “Dear God! Won’t SOMEBODY think of the poor MEN?!”

So here I’m being ridiculed, made fun of, made of joke of. It’s an effective if unscrupulous tactic. It means that I can be dismissed, along with the case I’ve made. No one need deal with my arguments. Also, to characterize my case as a “poor man argument” misrepresents it, diminishes it. I am arguing that the practice of demeaning men in contemporary movies is systematic and wide-spread.

(2) La Sargenta wrote:

“However, I’m loath to accept james herod’s claim that this movie is a great example of female chauvinism.”

I never said that it was a great example, just an instance of, although perhaps this is nitpicking. In my most recent post I say that it is far from the worst case but nevertheless fits the pattern.

I’ve never used the term “female chauvinism.” That was Grinebiter’s suggestion for what I’m talking about. But I’m uneasy with it, as it doesn’t quite get at the issue at hand, and so I haven’t adopted it. My original term was “vulgar” feminism, but Grinebiter rightly pointed out that it is confusing and counter-productive. Other synonyms I used in one of my posts were debased, corrupted, perverse, co-opted, and warped feminism. While writing the comment on this film I hit upon “faux” feminism, which I like, and will stick with.

(3) MaSch wrote:

“James, if you don’t want to watch “man hurts woman” no one forces you to.”

This is sort of like saying that if you don’t like this country leave. It’s a way of not dealing with the criticism. Besides, it’s rather hard to avoid these movies even if I wanted to, which I don’t because I enjoy the women’s stories. It would be hard to screen them out in advance even if I tried. For instance, in MaryAnn’s review of this movie, there was hardly even a hint that the lead man character was a horribly stereotyped woman abuser. All she said was that “he was not what he seemed.”

You also wrote:

“If you think there are too many of them, consider how many “woman is helpless without big strong patriarchal man” movies women had to cope with since the invention of cinema.”

The fact that there are more of the latter than the former does not discredit my criticism. How could it? So this is just a version of “It’s Our Turn” feminism. As for the frequencies, I don’t have the statistics, and no easy way to get them. My impression is that in recent decades there have been plenty of strong women-centered films and not many of the old stereotyped women’s roles. How many of the major women movie stars have ever even played such a degraded woman character? Meryl Streep? Jessica Lange? Demi Moore? Nicole Kidman? Emma Thompson? Madeline Stowe?

(4) Back to Accounting Ninja, who wrote:

“So a lot of James’s rant was purely the product of his defensive posturing.”

This is another favorite tactic for simply dismissing a case, used by feminists and everyone else. If you can demonstrate that someone has felt threatened and has thus thrown up an emotional defense, then you don’t have to answer the rational criticisms that the person has advanced.

Also, the comment I posted on this film was not a rant. I laid out a case, spelled out an argument, in a cool, rational way. I know rants, and can even write them. Rants are angry, abrasive, unrelenting, biting. They are full of invective. My post was not a rant. But by deeming it such you can all the more easily dismiss it.

You also wrote:

“In fact, look at James’s reaction to this movie, where the girl is portrayed as fully human and happens to be wronged by men who seek to control or use her…but this is shouted down as man-hating.”

This is another favorite feminist tactic. If you can prove that a man is accusing feminists of being man-haters, then you can dismiss the case, because as is obvious and as everyone knows, feminists are not man-haters. (As an aside, in real life, several of my current feminist friends and acquaintances easily fall into the category of man-haters, and historically, there was a substantial wing of the women’s movement, the so-called radical feminists in the early seventies, who declared themselves lesbians and broke off all relations with men, who were most definitely man-haters.) But this is beside the point. I never used the term man-hater. Nor does it accurately express my criticism, that men are systematically demeaned in many contemporary movies. Nor have I ever said that this is the most important thing about these movies, but only that it is there. Nor have I ever complained about or disparaged in any way the fact that women are now sometimes being “portrayed as fully human.”

The most striking thing about this thread so far is that no one has actually addressed the point I was making, nor attempted to answer any of the questions I raised about it.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 1:35pm

So here I’m being ridiculed, made fun of, made of joke of. It’s an effective if unscrupulous tactic. It means that I can be dismissed, along with the case I’ve made. No one need deal with my arguments. Also, to characterize my case as a “poor man argument” misrepresents it, diminishes it. I am arguing that the practice of demeaning men in contemporary movies is systematic and wide-spread.

Yup, I did that. This site has seen its fair share of antifeminist trolls or even non-trolls who just want to stir shit up. Honestly I didn’t expect you to come back at that point. Also, your original post was a huge wall of text, making pretty sweeping claims that are unsubstantiated. Like that audiences are all “feminist”, or that there are tons of movies about women demeaning men, without citing any real examples. Claiming it’s a victimizing “cultural pattern” and “sweeping trend” and such. You even said that the female characters also had flaws BUT “why dump on all the men?” You seemed to be pouring your own insecurities into the depictions of the males onscreen and frankly it came across as whiny. I mean, the cake thing? So, teenage boys aren’t allowed to be clumsy?

BTW, rants aren’t only angry. Sometimes they can be full of perceived hurt and outrage. Like your tangent with the penis thing. She didn’t do that in the movie. She didn’t even (according to my reliable sources here who have seen it) insult him very much for it! But bringing it up made her SEEM worse than she actually was. Also quite disingenuous, at least as much as my tactic. And please don’t use me or anyone else as a representative for all of feminism. *I* used those comments, not “feminists”. It’s not a “tactic” of feminists. It was a tactic of me, that one time. Boo hoo.

This is another favorite feminist tactic. If you can prove that a man is accusing feminists of being man-haters, then you can dismiss the case, because as is obvious and as everyone knows, feminists are not man-haters. (As an aside, in real life, several of my current feminist friends and acquaintances easily fall into the category of man-haters, and historically, there was a substantial wing of the women’s movement, the so-called radical feminists in the early seventies, who declared themselves lesbians and broke off all relations with men, who were most definitely man-haters.) But this is beside the point. I never used the term man-hater.

Oh, but you did. You said that, due to systemic feminist dogma, that this movie is one of many which callously demeans men just because they are men. I disagree.
As for your man-hater friends, I will say the same thing that I did to Grinebiter way back when: feminists are NOT a hive mind. Just because you know some who are lesbians or man haters doesn’t mean they all are. I mean, cripes, sometimes I think you guys just meet like one or two women in your lives who say they are feminists and decide THAT’S what feminists are. Any evidence to the contrary, you dismiss. After all, I don’t fit your mold of man-hating feminist, I must not be.

Just for the record, I do think that there exist ridiculously man-demonizing movies. I’ve, unfortunately, seen a few on Lifetime. And yes, they are ridiculous! But I take issue with your claim that’s it’s some sort of wide-spread phenomenon.

Some additional reading:
Why do you feminists hate men?!
Aren’t feminists just sexist towards men?
And, why I reacted to the Poor Menz thing like I did:
PHMT arguments..

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 1:51pm

To reply to your request, MaryAnn, I called attention to the inadequate lover scene only because it is a representative sample of a cultural pattern that has somehow become firmly established: demeaning men in movies.

But he *was* a poor lover! Is the female protagonist not supposed to think about this?

Being shown to be a poor lover is only the start of it,

So movies can *never* show a man to be a poor lover?

Men now are regularly shown, in the movies, getting kicked in the balls, being called dick-heads, pissing (virtually obligatory now), or having their genitals ridiculed, to mention only a few of the milder put downs.

And if you read my site on a regular basis, you would know that I *regularly* complain about such things. Nothing in *An Education* is in ANY WAY comparable to these things.

in MaryAnn’s review of this movie, there was hardly even a hint that the lead man character was a horribly stereotyped woman abuser.

I didn’t say that because he’s NOT a “horribly stereotyped woman abuser.”

JoshB
JoshB
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 2:02pm

How many of the major women movie stars have ever even played such a degraded woman character?…Jessica Lange?

King Kong.

james herod, you’re as guilty of ignoring or warping other people’s arguments as you accuse them of being.

Ok, so movies are portraying men worse even as they portray women better. Fair enough, I suppose. But even if that’s the case women still get far worse treatment.

It’s like you’re focusing on the cockroach in your living room as a polar bear raids your kitchen. Get some perspective.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 2:09pm

You know, all this “poor lover” stuff that James Herod is fixated on is very interesting, because it’s one of the few instances in film I can think of that counters the way sex scenes typically play out in movies, which are utter bullshit for most women: a few quick thrusts and the gal is screaming in orgasmic ecstasy, which is not, you know, very likely for the vast majority of women.

And still, the notion that David has “abused” Jenny in any way, I suddenly realize, is quite demeaning to Jenny herself. She is a willing accomplice in her own fooling. Even after she learns what David is capable of — as a liar, as a con man — she goes along with it because she’s having a good time. For anyone to suggest that Jenny is a hapless dupe is unfair to her: she made informed choices about some of what she was doing… and the “education” she gets is about how you have to live with the choices you make.

David is, in some ways, as sympathetic as Jenny. Jenny is, in some ways, as unsypathetic as David. These are nuanced characters with complex motivations, and they exist in a world where matters of gender and sexuality were fluctuating — I’m not sure there even *are* any stereotypes covering the place they find themselves in.

bree
bree
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 10:17pm

Fascinating. My sentiment will probably get me in hot water, but I think it should be expressed:

Realistically, there has always been a battle of sexes, but the difference is, for most of human history women have been oppressed and haven’t had a social forum or voice or the power to express their myriad of views, while men and their views on/portrayals of/fantasies about women have dominated popular culture and have consisted of the ‘default’ setting.

Only now are women’s “stories” being told. The truth is, women have always bitched and moaned about men and what assholes/poor lovers/idiots/etc. they CAN be — just like we love and obsess and fawn over men and how fantastic and delicious and admirable and wonderful they are — but just amongst ourselves.

Now the sentiments of women are being expressed more openly and in a wider forum/context, and the naked truth is, sometimes woman’s views on men ARE angry/resentful/unflattering. Is depicting men in a less than positive light ‘revenge’ or ‘payback’ or whatever the term one wants to use? No, I’d say it’s just brutally honest.

Is it admirable that women sometimes view men with disdain? No, but after all, women aren’t angels to be held to a higher/double standard, nor do we view everything the same, nor are we man-hating demons hell-bent on retribution. Women as a collective are complex, complicated individuals with light and dark sides and as many opinions as there are women. As it happens, we are also the oppressed rising up, confronting ourselves and our own attitudes as well as those of men who are also individuals, and that is never comfortable or simple or easy.

This notion that men should to be depicted “fairly” and not derided on screen because that is what women have been fighting for sounds lovely in theory but in reality it is completely unrealistic and unfounded considering CONTEXT; this is about OUR point of view for a change, our stories, our attitudes, and sometimes it’s messy and complicated and ugly. men (and women) won’t always come off in a good light, nor do they deserve to.

Are we all striving for something better? I think so. I hope so. But shifting paradigms is a very tricky business. Men have to realize that the female gender has called the bluff (though in many part of the world women are still considered little more than property) and a backlash is currently underway as a result of men “having it their way” for most of history (and probably even a backlash to the backlash, even though equality for women is still a long way off). so buckle up, everyone, because I’d say it’s going to be a bumpy ride along the way. Perhaps one day, if and when the playing field between the sexes is truly level, the battle of the sexes will soften and evolve and portrayals of gender on screen will reflect that.

james herod
james herod
Sat, Oct 24, 2009 10:08am

Bree. You asked for a list. Happy to Oblige. Here is a list of women-centered films and also films in which the main woman character is portrayed as a real person and is not demeaned or negatively stereotyped. A fraction of what could be listed.

Julie and Julia, Miss Potter, Against the Ropes, Miss Henderson (her character), Under the Tuscan Sun, Dolores Claiborne, Volver, Waitress, Nanny Diaries, Rumor Has It, Cold Mountain, Becoming Jane, Shut Up and Sing, Factory Girl, A Good Woman, Fur, Shakespeare in Love, Sweet Dreams, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, My Life Without Me, A Price Above Rubies, Miss Firecracker, Terms of Endearment, Competition (probably my favorite feminist movie), Prize Winner, The Shrink Is In, In the Cut, House of Cards, The Piano, Ballad of the Sad Café, Sylvia, Veronica Guerin, Birth, Tiptoes, Dreamer, North Country, Ruthless People, Little Miss Sunshine, Herbie Fully Loaded, Golden Compass, Freaky Friday, the Last Mimzy, Short Circuit, Ice Princess, Akeelah and the Bee, Uptown Girls, the Brave One, Raising Helen, Unconditional Love, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Fever Pitch, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Sweet Home Alabama, Snow Cake, Flight Plan, From the Edge, 12 Monkeys, An Unfinished Life, the Real McCoy, Amelie, Vera Drake, the Gift, Point of No Return, Along Came a Spider, High Crimes, Twisted, Woman on Top, La Vie en Rose, Contact, Runaway Jury, Handmaiden’s Tale, Artemisia, Quickie, Fargo, Where the Heart Is, Anywhere But Here, Save the Last Dance, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Emma, Holy Smoke, Tuck Everlasting, Saving Grace, the Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag, American Quilt, Chocolat, Blue Crush, Tortilla Soup, Life with Mussolini, The Good Girl, Erin Brockovich, the Other Sister, “O”, Frida, Bad Girls, Mona Lisa Smile, Murder by the Numbers, Fly Away Home, The Parent Trap, Little Women, Elizabeth, the Other Boleyn Girl, Practical Magic, Compromising Positions, Madeline, Spitfire Grill, Little Princess, Double Jeopardy, Molly, 28 Days, Wit, Passion of Mind, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nell, Beautiful, Foxy, Nurse Betty, Cold Comfort Farm, Notes of a Scandal, Room With a View, Devil Wears Prada, Enough.

Then there are the hundreds of movies in which a woman or women play supporting roles but are not stereotyped or demeaned. I’ll mention only a few. Bandits, Being John Malkovich, A Few Good Men, the Core, a Man, a Woman, and a Bank, a Perfect Murder, Entrapment, Birthday Girl, Human Stain, Trapped, Astronaut’s Wife, Italian Job. This could go on and on.

Then there are the hundreds more romance movies in which the man and woman are more or less equally portrayed. So these would have to be counted too, unless we simply want to eliminate the whole category of romance as demeaning of both genders (which I don’t). I’ll mention a bunch. Serendipity, Return to Me, Green Card, One Fine Day, Casanova, Wimbledon, Bridges of Madison County, Lady Hawke, Music and Lyrics, Just Like Heaven, Lake House, A Good Year, Addicted to Love, Music from Another Room, Simply Irresistible, Alex and Emma, Love Affair (1998), Twister, Body Heat, Gross Point Blank, Angel Eyes, Cutting Edge, Happy Accidents, No Reservations, Just My Luck, Duplex, Perfect Picture, Bagger Vance, Ghosts, 50 First Dates, Romancing the Stone, Lady Jane, Notting Hill, Sleepless in Seattle, Groundhog Day, Wedding Singer, You’ve Got Mail, Bosa Nova, and so forth. This could be a very long list because women have been holding their own in romances for a very long time.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Sat, Oct 24, 2009 11:22am

James Herod, you still have not explained how the male character in *An Education* is “demeaned” by an honest assessment of his lovemaking skills that the female character conducts entirely within the privacy of her own head. Please explain this to us.

You also haven’t answered my question: Do you believe that feminsim means that movies can never portray a man in a less than completely positive light?

bree
bree
Sat, Oct 24, 2009 7:50pm

james herod,

Your lists have critical issues:

First, the main list spans about 20 years of cinema, so if all the films you listed met the criteria of having female lead characters treated as fully-realized people (which they don’t by a long shot), you have made a list of perhaps 150 films — some of which are very obscure and did NOT get wide theatrical releases so they would not qualify for a ‘theaters being awash’ discussion — weeded down to say 100 viable films from that list, which then averaged out over twenty years comes to about 5 films per year in theatres, accounting for less than one film every two months on average. Or even over just over 10 years, that’s less than one per month. Hardly ‘theaters awash’, as you put it.

Secondly, apart from listing MANY films that did not get wide theatrical releases and that most people never would have heard of, let alone seen, the list of films you consider ‘woman centric’ is dubious, padded with many films that do not even remotely meet the criteria of being ‘women-centered’ (by definition having a woman as the protagonist/main character about whom the story is told). Many of the films on your list actually have male leads or co-leads, or are ensemble pieces. Just a few quick examples picked out at random, if I had more time to scrutinize the list further I would but just a few of the films that clearly do not apply:

12 Monkeys, Runaway Jury, Before sunrise/set, Along Came a Spider, Short Circuit, High Crimes, Last Mimzey, Shakespeare in Love, Ruthless People, Little Miss Sunshine, Fly Away Home, Snow Cake, Fever Pitch, Fargo, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Finally, your lists are padded with some movies that are just silly and don’t do justice to any of the characters involved, and thus don’t really belong on a list of movies that supposedly portray women as real people (Twister?). Or you list movies that don’t qualify in any regard to the discussion at hand, such as ‘Gross Point Blank’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ in which Minnie Driver and Andie McDowell respectively play unremarkable supporting roles pretty much like a thousand other supporting roles for women in a thousand other films.

You have come up with some good examples of quality female-centric films, but that was never the issue. You’re assertion that theatre’s are ‘awash’ with women-centred films with female characters portrayed as fully realised people, which implies consistent and high numbers of such films, is unsupported by your lists of films and such claim remains dubious.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Sat, Oct 24, 2009 8:24pm

And it’s even more dubious if these films are examples of men being degraded because they are men or women meanly mocking male bedroom skills/attributes. Except for maybe a few of the chick flicks on your list, I don’t remember that being in a the films of that list I’ve seen.

bree, your previous post was quite eloquent. The first three paragraphs are what I wanted to say but could not find the right words. Thank you. :)

bree
bree
Sat, Oct 24, 2009 8:46pm

Thanks, Ninja. I love reading MaryAnn and the comments here, so refreshing to read interesting, intelligent debate about movies and social issues with some female perspective. So many movie blogs are like the boy’s locker room!