Women in Trouble (review)

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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.

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