Archive for movies

What is so different about Frozen?

Elsa and Anna as children

Elsa and Anna as children

Before I watched Frozen I wondered what makes it such a big deal. The movie was talked up by friends who are feminists and associates that who aren’t very feminist at all.

Finally a movie that resonates with so many different people! It must be worth watching, right? I decided to take a look for myself.

During my first viewing, I hoped to understand the significance of the very Aryan main character, Elsa. But, after watching the movie, I still didn’t understand why she’s the focus of the promos when she isn’t even the focus of the movie, but instead follows her sister Anna.

It actually made me angry that this character was featured more in promos than Anna, who is brunette and not as princess-like as Elsa.

Interestingly, Elsa’s conventional blonde hair and blue eyes actually sets her apart from the people in her kingdom. This begs the question, why couldn’t the filmmakers represent her differences in a way that is not something I already see everyday? What if she had darker skin or a thicker body? What if she didn’t look like every Disney princess out there and that was what made her different?

After watching the movie I thought it was cute, but there were only two parts that really stuck with me: the scene in which Anna sings “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman” and the scene in which Elsa sings “Let it Go.”

“Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” shows the isolation that Elsa is required to have from her sister after she has hurt Anna. It shows a female relationship that is flawed in a heartbreaking way as it shows the two inches away from each other but separated by walls both physical and metaphorical. The scene’s emotion is so strong in a subtle way that shows the relationship the sisters have with each other.

“Let it Go” was a scene I had seen several times before. The song is beautiful and strong and empowering. In this scene Elsa becomes liberated. Her secret sorcery is out and known, and, therefore, she is free. This song encourages people to be open about who they are, even if they’re told it’s not right or accepted. This scene is something I wish I could have seen when I was younger. Even as a twenty-one-year-old feminist I still empowered just from singing along with the song. If the movie ended at this scene, I probably would have been as crazy about Frozen as most of my friends. I wasn’t convinced that this song was the most empowering moment of the film, but I also could not read anymore into it on my own. I took to the internet to see if I was missing some larger message.

Much to my surprise the movie has been seen as having a strong pro-gay sentiment in many scenes. Some critics talk about the ways in which Elsa’s ice sorcery is a metaphor for sexual orientation; they also talk about the many ways in which this movie promotes female strength and independence and suggests that princesses can be seen as leaders rather than just as arm candy for princes.

In many ways this movie is progressive and asks us to take a second look at it, the movie’s purpose extends beyond sisterly relationships and after a second glance that becomes a little more apparent.

And that makes me think, maybe this movie isn’t so bad after all.

But not quite.

What if Elsa looked like this?

What if Elsa looked like this?

Women of color are non-existent in this film. The main female characters are the same women who we’ve seen in princess movies for decades. It is great that Disney has made a princess that actually intends to rule, but there isn’t the slightest allusion to princesses in other parts of the world that might provide a bit of diversity.

Ultimately, Disney has failed to create a female character that is actually relate-able. You can find alternatives to Elsa all over the internet. How interesting would a race-bending Elsa be?

My next problem with the movie is that there are so many men. The movie is about sisters, but unnecessary male character still get about the same amount of time on screen as Elsa and Anna. Anna needs men to help her get to her sister. Elsa is the only one who doesn’t need a man; instead she makes a monster to protect her from the “bad guys.” The movie is still reinforcing gender roles as it has in many other Disney movies.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but there was always something missing, something that didn’t hook me the way I was hooked with Brave or even Tangled.

This movie may have been the most progressive movie to come from Disney, but I would say it’s far from the best movie I’ve ever seen. I would say that you should go see it for yourself and decide if it really is the most influential Disney princess movie you’ve ever seen.

Will The Heat be a positive movie for women or a big pile of sexist fattist stereotypes?

U.K. (left) and U.S. (right) versions of the poster for THE HEAT.

 

The Heat—the new Melissa McCarthy/Sandra Bullock flick—opens in theatres this weekend, and I’m having mixed feelings about it.

 

1) To start off, there’s the issue that the movie poster (see above) features an obviously Photoshopped pic of McCarthy.

Here is a still from the film for comparison:

Pics of McCarthy from the film and the poster side-by-side clearly demonstrate that her face and neck have been slimmed down and touched up:

It seems a shame that now that McCarthy—a plus-size woman—is a superstar they’re trying to change the way she looks.

Everyone likes her just the way she is. Leave her alone!

As one blogger said, “Nobody is unclear [about] what Melissa McCarthy’s body size is—she’s plus-sized and proud. So why have the designers of this poster done their utmost to Photoshop a good 30lbs off of McCarthy’s face?”

We all know that Photoshopping leads to problems for all of us—how can we feel good about ourselves if everyone on our screens looks perfect?—so it’s even more offensive that 20th Century Fox felt the need to Photoshop someone we all like for being real.

Click here to see what McCarthy should have looked like in the poster.

 

2) Next is the problem that McCarthy is a talented actress who is repeatedly reduced to comic “fat” person roles.

Like many “fat” actors and actresses before her—John Candy, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Roseanne, etc.—and like her character in Bridesmaids, I worry that she is being laughed at rather than laughed with.

I was a big fan of McCarthy when she appeared on Gilmore Girls, so I know that she is an excellent serious actress too, raising the question, why don’t they give her any dramatic roles?

The answer seems obvious: Hollywood still believes that being fat is funny.

 

3) Finally, The Heat seems to be falling back on some dangerous stereotyping.

Stereotypes that make the “fat” character lazy, wild, undisciplined and make the thin woman uptight and no fun.

In other words, cliched BS that we all know just isn’t true.

 

Still, this is a movie featuring two women who are at least somewhat outside of the tiny little box Hollywood has designated for “leading ladies”—one is bigger and one is older than the actresses we usually see starring on our screens. So it remains to be seen whether or not this is a film we should support or shrink from.

Tune in next week for our verdict on The Heat!

"Smothered in Delicious Yellow Chemical Sludge"


Thora Birch as Enid in Ghost World, 2001

198 pounds

A few weeks ago I went to see The Kids Are All Right, an amazing movie, which just happened to be playing at a massive thirty-screen multiplex that had recently changed ownership.

The first sign that things were different occurred when we pulled up, and there was no longer a sign of any kind telling people what was located inside the building. Instead, there was just a piece of large poster board with the name of the theatre painted on it in thick black paint. Now remember this is a thirty-screen multiplex, and it just had this poster stuck to the front.

I knew immediately something wasn’t right.

When we were waiting in line at the ticket booth, we also noticed that there were a half dozen employees flitting around with artificial smiles on their faces, asking customers if they needed help with anything. It felt like we had died and gone to Stepford.

But the weirdest thing of all happened when we got to the front of the line.

Every single person who bought a ticket was rewarded with a coupon for a free medium-sized drink and a small bag of popcorn. At first I thought these coupons were being passed out at random, but soon it became obvious that EVERYONE was getting them.

Initially I was excited about our luck—I almost never splurge on popcorn or drinks at the movie theatre. Not because I don’t want them, but because they cost so darned much.

(If you haven’t been to the theatre in a while, you should know that you can no longer get a small drink and a small popcorn for less than ten dollars, which means this theatre was passing out the equivalent of ten bucks to every viewer.)

But not long after I got my free snacks, I started to feel differently about them.

As we walked to Screen 22, I looked around and considered all of the other moviegoers. Some were big and some were small, some were pretty and some were not, but despite our many differences, we all had the exact same thing in our hands: a small popcorn and a medium drink. It felt like the theatre owners were using some kind of mind control to make us all do the same thing. It felt like we were pod people. And suddenly my free popcorn and soda seemed rather grotesque to me.

In the theatre, I ate some of my popcorn and drank some of my soda, but it wasn’t the same—my enjoyment was half-hearted, and I barely finished a third of what I had. I just didn’t want it anymore. It was like I was experiencing the same thing people always say about country clubs: nobody wants to be a member of any club that will have them. And I didn’t want any part of an unhealthy snack that someone had just handed me, free of charge. Not only did I not really want it, I was also hyper aware of how gross it was—the yellow chemical sludge* known as butter movie theatre land was collecting inside the crevices of my artificially colored popcorn like an environmental disaster.

At the same time that I was disgusted with the food, I was also disgusted with myself—Had I really longed for this stuff on so many occasions before? What was it about this crap that had appealed to me so much? In that moment, I had no idea why anyone would voluntarily pay for such a snack even though I’d done it more than a few times myself.

The result was that I wanted to eat less popcorn and drink less soda—that night and every day since then. And it made me wonder if part of the appeal of eating something so unhealthy is that we’re not supposed to eat it.

When I was sixteen, I had jaw surgery that left me unable to eat solid foods for six weeks. In the time leading up to the operation, my doctors told me that it was one of the only times in my life when I could eat whatever I wanted because I’d be losing a lot of weight during my recovery. For a few days, I ate junk food 24-7: Twinkies, Doritos, Mac ‘n Cheese. But after a day or two of that, I got sick of it and went back to my normal diet.

I think that’s exactly what happened at the multiplex that night—since I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, I didn’t really want any of it anymore. Of course, that made me ask myself, what would happen if I let myself eat whatever I want all the time?

I’ve always believed that indulgence is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and I’ve always known that if you deny yourself something you want, you’ll only want it more. But I’ve also believed that giving into those temptations every once in a while helps you keep your cravings in check. But maybe—just maybe—if we gave into them whenever we wanted, they would lose their appeal forever.

I wish I could say I believed it was that simple to kick the junk food habit, but I’m not entirely convinced. But I will say this: I’m staying away from the yellow chemical sludge as long as I can.

*That’s what Enid (pictured above) called it in Ghost World.

The shoe on the other foot

199 pounds

This weekend Dave and I went to see Mother and Child, a gut-wrenching film about the adoption process told from the point of view of three different woman played by Annette Benning, Kerry Washington, and Naomi Watts in her best role ever. (Samuel L. Jackson also delivers an amazing and refreshingly subtle performance.)

It’s a very good film, and I recommend it to everyone even though it just misses the mark a few times.

What’s interesting about this movie from a body issues perspective is the character played by Jimmy Smits—Paco—who is a love interest for Annette Benning’s character, Karen.

When Karen meets Paco, she describes him to her mother as “heavyset.” Call me crazy, but it’s not the first thing I would say to describe Jimmy Smits (pictured below looking smoking hot on a press junket for the film).

(Then again, the woman is married to Warren Beatty in real life, so maybe she picked up some of his attitude.)

When Paco and Karen go out for coffee, he orders apple pie as well, explaining, “I can never resist apple pie” with a smile that would melt the ice caps. Every woman in the theatre was swooning, but not Karen. She says, “Well, maybe you should.”

Despite this auspicious start, the two end up together, and when Karen meets his daughter, the two women discuss the fact that he needs to lose weight—right in front of him!

As all of this was happening, I kept thinking, what the f***?!

Jimmy Smits is heavyset?

Jimmy Smits needs to turn down the apple pie?

What kind of parallel universe are we living in???!

I have yet to discuss this in detail on my blog, but most of us know that live in a world where male actors are ALWAYS bigger than their female co-stars. The recent romantic comedy Couples Retreat offered the best evidence of this I’ve ever seen when the four couples stripped down to their bathing suits. At that moment, four women stood on one side in perfect, movie-star shape while, on the other side, four out-of-shape men sheepishly revealed their bulging middles.

And let’s not forget the plethora of television shows that have featured bigger men with tiny little women . . . King of Queens, Still Standing, According to Jim, Frasier, Seinfeld, and ironically NYPD Blue. The list goes on and on.

In our society, men are allowed to be overweight—either a little overweight or a lot overweight—but woman are not.

If a woman is the slightest bit curvy, she needs to go on a diet. If a man has a little extra weight around his middle, he’s normal.

So when I saw Paco getting so much flak over a slightly larger middle, I couldn’t help but laugh. Finally, the shoe was on the other foot. Finally, a man knows what it’s like to be under such tight scrutiny.

There’s only one tiny little problem—all of this happened only in the movies. This means that, for now, all of us women will have to dream of a time when men are held the same standards we are in real life.

See me on Bitch Flicks!

The amazing Bitch Flicks website is currently featuring one of my movie reviews. I love this site because it focuses on something that is not discussed nearly enough—how women are depicted in film. And it puts all of its films through they Bechdel Test before they are declared a “Ripley’s Pick”:

1. There must be two named female characters

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something other than men.

What’s really frightening is that so few films pass this test, and you can see a list of those that do on the right side of their website.

Please be sure to check out this outstanding site and look at all of their fabulous reviews. And a big thanks to Bitch Flicks for the work they do and for posting my review.

What’s wrong with this picture?

194 pounds
I’ve had a break-through this week—dipping below 195 pounds for the first time since I started this blog four months ago and even hitting a low of 193 yesterday (though I’m back to 194 today, a fluctuation which is obviously to be expected). I wish I could take some credit for this improvement, but in truth I’ve only exercised the bare minimum this week. Still, I’ve been trying to be more conscious of what I eat and how much I exercise for four months now, so maybe this accomplishment is more about the long-term investment I’ve made in my health than anything I’ve done just this week.


Of course, I’m thrilled about this dip, and I’m feeling more motivated than ever. Over the next week, I’m hoping to spend even more time exercising and cooking lots of healthy food than I already am.

At the same time, I’ve been feeling a bit more insecure about my body than normal. I suppose I simply just feel less confident about it than I would like. When I was going swimming the other night, I worried about the way my arms looked in my new bathing suit—did they look flabby or ridiculously out of shape? Would the other swimmers look at them and wonder what the hell I was doing there? Shouldn’t a person who swims lap on a regular basis have incredibly buff upper arms?

But on the way home, I asked myself why on earth I would ever worry about what the other swimmers said about my arms, and why I was holding myself to such ridiculous standards. Are my arms really any worse than anyone else’s? I don’t think so. Are they even bad looking? I doubt it. But, nevertheless, I had felt temporarily defeated by the fact that they did not meet the standard of arm beauty in our society.

And that’s when it hit me . . . the problem wasn’t me. The problem was the standard. Even I have to constantly remind myself that the standards we hold women to in our society are simply unrealistic. I mean, how many women do you know with Halle Berry’s arms? Or Heidi Klum’s legs? Or Kate Bosworth’s stomach? Or Scarlett Johansson’s cleavage?

Let’s face it. For the most part, real women don’t look like that. Maybe, just maybe, you know a woman who has assets to rival these celebrities in one of these areas, but all four of them? I doubt it.

So why then do we idolize and feature women who are this obnoxiously perfect? After all we have learned about how idealizing impossibly perfect women hurts our self-esteem, why do we still continue to do it?

I really wish I knew.

On the other side of the spectrum are the “plus-sized” celebrities. The women who are routinely cast as the goofy sidekick or the “fat girl.”

Have you ever noticed that we almost only ever see these two extremes—the plus-sized sidekick or the impossibly thin glamazon? I don’t look like either of these kinds of women, and I don’t know anyone who does. So why are these the only two options we get? For God’s sake, where are all the real girls???

You might have seen the advertisements for a new television show called Drop Dead Diva. The premise of the show is that “a thin but shallow woman’s soul lands in a larger woman’s body” and must come to terms with this change. (The two actresses who star in these opposing roles are pictured above.)

Let me say first and foremost that I am flat-out thrilled that this show is taking on the issues of fattism and body image and that it’s featuring a gorgeous plus-size woman in the lead role. I hear that actress Brooke Elliott gives an amazing and believable performance, and I’m rooting for both her and the show.

But what bothers me is that we still don’t have any television shows or films that feature women of average size—women who don’t wear a size twenty or a size zero, women who have a body I can realistically aspire to have. (I’m not sure Ugly Betty counts since the only reason Betty has a normal sized body is because she’s supposed to be “ugly.”) Again, I can’t help but wonder why these women—women who look like me and almost everyone I know—are all but absent from film and television. Why are we so afraid to show women in this middle group? Why is it so important for every character on screen to fit into one of these two extremes—overweight or underweight? Are we simply that opposed to complexity? Or, on the other hand, do producers think we’re simply too thick-headed to judge a female character based on her actions or words rather than on her extra small or extra large dress size?

If that’s the case, it’s time we started letting those in power know that we’re smarter than they think we are. We need to talk about the kinds—and sizes—of characters we want to see staring back at us from our television and movie screens. I’m not sure how exactly we can communicate this, but I’m hoping that this blog—and the women I feature on it—will be a step in the right direction.

Why we should all see AWAY WE GO

196 pounds

Tonight I had the privilege of seeing Away We Go, the new dramedy about a confused young pregnant couple played by Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski. It was a film I’ve wanted to see as long as I’ve known about it but one I’d been D Y I N G to see ever since I saw a gorgeous but very womanly picture of Maya Rudolph splashed across two pages of Entertainment Weekly with an article they wrote about the movie last month. In the picture, Rudolph’s skirt was creeping up her thighs to reveal wonderfully fleshy legs, and I immediately admired the hell out of Rudolph for that photo—not only for showing off her regular-sized body, but for doing so in such a sexy manner.

What’s even better is that Rudolph was pregnant at the time the picture was taken. Sure, we’ve seen pregnant woman knocking our eyes out on the cover of magazines before (Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair comes to mind), but this photo was different. Rudolph didn’t look like she had something to prove. She looked like she was merely comfortable with herself—womanly thighs and all.

In a recent post, I talked about my wish that more magazines would feature women who are a happy medium between the severely underweight and the severely overweight, and Maya Rudolph is a great example of someone who personifies that happy medium—both in terms of her body and her non-traditional beauty.

Because of this photo, I was hoping that Rudolph would look just as real in the film, and it did not disappoint. Both she and Krasinski go from average to stunning to disheveled at various points throughout the movie.

But what I really want to talk about is a comment made by Rudolph’s character, Verona, in the movie. Without giving anything away, I can say that the comment occurs when she and her boyfriend Burt are discussing their future and their unborn daughter. Verona asks Burt to “promise me that you won’t care if our daughter is fat or skinny, and that she won’t even be the kind of girl who worries about her weight in a cliched kind of way.” (I’m sure I’m getting the words all out of order, but the sentiment is what’s important here.)

Verona makes this request during a very moving part of the film, and it was this line that put me over the top. I wanted to stand up in my chair, throw down my tub of popcorn and oversized soda, and shout, “Yes, yes, yes! Please teach your daughter not to worry about her weight! Please teach us all to do that!”

Of course, I didn’t stand up and shout like that because I was afraid of getting thrown out of the theatre and really wanted to see the end of the movie.

But I did start to cry.

And I’m not sure I really stopped until the credits had finished rolling.

I guess what I’m saying is that this, more than anything, was a movie that really got me, that really understood what’s important to me. (If such a thing is even possible.) And I’d like to take it a step further and say this is a movie that gets all of us.

These two characters were simultaneously the kind of lost souls we all feel like sometimes and the generous, thoughtful people we all aspire to be at other times—whether it be their take on their unborn daughter’s weight, the way they both embraced Rudolph’s pregnant body, or their stubborn refusal to accept the rejection of strollers. No matter how you look at it, these characters were the real thing.

So I’ll add it to my list of Movies Every Woman Should See, but do yourself a favor and see this one on the big screen before it leaves the theatre.

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