' ' Cinema Romantico: Countdown to the Oscars: My Favorite Movie Scene of 2013

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Countdown to the Oscars: My Favorite Movie Scene of 2013

It’s hard out there for women in Hollywood. It’s hard for them to simply show up in movies. As Linda Holmes noted, with an understandable flair for the dramatic, on NPR this past summer: “In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn't a documentary or a cartoon — you can't. You cannot. There are not any.” She was not suggesting there were no movies featuring women, but rather there were no movies featured specifically about women. Because once women do appear in movies, it becomes that much more difficult for them to genuinely live and breathe on their own terms, to not be singularly defined by the movie’s men, and to not be objectified. It is a serious and deep-seated issue worthy of incisive cinematic commentary, and who knew arguably 2013’s bro-iest movie would be the one to do it?

“This Is The End” was a virtual silver screen invasion of Judd Apatow’s army, a bunch of movie acting chums getting together and playing themselves, reminiscent of a “movie” you might have shot with your friends in high school on Dad’s camcorder but with higher production value and more A-list cameos. Threaded throughout the party experience, however, is yet another storybook tale of bromance, Jay Baruchel flying to Los Angeles to visit BFF Seth Rogen, only to realize they have grown apart. This is crystallized when Seth drags him to a party at James Franco’s house, stocked with old reliables like Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, before the apocalypse breaks out on the front lawn and forces these dudes to bond (and deal with Danny McBride). Boys will be boys, even when under fire from the rapture.

It is telling, though, who is at and what takes place during James Franco's classic rager. Everyone made a big to-do about Michael Cera’s wonky cameo, and he is funny, but he is primarily there to be rhapsodized by Mindy Kaling and get slapped by Rihanna after he’s objectified her. Good on Rihanna for standing up for herself but, hey, couldn’t she and Mindy Kaling have had a moment to chat around James Franco’s cheese wheel about, I dunno, gender equality on the Warner Bros. back lot? Seems like a fairly typical Bechdel Test failing pseudo-frat party, no?

From there, "This Is The End" morphs into a cinematic bottle episode, as our sextet of Hollywood glitterati fend off (ignore) the burgeoning apocalypse by getting high and arguing over who gets to eat the last Milky Way. Even with Jay Baruchel's neurosis about where he belongs in the group intertwined with the narrative, this still feels like a $32 million excuse for a few friends to get together for a few weeks and hang out. Until Emma Watson busts through the front door with an axe, that is, at which point "This Is The End" suddenly becomes spectacular and a spectacularly funny social commentary.

First off, it's important to note that Emma Watson, playing herself like everyone else, English accent in tow, has apparently managed to survive the catastrophic events taking place all by her winsome self. This is telling, and it is telling because while, say, James Franco cannot even bear to part with his sleeping mask and satin sheets, Emma Watson has been going toe-to-toe with Satan and his minions and winning. She’s already got more figurative balls than any of the leading men.

But now, busting her way into the ex-Oscar host’s boarded-up home, she is just searching for a place to crash, just for a few hours. The guys gladly offer a bedroom. She enters, exhausted, and closes the door. The guys, meanwhile, stand right outside and debate “the elephant in the room”. That is, they are six men in the midst of the Apocalypse. With a lone woman. They don't want to emit a vibe. A certain kind of vibe. A vibe no one wants to namecheck because to say it aloud immediately renders you dubious in the public's eye. But finally Danny McBride says it because of course he does. “A rapey vibe.” Eeeeeee. Of course, none of them want to give off a rapey vibe because none of them have any intention of having their way with Emma Watson. Alas, once the word “rape” is broached the entire animal house becomes so desperate not to offend that they inevitably, inadvertently blunder right across the line.

"The joke's on all of them," Alyssa Rosenberg writes at Think Progress, "and on all of us." She notes how the joke is not based "on the idea that it would be hilarious for Watson to get raped" but "how hard it is for men and women to talk about rape." This is entirely true, a finely-tuned deconstruction of a sensitive topic too often discussed with little forethought or odd irreverence. Because in their specific attempt to avoid being offensive, the guys succeed mightily in offending Emma Watson when she overhears their blabbering mouths from inside her temporary resting spot and becomes concerned for her safety. So she re-hoists her axe, steals their supplies and makes her escape. And this is why the sequence goes beyond just its spot-on analysis of untoward rape jokes and speaks directly to the pervasive woman problem in Hollywood.

Here is a skilled actress playing herself as a consummate badass consciously portrayed as being physically and mentally tougher than the boys. The screenplay, however, deliberately turns her presence into “the elephant in the room”, which is to say it does not know how to deal with her presence. So, it panics and immediately writes her right back out of the story.

Consider the scene reduced to its essential stage directions: Woman Enters Movie. Woman Is Immediately Objectified. Woman Exits Movie. In a few brief minutes of screen time, "This Is The End" and its bros have broken down and pointed out the disturbing and repetitive cycle of how Hollywood chooses to treat its women. Show up, be pretty, let us talk about you, and then go away.

Then again, the closing sequence set in a white-shrouded heaven populated by the Backstreet Boys, a bunch of front-and-center dudes and background women in revealing clothing functioning solely as arm and eye candy, might suggest that Hollywood's vision of eternal paradise is just as chauvinistic as its vision of reality, and that our bros at the controls have not even paid heed to their own lesson.

1 comment:

Derek Armstrong said...

Interesting and valid observation about this scene, which would never have occurred to me without this post.

I do almost feel like Hollywood's only idea about what to do with women these days is to make them badasses. It's like the years of overcompensating for Birth of a Nation by making all black characters saints and "magical negroes." On the surface, it's empowering -- see, this woman can kick ass just like, or better than, the guys. But without character development of said woman, it's just as objectifying in its own way.