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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

male gaze alert: ‘Grown Ups’

[some might consider this a spoiler for one of the jokes that Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf probably think is one of the more clever ones in their script. tough shit]

Oh, Grown Ups, you are too, too predictable. You load yourself up on male-gazing, making a big deal in particular about how disgusting it is, to the male eyes of David Spade and Chris Rock, that Rob Schneider is not only married to Joyce Van Patten, a woman a good 30 years older than him, but that he would actually tongue-fence her in public. (In the film, it’s not the sweet, simple kiss that appears in the trailer.) You make a huge extended joke out of the film’s five juvenile protagonists ogling 20-year-old Madison Riley, blond and skinny and tall and all legs in short shorts — that is, she’s “hot” — bent over the engine of a car that Spade’s character has deliberately disabled so that she’ll (hopefully) pose with her ass in their faces all day. The male-gazing — of either approval or disapproval — extends to the sisters of Riley’s character, one of whom is suitably “hot” while the other isn’t. Much putative hilarity is mined from this disparity, and from the fact that they are all the daughters of Schneider’s schlub from previous relationships.

The “ugly” sister is played by Ashley Loren, who is, in fact, adorable:

The stage is set, then, for the Grown Ups baseline: When men look upon women and determine their worth and desirability based upon their physical appearance, this is a Good Thing, a Correct Thing. It is the proper place of men to dole out such approval or disapproval, and it invariably renders the correct “objective” appraisal of a woman’s worth, or lack thereof.

And what happens when women do the same?

Grown Ups culminates — I hesitate to use the word climax anywhere in the vicinity of this deplorably unsexy tripe — in an extended sequence that takes place at a water park. And one of the jokes that runs through this sequence involves all the wives hanging out together and ogling a buff blond god across the big pool. He’s played by Alec Musser, and this is what he looks like:

That’s not a still from the film, but it’s a good representation of how he appears in it: mostly naked. He’s too chiseled for my taste, but the point is taken: this is a Desirable Man. Many women, perhaps most women, would gaze upon him with lust in their hearts, or would at least get their heads turned for a look at what our culture says is an ideal specimen of modern manhood.

So, the wives are giggling and making some naughty comments bertween themselves about the gorgeous guy posing across the pool, and finally Maria Bello takes off her coverup to flash for him the babe-ilcious body she has in her cute bikini. And of course Buff Guy comes over to talk to the women. And the moment he opens his mouth, the women bust out laughing, because his voice is girlishly high-pitched, and he speaks with the most outrageous caricature of what I think is supposed to be some sort of Canadian farmboy accent. Musser is from the New York metropolitan area — this is not how he would speak.

But even if it were really his voice and his accent, the “joke” is still the same: When women judge men by their bodies, they get chastised for it. Form an opinion about a man’s desirability based upon how he looks, and you’re in for a rude awakening.

When men do the same, however, it’s just good clean fun.

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  • mortadella

    I didn’t see the film….and won’t, but I was wondering if they ever address the improbability of the Sandler and Hayek coupling…and Mario Bello and Kevin James? Does anyone notice the physical mis-match there?

  • Fuggle

    The physical mismatch? Yes, we did notice that a man that fat and schlubby has no business being married to a beautiful woman, because that’s the only way to judge his worth.

  • Dymphna

    Why is it that men are not more upset over films like this, that are so insulting to men?

    Not meaning to ignore men out there who are indeed insulted over this. Thinking about so many men who consume this and buy the sense of superiority and ownership over women as objects these films use as packaging to disguise the infantalization that goes on underneath. The men I know who buy into this model of masculinity are sad, anxious, frustrated and unable to understand why everyone else gets ahead of them in life while they are busy trying to avoid growing up.

    The get the patriarchal gaze, but lose their wisdom. Bad trade.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, we did notice that a man that fat and schlubby has no business being married to a beautiful woman, because that’s the only way to judge his worth.

    If we regularly saw onscreen schlubby, ordinary-looking guys with schlubby, ordinary-looking women, then it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that a schlubby, ordinary-looking guy has no business being with an unbelievably gorgeous woman. But we don’t. So this isn’t about judging a guy’s worth. It’s about The Movies assuming that every guy, no matter what he has to offer, “deserves” a “hot” woman.

    But you knew that already, Fuggle. Please don’t troll.

  • mortadella

    Whew, point out a double-standard and people get punchy. I’ve noticed this with all the Apatow threads. How can anyone deny the obvious hypocrisy in these movies? Are they over-identifying with these “schlubby” cartoon versions of dudes out of necessity because they provide a buffer for their morale? Is that why they feel they’re are being personally attacked when someone criticizes these characters? Silly. How the hell can you get on a soapbox about beauty only being skin-deep when the guys in this film objectify all the chicks? Hypocrisy and self-entitlement, I guess.

  • Fuggle

    I wasn’t talking about the movie, I was responding to mortadella, who didn’t seem to be talking about the movie, either – as the post began with “I haven’t seen the movie”.

    The way I read the comment, “does anyone notice the physical mis-match there?” came off as saying that them being together made no sense based on the “physical mis-match”: ie, “no guy who looks like that would be with a girl who looks like that”.

    Which, yes, to me, read that way, comes off as doing the exact same thing that happens to women a lot: judging their worth in any sense, including romantic or sexual, by nothing but “the physical” aspect. Just because it’s doing it to a guy doesn’t make doing it alright.

    I don’t think I’m trolling, merely responding with a valid argument to mortadella in an exasperated and sarcastic fashion.

  • Lisa

    man – you would cut yourself on those abs!

    I dunno about the voice thing. I get what you’re saying, but on the other hand, David Beckham is insanely hot and then he opens his mouth and it kills it for me.

  • Isobel

    Heh. I guess he’s pretty, but in a I-spend-far-too-much-time-at-the-gym-and-wax-my-chest kind of way. I’ve never got the David Beckham thing, either – at the risk of sounding like a raging snob there’s something about his face that looks a bit dim, and it doesn’t work for me. Johhny Wilkinson, on the other hand. . .

    I get annoyed by these films in the way they depict women, but also in the way that they seem to think that oiled begymmed pretty boy-men is what women want.

  • Lisa

    He does look slightly dim in a Brad Pitt sorta way. Cheats on his wife too which is also a turn off.

  • vucubcaquix

    To be fair, the gender equivalent has been made light of plenty of times. Don’t you remember scenes where a ridiculously gorgeous woman would open her mouth only to reveal an absurdly deep voice? At that point, any potential titillation disappears and is replaced (potentially) by comedy.

    But then again, I’ve not seen this movie so I’m not sure how it treated the female characters’ response to the man’s voice so you may still be entirely justified in how the movie treated their mockery of him.

  • vucubcaquix

    Erm, that last sentence was a bit…ungraceful. I meant YOU may justified in your disgust of the double standard applied to the male and female characters and their respective gazes in this movie.

  • Lisa

    They did it in Singing in the Rain, didn’t they?

  • vucubcaquix


    Perhaps, it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Rain, but for some reason the example that will not leave my mind at the moment is from the animated show (and adventure serial send-up/parody/homage) the Venture Bros. with its character of Dr. Girlfriend.

  • Muzz

    What is it about the fat, schlubby American male always with the trim, smart, super housewife? Particularly in comedy.
    I get calling back to the Honeymooners if you’re a comedy writer, but this seems more entrenched now than a mere trope.

  • Parrottbrian

    You actually just “graded” his post. Wow! That is just pathetically sad.

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