Monday, July 7, 2008

Girls Watch Movies (And They're...Ambivalent?)

A friend and I were recently talking about how so few of the recently released movies pass the Bechdel test. If you haven't the faintest what I’m babbling on about, the Bechdel test for movies that are female friendly has three simple rules:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

I decided to see whether the movies I’ve seen in theatres in 2008 so far pass the test. I’m only counting movies I’ve seen in theatres and not Netflixed, Tivoed, OnDemanded, etc, because a) I’ve seen 94 movies total since 1/1/08 and I only have a free half hour to write this entry, b) in-theatres-only will give a better idea of the current climate since those movies are all, well, current. My criteria for judging disincludes minor/background characters (a female character has to appear in at least two scenes to count), and doesn’t count conversations shorter than roughly ten lines (five per actress).

1) I Am Legend – Bechdel rating: 1/3 - This satisfies requirement one (two women) if you count the flashbacks. But, to be fair, there aren’t even a lot of people in this movie to begin with.

2) One Missed Call - 3/3 - Surprisingly passes! There are several scenes of women together talking, and not about men. They’re talking about their impending doom, but hey, baby steps.

3) Sweeney Todd - 1/3 - Has at least two women. Three, actually. And played by three different actresses to boot. (Stage productions usually double Joanna and the beggar woman. But it evens out, because Sascha Baron Cohen’s role was played by a woman in the 2005 Broadway revival.) But they don’t converse, unless you count Mrs. Lovett screaming at the beggar woman, which I don’t.

4) Cloverfield - 1/3 - Has three main women, but no real visible conversing between them. This, however, could be attributed to the characters in the film mostly interacting with the camera (Hud). In a traditional format, I’m confident J.J. would have done right by the women, as he did with Felicity, Alias, and Lost.

5) 27 Dresses - 2/3 - Two women, check. Talk to each other, check. About something other than a man, uh…

6) Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay - 1/3 - Plenty of women, not so much with the talking, but Neil Patrick Harris makes this worth the price of admission anyway.

7) Iron Man - 2/3 - We’ve got two women who do share a scene alone, so that’s check on one and two, but of course their conversation is all about Tony.

8) Sex and the City - 3/3 - This should have been in the bag, but in my opinion it barely passes. SATC has women galore who seem to do nothing but talk to each other. But nearly every conversation revolves around the men in their lives.

9) The Strangers - 3/3 - Three women, and some conversing between them, mostly revolving around killing and being killed.

10) The Incredible Hulk - 1/3 - Two women – I know, you’re probably scratching your head to think of who I mean besides Liv Tyler, but there was the one female soldier who was, of course, called a bitch and killed. Oh, and the woman who’s sexually harassed in the Brazilian bottling plant.

11) Wall-E - 1/3 - Assuming we’re gonna assign gender to robots and say Eve’s a woman, then we’ve got Eve and Mary for two women. Otherwise, it’d be oh for three.

12) Wanted - 1/3 - Well, we’ve got the obnoxious boss, the harpy girlfriend, and Angelina Jolie – three women. Not a lot of go-go girl power in this flick, though.

13) Hancock – 0/3 – Come to think of it, I’m having trouble thinking of any Will Smith movie that passes the test. Hm.

So, three out of thirteen movies pass completely. Yikes.

What do we learn from this? Not much, of course, because it’s just my skewed, opinionated sampling. But it’s interesting to note that horror movies do well with the test because there are usually plenty of women talking to each other about things other than men – namely, how to keep from getting hacked into pieces. The tradeoff being that most women in horror movies get hacked into pieces.

Of course, this list is just based on the movies I’ve personally seen in theatres in 2008. I saw Juno on New Year’s Eve, so that’s not quite 2008, but it would have passed 3/3. There are some other movies released in 2008 that I haven’t seen but that I suspect might pass: Mad Money, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Baby Mama, The Life Before Her Eyes, and Then She Found Me.

And then there are the ones I saw on DVD/OnDemand that were released in 2008: Teeth, Untraceable, The Air I Breathe, The Eye, and Charlie Bartlett. Of those, Teeth passes 3/3 (though it doesn’t actually have a lot of Dawn talking to another woman, I think the female empowerment theme well pushes it over the edge), Untraceable, The Air I Breathe, and The Eye barely squeak by (the female-female conversations, while not male-centric, are quite brief and mostly inconsequential to the story), and Charlie Bartlett, while fabulously entertaining, gets only 1 of 3.

Then again, maybe it’s my own fault, a result of the kind of movies I pick. After all, the upcoming movies I’m most anticipating are The Dark Knight, Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Midnight Meat Train, Mamma Mia!, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Mirrors, Hamlet 2, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, Passengers, and Eagle Eye. Of those, only two (Mamma Mia! and Hamlet 2) seem to be somewhat girl-friendly. But what can I say, my favorite genre is horror, followed by action/comedy. I wish like hell there were more movies coming out that pass the Bechdel test and fit those genres. I hate that my choices for go-go girl flicks are usually limited to horror movies where maybe one girl escapes getting hacked to pieces, action flicks where there’s one kickass chick among all the boys, movies that are focused solely on romantic entanglements, or naval-gazing chickfests like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes that make me feel like a bad woman because I just can’t get into them.

The problem is, movie studios almost all aim for only one of the four quadrants (Males Under 25). Sure, they hope for a four quadrant smash like Iron Man (which drew in Males Under 25, Females Under 25, Males Over 25, and Females Over 25), but the second best scenario is MU25, because they know that, more often than not, us other-quadrant dwellers will see an MU25-targeted movie, while the reverse is rarely true. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that there weren’t a lot of MU25s lining up to see The Bucket List (MO25), Mad Money (FO25), and 27 Dresses (FU25). But I bet plenty of members of the other three quadrants went to see Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, an MU25-targeted film if ever there was one. Hell, I went to see it, with another FO25er, and we were seated between three MU25ers and two FU25ers and behind an MO25er who lit up an enormous spliff midway through the first act. I just wish studios would start coming out with entertaining horror and action/comedy flicks that pass what seem to be three ridiculously-easy-to-satisfy rules.


Anonymous said...

Bechdel as in Dykes to Watch Out For Bechdel? Brilliant. (I wonder if a film would get 2.5/3 if all the women did was talk about the f/f romances in their lives...)

s. said...

Yup, the one and only. And hm, good question. Bechdel does skew the criteria to be less kind to breeders (unsurprisingly), so a lesbian story would probably pass if you go by the letter of the law. But I think it's probably bad to portray women as unable to talk about anything but their romantic lives, regardless the partner's gender. Which means The L Word would probably only get 2/3, which is kind of ironic if you think about it.