Archive for film

Neither closet nor fridge: Or how Marvel’s Deadpool needs to take care of female and LGBTQ characters

With the rising popularity of comic book storylines turned movies, Marvel has been dominating the box office and the public’s interest for a few years now.

Most Marvel fans (myself included) have a favorite movie, a favorite avenger, and a favorite future project they’re looking forward to. (For me, they are Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America, and Captain America: Civil War—anyone see a pattern yet?) Even if you find a die-hard fan of DC Comics, you can be sure that they’re familiar with the Marvel universe as well since it’s an almost unavoidable phenomenon.

One of the most recent installments in the Marvel universe was Deadpool, an irreverent, witty, and incredibly self-aware origin story that paints the main character (played by Ryan Reynolds) as anything but a hero. He’s a “bad guy who kills other bad guys.” Deadpool starts out as a mercenary and ends the movie as a man who’s gotten his revenge. Sure, he has a future as a reluctant superhero, but it’s more than likely he’ll be a thorn in the sides of the other superheroes.

deadpool heart hands











The film version of Deadpool has gained some serious critical attention and made Marvel history by featuring an openly and explicitly pansexual character, which means that any potential romantic interest he has isn’t limited by gender. His partner in the current film is indeed a woman, but Deadpool’s attraction to folks of other genders isn’t invalidated by this fact. Ryan Reynolds has even spoken in favor of Deadpool getting a boyfriend in a future film, and fans (myself included) would love to see that.

The only hesitation that I have with this idea is his current partner, Vanessa (played by Morena Baccarin).

deadpool ring pop

Most of the film focuses on this relationship, even [SPOILER ALERT!] placing Vanessa in a vulnerable position that Deadpool rescues her from, allowing for a reconciliation at the end of the film.

This means that if Vanessa’s still with him in the sequel, then we’re most likely going to see one of two things happen:

1: Deadpool doesn’t get a boyfriend (which is such a drag, honestly, it’s about time).


2: Vanessa will be suddenly unavailable to Deadpool, allowing him to find a boyfriend.

But this presents a problem: I adore Vanessa. She’s sweet and smart and funny and retains agency even though her role at this point is mainly that of a love interest. She and Deadpool have a great relationship, and as of right now, I don’t see any reason for them to break up and I certainly don’t want them to.

You might be wondering why I wouldn’t want Deadpool and Vanessa to break up. If it means a well-known male superhero gets a boyfriend, and their relationship serves as open and obvious representation for LGBTQ+ folks in a way that’s handled with the proper respect, there shouldn’t be an issue, right?

To be clear, my issue isn’t with a potential male love interest, but rather with what would have to happen to take Vanessa out of the equation.

So often, superhero storylines rely on tired tropes when it comes to their female characters, whether they’re love interests or protagonists. These tropes include the Disposable Love Interest, who is left out with little to no explanation in the sequel, or the Disposable Woman, whose main role is most often to get kidnapped or killed in order to move the protagonist’s plot forward.

The worst trope originated in a Green Lantern comic storyline and is referred to as Stuffed into the Fridge or “fridging,” and it’s as bad as it sounds. An often female character close to the hero is killed and left behind for the protagonist to find, sometimes as the start of a revenge plotline, but always for the main male character’s development even though the female character will get little to no attention or development as a result of her brutal murder. In the Green Lantern comic, for instance, the hero’s girlfriend was shoved into the refrigerator for him to discover later.

My point is I don’t want Vanessa to go through any of this.

There was beautiful and careful attention given to fleshing out Vanessa’s character and her relationship with Deadpool in the first film, and she and the other female characters have so much potential moving forward.

It would be easier for the writers to kill off Vanessa in the next film than it would be for them to have to fully utilize her character (It would also be the lazier thing to do on their part.) Is this a bit pessimistic? Sure. But check out the list of women who’ve been fridged in comics before (warning: the descriptions in this link are brief but potentially triggering since they often refer to varying levels of abuse and violence), and you might also start worrying that yet another writing team will fall back on lazy writing rather than spending the time it takes to be innovative.

If the writers really need any ideas about Vanessa’s future role in Deadpool’s life, here are some suggestions about what they could do with her:

—The two of them could mutually decide to breakup in order to avoid any more damsel-in-distress moments.

—Vanessa could have a new job opportunity.

—Or she could have some cool powers that elevate her from girlfriend to partner-in-crime.

—They could break up but still be on good terms as friends (allowing her to poke fun at him in front of his new boyfriend).

—They could literally do anything besides killing her.

deadpool coupley Look

My point is this: it’s fantastic that big blockbuster movies—especially ones rooted in comics—are making an effort to become more inclusive of LGBTQ+ characters, but let’s not have that move forward happen at the expense of women.

—Molly C.

Sundance Film Fest wrap-up: disappointing vampires, surprising anti-ladies, and inspiring warriors

sundance iwnd logoBetter late than never, Leah Railey’s last three reviews of films at Sundance…


Only Lovers Left Alive

This movie was not what I expected.

I saw a trailer for Only Lovers Left Alive (directed by Jim Jarmusch) a few months ago and expected an interesting new take on vampire romance stories.

In a way that’s what I got.

The film follows a vampire couple that looks and acts too fabulous. With a cast led by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, the rest of the actors were sure to be equally fashionable and trendy.

However, Only Lovers Left Alive did little for me as cinephile and even less for me as a feminist, but the movie was beautifully made and looked a lot better than it actually was.



Wetlands, directed by David Wnendt, is officially one of my favorite films.

The film very quickly suggests that it is an argument against the social construct of what it means to be a “lady,” because the mother of the main character, Helen, mentions in the beginning that ladies are clean but the main character is anything but that. She enjoys using public bathrooms, letting her “natural odor” be like perfume, and not letting germs control her life the way a lot of people do.

In that way, Wetlands gives viewers an alternative to the clean, pure, and polite “lady” character we are all supposed to love.

While I do not think it is necessary to replace the social construction of what makes someone a “lady” with another construction of an “anti-lady,” it is a film that finally gives us something other than the pretty-but-quirky woman we traditionally see in independent film.


The Case Against 8


This emotional documentary, directed by Ryan White and Ben Cotner, follows two couples as they try to fight against Prop 8 in California, detailing the struggles they faced as individuals and giving an intimate account of the legal process as well.

While it remained as unbiased as possible, The Case Against 8 quickly became emotional for me and had me in tears the entire time. For that reason, it’s a must-see if you want to see why the fight for LGBTQ equality is still both necessary and hopeful.



Leah sitting on a bench made out of ice at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

LEAH RAILEY is a senior at Western Kentucky University majoring in creative writing and minoring in gender and women’s studies. Born and raised in Georgia, Leah considers Kentucky her second home. In her free time, Leah watches Netflix and Hulu (her favorite show right now is Scandal) and claims she reads too many fashion magazines. She has written articles for zines and the WKU Herald, focusing on issues relating to race, class, and gender.

The best moments at this year’s Golden Globes
… a.k.a. Take that, mani-cam!


The Golden Globes were last Sunday night, and though there were a few disappointments, it was mostly a great night for women (a fact one NY Post reporter actually had the hutzpah to complain about).




On the red carpet, one of the stars of Mad Men summed up how we all feel about the head-to-toe scrutiny of women when Elisabeth Moss flipped off their ridiculous E! mani-cam. Thank you, Elizabeth, for doing what we all want to do on the red carpet. Lord knows how many times I’ve flipped off the mani-cam and the glam-o-strator and the 360 degree room and whatever other bullshit they come up with to reduce women to their looks. And, wow, was it fun to see Giuliana Rancic freak out like that.



During the ceremony, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED it with an outrageously funny opening “monologue” and other hilarious bits throughout the evening including a great rejoinder to the inherent sexism of “Miss Golden Globe” by pretending Fey had an illegitmate son who was the night’s “Mr. Golden Globe.”

They didn’t shy away from women’s body issues either, explaining that “For The Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey lost forty pounds. Or what actresses call being in a movie” and encouraging the men to “kick off your shoes, try on the ladies’, and see how awful they are.”



Men who date younger women got BURNED when Tina and Amy introduce Gravity as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away and die than spend one more minute with a woman his age.”



Philomena Lee stood up for solidarity among women, saying that the movie based on her life is “not just about me; it is about all the women who have still not gotten justice.”



Emma Thompson showed us what it means to be a strong woman in Hollywood when she came out to present an award carrying her high heels in one hand and a martini in another. “That red you see is my blood,” Thompson said as she held up her shoes, eventually chucking them behind her.



Several winners called attention to how much their mothers helped them, including Amy Adams and Matthew McConaughey.



Amy Poehler won best actress in a television comedy for playing feminist Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec! As one of my friends said, I don’t know who to love more—Amy Poehler or Leslie Knope—because both are such wonderful role models for women.



Amy Poehler made out with Bono after her name was called, finally getting revenge for what Adrian Brody did to Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars.



Diane Keaton continued to challenge gender roles 37 years after she first did it in Annie Hall by wearing a men’s suit to accept the honorary Globe for Woody Allen.




Melissa McCarthy presented an award, and no one made any jokes about her body. It’s the small things, isn’t it?



Jimmy Fallon and Melissa McCarthy had phenomenal chemistry, making me believe they could star in a rom com together about a skinny dude and a bigger woman. Come on, Hollywood, make it happen!



Robin Wright ran to the stage in her giant heels, proving that women can do anything, and despite what Meryl Streep’s character said in August: Osage County, Wright canoodled with fiance Ben Foster, showing that women really DO get better with age.



Okay, I admit this one isn’t related to gender or body issues, but I also loved it when, in a moment of rare Hollywood camraderie, the cast/crew of 12 Years a Slave helped director Steve McQueen remember who to thank when he won Best Dramatic Motion Picture.





In addition to all the normal annoyance on the Red Carpet (including the aforementioned mani-cam, glam-o-strator, and 360-degree camera), a new tradition was introduced in which entertainment reporters repeatedly asked celebrities how much their jewels were worth, highlighting how out of touch Americans are with the state of the world.

Parks & Rec, one of the smartest television shows about a strong woman EVER, lost the Golden Globe for Best Television Comedy to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Really, Hollywood Foreign Press? Really????!!!!!!

Diane Keaton made us cringe by reducing the female actresses in Woody Allen’s film to “Woody’s Women” and then desecrating A GIRL SCOUTS’ SONG ABOUT FEMALE FRIENDSHIP by singing it in tribute to Allen.

And possibly most important of all, the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored all of the amazing movies made by women this year. In fact, not one woman was nominated for Best Director or Best Screenplay even though 2013 brought us excellent films written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig, Sarah Polley, Sofia Coppola, Julie Delpy, and many more.

Why I will keep thanking Lake Bell over and over

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing In a World, a feature film written and directed by actress Lake Bell.

There were many reasons why I appreciated this film, and I’ve listed all of them in my review of In a World on Bitch Flicks.

But there are a few reasons worth repeating here…

I’m thankful this movie stars an actress who doesn’t look like ever other Hollywood actress. Yes, Bell is beautiful, but she also doesn’t have the button nose, full lips, perfect posture, and blond hair that that has become so annoyingly ubiquitous among our female movie stars.

And neither do her co-stars…

On a related note, I’m thankful Bell’s protagonist, Carol Solomon, doesn’t always act like a leading lady—she shuffles, lurches, and acts general spazzy. She doesn’t always look glamorous either—she doesn’t always wear makeup or look perfectly primped and often wears regular-people clothes (sweatpants, thermal underwear, t-shirts, football jerseys, overalls, ill-fitting dresses, etc.)—just like the rest of us.

At the same time, I’m glad Carol looks attractive when she wants to without looking trashy or showing off all the goods.

I’m also thankful that several men are attracted to Carol even though she doesn’t know how to dress or stand up straight (and that the men who are drawn to her are attractive but not perfect either).

(Read the rest of my review on Bitch Flicks.)


The main reason why I’m glad Carol doesn’t always look hot or put together is because it’s incredibly important to see people who look like us on our screens and in our magazines since it’s one of the only ways we can begin to accept ourselves the way we are.

I can’t thank you enough for this gift, Lake Bell, but I will keep trying—thank you.

The Heat as postmodern feminist art: how McCarthy and Bullock blow off misogynistic bullshit

…a guest post by Dr. Molly Kerby

If you can’t stand The Heat

well, it goes without saying, you should go watch the movie!

I admit that I was reluctant to see The Heat and walked into the theater with a giant chip of skepticism on my shoulder. The photo-shopped playbills of Melissa McCarthy, the seemingly anti-feminist clips I’d see on talk shows, and the juxtaposition of the fat girl versus the skinny girl all made my radical blood boil.

How can we, as a society, still support the stereotypical image of the “fat” person being portrayed as lazy, disheveled, and crude? How can we position that stereotypical image in contrast with the “skinny,” organized/poised, Yale graduate? Have we, as women, made no progress toward equality?’

I thought to myself, this is so wrong on so many levels that I will never be able to sit through the entire film without walking out of the theater in disgust. Fortunately, my admiration for the artistic talents of both Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock peaked my curiosity.

I went to see the film.


The film began with an introduction of each of the main characters and unapologetically reeked of a cliché mismatched cop-duo movie. Melissa McCarthy plays Shannon Mullins, a foul-mouthed Irish detective in Boston from a dysfunctional family, and Sandra Bullock portrays the pathetically single, workaholic New York FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn.

I seriously felt like I was watching the introduction to Lethal Weapon 5.

The plot to bring down the infamous drug lord and save the big city is even triter than the characters themselves. All elements of the film seemed obvious and sophomoric.

Then it dawned on me that in my haste to judge this popular culture display of what I saw as sexism and fattism, I had lost the point of the film.


So, let me start by sharing this disclaimer: I am not a third-wave or postmodern feminist. Rather, as a second-wave feminist, I believe to truly move on the next wave of a movement, there should be significant evidence of social change in the era left behind; that has not happened.

That being disclaimed (not dismissed), this film is very much a postmodern/postmodern-feminist statement.

As we delve into critical feminist theory, contradictions, interpretations, and competing analyses challenge the foothold of attempts at a generalized understanding of feminism. By this I mean that no two feminist scholars see the analytical context of anything in the same way; the same will no doubt be true for the critics of this film, most of whom will totally miss the point.

Instead of dwelling on the never-ending discrimination of women in male-identified jobs, sexism in the workplace, and obsession with bodyism (particularly females) the movie constantly, and consistently, faces it head on.

One of the most poignant scenes occurs when the albino DEA agent broke into a monologue about female law officers letting their estrogen and emotions cloud their judgment on the streets. Both Mullins and Ashburn blankly and silently stare at him until he is finished.

My instincts told me as this scene progressed that one of them was going to punch him in the face (they’d done a lot of that already in the film), but it never happened.

Before simply walking off, Mullins made a rude joke about his girlfriend being a flour sack with a hole, and the scene was over.

No debate ever ensued about women rights or equality, nor was there any dialogue about the DEA agent being sexist. It was as if both of them had heard all it and dismissed it as benign; they had work to do.

Countless examples of this ideology continue throughout the movie.

The male “cop-turned-bad” drug lord calls the albino DEA a misogynistic pig, which elicits no response from either Mullins or Ashburn. They just shake their heads in agreement and the scene moves on. Again, at the end Ashburn is passed over for a promotion, but nothing is ever said about discrimination – it just “is.”

Almost every stereotype about women in the workforce (in particular, law enforcement) is in this film, but it is shelved by the unlikely duo as if it was yesterday’s news.

In my critical perception of The Heat, the film is an example of postmodern feminist art.

One of the most compelling arguments of postmodern feminism is that gender is socially constructed through language. The idea is that what society regards as feminine is only a reflection of what is constructed as masculine, especially though our patterns of communication (both verbal and nonverbal).

Third-wave feminists have added that reclaiming derogatory language in order to change the connotation should be a central focus of revolution. An example of this ideology are the Slutwalks that began in 2011 aimed at reclaiming the word “slut” and attacking the notion that what women wear contributes to their victimization. The same is true for third-waver’s ideas of physical presentation in general; dress, weight, body modification, piercing, tattooing, etc.

In The Heat, slurs about weight, appearance, race, and gender fly from both (and all!) sides throughout the film:

—Mullins verbally attacks her boss in the beginning of the film and rants about his “small balls” for what seems to be five minutes

—The albino DEA agent refers to  Mullins as the “Campbell’s soup kid” all grown up

—Mullins tells the albino DEA agent he looks “Evil as shit,” a reference to the 1978 movie Foul Play in which another mismatched duo (Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase) solve a case involving albinos, dwarves, and the Catholic Church.

—Mullins refers to Ashburn’s Hispanic boss as “Puss in Boots,” a reference to Antonio Banderas’s charismatic character in Shrek.

The list goes on and on.

Similarly, we can hypothesize that, like language, other things, including body image—the subject of this blog—are socially constructed and most definitely treated in that same manner as language in this film.

One thing I noticed, above all the rest, is that the two women never shopped for sexy lingerie, drooled over dresses they couldn’t afford in store windows, engaged in “girl talk,” cooked, or cleaned. Neither of them made overreaching attempts to transform the other in ways that always appear in “chick” movies. Ashburn never told Mullins she needed to lose weight so she would be prettier, happier, or healthier. They did not have a “make-over” scene so that everyone could gasp at how pretty they looked when they “acted” like women. Mullins seemed to have a very active sex life, so there was never any innuendo that she could “get a man” if she wasn’t fat. To the contrary, Ashburn was the one who had the “dull” life; not because she was “ugly” but because she worked too much and was too serious and “stiff” (a trait most often given to men in movies).

Third-wave feminism posits that making autonomous choices about self-expression can be empowering acts of resistance, not simply internalized oppression. In other words, we may not be able to change the system as radical feminism suggests, but we do have the power to not conform to societal norms.

While that might seem like an oversimplification, it’s not at all.

I started my journey as a feminist with the idea that overhauling the system was the only way to make change. As I continued on through the many twisted passages, I realized that I might not be able change the system. What I did eventually grasp, however, it that I did not have to be an active part of that system.

And, that’s what this movie is about.

It acknowledges all of the elements of the misogynistic bullshit that are engrained in our language and institutions and then just blows them off.

Yes, I liked the movie.


Dr. Molly Kerby is an assistant professor in the Department of Diversity & Community Studies at Western Kentucky University (WKU). She teaches in the gender & women’s studies graduate and undergraduate program as well as the Masters of Arts in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities (SRSC) degree program.  She is a social justice scholar and activist. Molly has been a resident of Bowling Green, Kentucky, and member of the WKU community for almost thirty years.

Before Midnight Part I: Why we need more actresses who look like Julie Delpy

My piece on Before Midnight appears at Bitch Flicks today, and I hope you’ll read it.

In that piece, I talk about what’s wrong with the writing in Before Midnight, the third film in the Richard Linklater Before Sunrise/Before Sunset trilogy.

But I want to talk here about what’s right. And what’s right in that film is how real Julie Delpy looks.

In Before Midnight, Delpy has a few wrinkles…

fleshy arms…

big hips and thick thighs,

a real butt and real hips…

and a bit of a stomach…

Simply put, Delpy looks like a real person—flaws and all.

Despite this, she also looks stunningly beautiful, sending the important message that we can look real and have flaws and still be beautiful. 

If we had more women on our screens who looked this real and this good at the same time, we would probably all feel a lot better about ourselves and have more attainable role models.

In the Nicole Holofcener film, Lovely and Amazing, Emily Mortimer plays a struggling actress obsessed with her appearance.

In one scene, she stands stark naked in front of another actor (played by Dermot Mulroney) and asks him to describe her flaws. But when she tells her mother what’s wrong with her appearance, her mother balks and insists she is “lovely and amazing.”

That about sums about how I feel about Mortimer’s supposed flaws.

And Delpy’s too.

And all of the rest of ours for that matter.

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!

When did we become so fake?

This semester I’m teaching a class on creative retellings—that is, stories that retell classic texts in a creative way. If you don’t know what I mean, think Clueless (a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma), think A Thousand Acres (a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), think O Brother, Where Art Thou (a retelling of The Odyssey).

So this week we started watching 10 Things I Hate about You (a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) in class, and I could not believe how different everything looked. Not only did the titles look cheesy, the hair look badly permed, and the clothes look out of date (thank God cropped shirts went out of style), but the PEOPLE in the movie looked different too.

The film stars Julia Styles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Larisa Oleynik. These are all very attractive people, but somehow they all manage to look kind of normal and down-to-earth in this movie. In other words, a world apart from the young people we see in movies and television shows about teenagers today.

For example, here’s a still of the main character, played by Styles…

See how natural and un-made up Stiles looks here? It’s so damn refreshing. Don’t get me wrong: she still looks beautiful. But she looks beautiful and normal at the same time.

But we almost never see actresses looking like that in movies or television shows about high schoolers today. Instead they look like this:

Is it just me, or do these people look really really airbrushed? And kind of grotesque in an Andy-Warhol-does-Marilyn-Monroe kind of way too? And, while we’re on the subject, why does everybody on a television show have to pose like that now? Is there some kind of rule about standing with your hands on your hips and looking at the camera like your pissed?

Not only does Stiles look real in 10 Things, but so does Oleynik, who plays Stiles’ younger sister, Bianca. And what’s really interesting about Bianca is that she is the girl in the movie who all the boys pine over, the beauty who even the most popular guy in school is wooing.

So naturally you’d think she’d look something like Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively, who played the hottest high schooler on the planet…

But in reality, Bianca just looks like a regular teenager…

And it’s not just the girls in 10 Things who look real. The dudes look pretty down-to-earth as well…

Sure, Heath Ledger looked hot even when he was leaning against a metal locker in a plain t-shirt…

…but would we really seen a teenage boy in a romantic comedy with that kind of messy hair today? I highly doubt it since the high school boys who’ve been dominating our screens the past few years usually look more like this:

I’m not talking about television shows or movies about “dorky” high schoolers a la Superbad or even Perks of Being a Wallflower—or the movie about the girl who gets a makeover as Lindsay Lohan’s character did in Mean Girls

These movies don’t count because they’re TRYING to make the actors look worse than they do.

I’m talking about the movies and television shows that are supposed to be about “regular” characters. Except that all the “regular” people look like they belong on the cover of Cosmo.

When I was looking for photos that proved my point, I came across two that made my case even stronger: publicity shots of the current and former cast of 90210.

Here they are now…

And here were back in the early ’90s…

See how different these people look?

The original cast of Beverly Hills, 90210—especially Shannon Doherty, Tori Spelling, Garielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green, and Ian Ziering—looked like real people. Yes, relatively good looking real people, but real people all the same.

But apparently teenagers aren’t allowed to look real anymore.

Instead they have to appear like they just stepped out of the plastic surgery ward—waxed and plucked and styled and coiffed and airbrushed so much that they look more like wax figures than real people.

If Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling can feature real people in their shows about adult women, there’s no reason that shows about high schoolers can’t do the same.

It’s time people. It’s time.

Can Hope Springs launch a new era of smart, accessible movies about women?

If you watch the movie trailer for Hope Springs, you’ll see a lot of comical moments set against the backdrop of some lighthearted happy music…

…including Meryl Streep’s character telling her kids that she and her husband—played by Tommy Lee Jones—got each other a new cable subscription to celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary.

…Streep smiling happily when Jones joins her on the plane to go to “intensive couples therapy.”

…Jones cracking wise about the experience: saying things like “I hope you’re happy” when he boards the plane and “that makes one of us” when their therapist—played with both understated gravity and empathy by Steve Carrell—says he’s happy the two of them are there.

…Streep asking a bookstore clerk for a book called Sex Tips for a Straight Woman by a Gay Man. (A book, by the way, I would like to have.)

…Streep sitting on a toilet eating a banana while reading the aforementioned book (rather than using said banana for its intended purpose).

…Streep laughing bashfully when salty bartender Elizabeth Shue gets a bar full of locals to admit they’re not having sex either. (Shue’s only appearance in the film, I must sadly note.)

…Streep and Jones laughing together over their therapist’s formal way of talking about sex.

…Streep shaking her head in a lighthearded manner at Jones while Jones dances in front of her.

And while all this is happening, the screen reads:

From the director of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA … comes a comedy about love…and the things we’ll do to get it.

Finally, the trailer closes with Streep and Jones running into the neighbor with whom Jones admitted in therapy he’d like to have a threesome. The woman has just adopted her third Corgie, and the trailer ends with her saying,”Three’s the limit!”

It all feels very light, funny, silly, and—this is important—optimistic, even hopeful, an idea of course reinforced by the title, Hope Springs.

But this trailer is completely misleading because Hope Springs is not a comedy—unless you’re talking about the tradtional Shakesperian definition of a comedy, which assumes that on the way to finding happiness the characters suffer through some incredible tragic experiences.

No, the majority of this movie is more dark than light, more pessimistic than hopeful. In fact, sometimes it’s so dark that it’s hard to watch. (Not The Hurt Locker hard to watch, but still hard to watch.)

This is because Hope Springs is a movie about two people who are desperately unhappy—in marriage and in life. And it is their unhappiness that dominates most of the movie. They certainly spend more time feeling alienated or alone than they do being happy—whether they are together or apart.

And that makes me happy.

It makes me happy because it is so rare that we see a mainstream movie showing average Americans who are desperately unhappy, a condition that sadly affects more of us than it should given how relatively easy most of our lives are.

In most mainstream movies, we are shown something wholly different from these two miserable people … not their polar opposite, but still people who are mostly happy but have a tiny sliver of unhappiness in their life, a sliver which is usually located in their romantic life. As the movie progresses, these mostly happy people, of course, find romance and then all is well in the world.

In other words, most mainstream movies about couples are not at all realistic and not really all that interesting.

But Hope Springs, thankfully, isn’t that simple-minded.

At the beginning of the film, the unbelievably talented Streep and Jones are shown wallowing in the mud puddle of routine and mediocrity. Their lives are horribly mundane—they wake every day at the same time, they eat the same meals and watch the same TV shows, and, most importantly, they spend their time not interacting in the same frustrated fashion.

And some of the clips that look cute and comical in the preview—like when they mention their new cable subscription to their kids at their anniversary dinner—are much darker inside the actual movie, where it seems that absolutely nothing is able to even temporarily lift their suffocating misery. Even on their anniversary, they can’t even look each other in the eye, much less speak to each other, a scene that reads as more tragic than funny when you see it in context.

These tragic occurences continue throughout the movie. From the moment when Streep is packing her suitcase for couples therapy, crying as she thinks about the fact that Jones has said he doesn’t want to join her, to the two different scenes when they each run out of therapy on different occasions after becoming completely overwhelmed by the problems they face as a couple. *SPOILER ALERT* To the brutal scene when they finally try to have sex but ultimately fail, leaving Streep to wonder out loud if Jones is no longer attracted to her because she’s overweight and old. It’s obvious to the viewer that this is not the case, but watching Streep wimper about the baby weight she never lost after her husband stops banging her mid-coitus is utterly heartbreaking. *END OF SPOILER*

These are the kinds of moments that dominate the film, clearly demonstrating that these people are miserable in a way that is not at all happy or light or silly.

But rather is very real.

And the things they talk about in therapy are real too—why they no longer have sex, why they don’t sleep in the same bed, why they play out the same ignore-each-other script every day of their lives, why they never do anything for each other anymore, why their gifts are for the house and not each other, and even more hard-to-talk-about issues like what they fantasize about and whether or not they still masturbate.

The latter discussion made me wish—for a split second—that I wasn’t sitting between my husband and my mother while watching this scene unfold, but ultimately I was so thrilled the film didn’t flinch from the emotional honesty of these uncomfortable moments that I was able to get past the awkwardness of the situation.

I had invited my mother to see the movie with us because I’d had the wrong impression—from the misleading trailer—that it was going to be a well done but cliched and light-hearted rom-com.

But as I said, Hope Springs is far from light entertainment. It’s a movie that makes you think.

It makes you think about what it means to have a healthy relationship and about how you can lose that even with someone you love. It makes you think about how important sex and romance are to a successful relationship. It makes you think about the problems with falling into stereotypical gender roles. And, most importantly, it makes you think about how happiness is more important than being in the wrong relationship.

In that way, Hope Springs feels more like Sex and the City for seniors than a rehash of some of Streep’s other rom-coms—like It’s Complicated and Mamma Mia!—both of which were fun and had some thoughtful interludes, but were still, in the end, just light entertainment.

The woman who wrote the screenplay for Hope Springs—Vanessa Taylor—is new to film but has written for critically-praised television shows such as Game of Thones and Alias, making me wonder if maybe, just maybe, Hope Springs is a sign Hollywood is finally willing to let more serious writers take on comedy, something we’ve seen with only a handful of other screenwriters such as Alexander Payne and Diablo Cody. And if this were to happen even more, it makes me wonder if we could move away from the predominantly vacuous junk that has passed as comedy about women for the past decade—the so-called rom-com—so that we can finally return to our more Shakespearian roots.

At the very least, this movie gives me that hope.

For probably the first time ever, I posted early. . .

If you’re here for Tuesday’s post, please see my review of The Hunger Games below. I got excited and couldn’t wait until today to post it, so it went up Saturday afternoon.

Also, if you’re going to be in Bowling Green, Kentucky, this Thursday, you are invited to come hear me give a talk about the blog at WKU. The talk is called “When Hairy Met Sally: Why the Schlub Is as Good as It Gets for Some Hollywood Beauties” (see the hilarious poster above) and will begin at 4 p.m. in McCormack Hall as part of the WTF Potter College series. You can also RSVP on Facebook

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