YEAR: 2005
DIRECTOR: Andy Tennant
KEY ACTORS: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta
CERTIFICATE: 12A
IMDB SCORE: 6.6
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 68%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ This is rewatchable. It shouldn’t be. It should have aged very badly and be too annoying to watch now…but it’s still pretty enjoyable!
✔️ I’d definitely fuck the cast! Will Smith may not be at his Independence Day era peak but he’s still looking great and Eva Mendes is stunning. STUNNING!
✔️ And it did inspire fantasies but they’re ones that make me a bit sad now – I would simply fantasise about someone liking me enough to make that much effort like the men in the film. Oh dear…
❌ But it definitely fails the Bechdel Test. I don’t think there are any conversations at all in the film that aren’t about dating!
❌ And I can’t give it a mark for being sex positive. It may be relationship positive and encouraging of sex within a relationship, but casual sex is less acceptable. It’s something desperate woman and sleazy men do, not something good people do. Yeah, not great…

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Netflix, NowTV, Sky Movies, YouTube (from £6.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

[Content warning: manipulation, pick up artistry and a brief mention of rape]

The Hitch poster showing Will Smith looking charming

This week’s film is so nearly perfect. It’s funny and light and well made and easy to watch and has a killer cast and has some important dating messages at its core – no one is too good for you, personality is worth more than looks etc – but, sadly, all that good subtext is hidden within a really problematic exterior…

The film is 2005’s Hitch – a movie about Alex ‘Hitch’ Hitchens (Will Smith), a Date Doctor who claims that ‘no matter what, no matter when, no matter who, any man has a chance to sweep any woman off her feet. He just needs the right broom.’ He helps loveless and lovesick men successfully date the women of their dreams and the movie follows Hitch as he helps accountant Albert (Kevin James) date supermodel Allegra (Amber Valletta). He manipulates the circumstances of their meeting to ensure that Allegra notices Albert and helps him overcome his lack of confidence to have the guts to ask her out. Alongside this successful dating story, Hitch himself has a series of disastrous dates with Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a gossip columnist who has stolen his heart. Unfortunately, she is a cynic and doesn’t believe in love so exposes his career as a dating consultant, causing all sorts of chaos and prompting many heartfelt speeches about how hard dating can be and how we have to make ourselves vulnerable to succeed…before everyone lives happily ever after!

Smith and Mendes, about to kiss

I hate to say it but 2005 me loved the message in this film. Back when I was 20 and hadn’t had much luck with dating, I didn’t see how misogynistic the film is or how offensive Hitch’s dating strategies were. In fact, I was thrilled to see them! It felt like the answer to my dating woes – when no one was actually asking me out on dates and the closest thing to an approach was a randomer non-consensually grinding up against me in the student union, the idea that some guy would like me enough to put in all that effort felt kind of incredible! I wanted that. I wanted someone to make an elaborate plan to win my heart against all the odds, to really try to date me and not give up if I got scared and backed off.

And I thought that it was great for the movie to tell men that they’re more likely to be successful when dating if they paid attention to their dates! Much of Hitch’s advice about what to do on dates remains good advice – distressingly simple at times but good nonetheless. It is important to listen to what your date is actually saying so that you can reply in conversation rather than saying something like ‘you have a pretty mouth.’ It is important that your date gets on with your friends and perhaps it is helpful to schmooze the friend when you’re all out together to make that easier. And it is sometimes necessary to make a big statement to get noticed or to change the way someone looks at you.

An image from Hitch of Smith and James

More than that, Hitch is very good at encouraging ‘average looking’ men to feel better about themselves – and I put ‘average looking’ in inverted commas as describing them like this is to rank them on society’s scale rather than anyone’s personal scale. Despite what I am just about to write about his pick-up artistry, Hitch doesn’t use any tricks when advising Albert and all he does is give him the confidence to act. In this sense, Hitch is a bit like Dumbo’s magic feather. Would Albert have had the guts to talk to Allegra if Hitch hadn’t had his back? He essentially ignores all the advice that Hitch gives him, dancing as he wants to dance and kissing Allegra as he wants to kiss her, with the Guardian describing him as ‘Bridget Jones with a beer belly…who – spoiler alert! – gets his girl by being just the way he is.’ But Albert believes that he is worthy of Allegra because he has hired a dating consultant who has told him that he is. Wouldn’t we all like that kind of confidence? I know I certainly would!

But.

But but but but but Hitch’s entire dating philosophy is based on the fact that the men he is advising know better than the women they desire. He’s teaching men that they shouldn’t listen to the words that women are saying because they don’t really mean them:

‘Basic principles: no woman wakes up saying, “God, I hope I don’t get swept off my feet today!” Now, she might say, “This is a really bad time for me,” or something like, “I just need some space,” or my personal favorite, “I’m really into my career right now.” You believe that? Neither does she. You know why? Because she’s lying to you, that’s why. You understand me? Lying! It’s not a bad time for her. She doesn’t need any space. And she may be into her career, but what she’s really saying is, “Uh, get away from me now,” or possibly, “Try harder, stupid.”’

Or she’s saying ‘I’m not interested but I don’t want to risk angering you so I’m offering a bland but palatable alternative excuse.’ Hitch never allows for the fact that the women might be trying to say no kindly.

Because he’s telling them not to give up, even if the object of their affection keeps saying no. He’s telling them to keep asking, keep trying, keep pushing. He’s telling them not to believe it when they say no, which is so so so dangerous! Worse, Hitch is telling us that it is romantic to find a way around a woman’s wishes and keep forcing themselves upon them: ‘Sara tells Hitch never to call her. He sends her a walkie-talkie instead. During that call (not technically a phone call, as he is—liking women as well as loving them—respecting her wishes), she says no to dinner. He persists. If not Friday, then how about Saturday? No again. He persists some more. Finally, she agrees—very reluctantly—to a Sunday-morning date…Did I mention that she is reluctant? She really, really is. Yet she is also, we are meant to understand, reluctantly charmed. What persistence! What a compliment!

An image from Hitch of Mendes talking on a wallow talkie

As Megan Garber writes in The Atlantic, within Hitch’s framing of events, ‘there is literally no way for a woman to communicate a lack of interest.’ She’s not saying no; she’s daring you to try harder. Urgh…

Of course, Hitch doesn’t see the implicit danger with this approach and justifies his actions because he only works with good guys, a point emphasised when he refuses to work with the obligatory bad guy. Because the men he is encouraging are good people, the women are wrong to turn them down or, perhaps, misinformed and need to be shown the error of their ways. It’s a message that tells people that ‘intention, when it comes to one’s dealings with women, trumps action. That being a good guy—or, more to the point, seeing yourself as a good guy—justifies pretty much all manner of disgusting behaviour.’ The men may be directly acting against their desired date’s wishes, they may be manipulating circumstances and edging very close to actual lies but it’s OK because it’s for the date’s best interests, even if they don’t realise it yet. When they’re in love and happy, does it matter if a borderline lie got them there?

And there is no doubt that what Hitch does is manipulating. He may claim that he is only ‘creates opportunities’ but catching a hot girl’s dog so that you can literally lay down in traffic and pretend to have saved that dog’s life when she rushes in is a lie. It’s a lie! And it’s (not-so-) subtly dismissive of women too, suggesting that all we want is a hero. So many of the reviews talk of Hitch fixing it so that the men look more heroic and so ‘deceive women into thinking they’re something they’re not. His motto: “With no guile and no game, there’s no girl.”’ Again, urgh…

Pick up artists, in the modern sense, have existed since the 1970s but it was Neil Strauss’s book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, that was published the year before Hitch was released that brought these techniques to a wider audience. For men who follow these techniques, pick up artistry is a game and the woman is a prize – an inherently misogynistic concept – and groups of men who would describe themselves as pick up artists often overlap with groups of men’s rights activists and incels. They tend to feel like they deserve female attention because they’ve earned it by making all the right moves and using all the right tricks.

Pick up artists are taught to interpret unspoken cues as positive signs and, just like Hitch, to ignore negative words as, apparently, women do not mean what they say. Horrifically, pick up artists learn a set of techniques called “Last Minute Resistance” tactics (LMR tactics) that are ‘designed to convince a woman to have sex after she has indicated that she doesn’t want to.’ While Wikipedia describes some of these as ‘mutually beneficial – such as being okay with the woman being on her period,’ there is no doubt that these tactics include and encourage coercion, manipulation and rape. And while Hitch’s techniques don’t go this far and are more concerned with developing relationships than hook-ups, he is a pick up artist and he does encourage his clients to think of women as objects rather than equals. Uuuuuurrrrrgh!

An image from Hitch of James and Valletta

Hitch’s actions also feel icky because – without exception – they involve helping an average man get a smoking hot woman. Despite all the talk of how who you are is more important than how you look and how any guy can get any girl, there are no hot men who need help and no equivalent average looking women who are being lusted after. Do women always say yes to hot men? And do unattractive women never say no or are they never even asked? Whichever it is, the answer says hideous things about how shallow and desperate the writers think women are! Why can’t the couples even be equal? Hottish man wants hottish woman or stunning guy struggles to talk to a quiet but stunning lady. The film is supposed to be aspirational but it’s only aspirational to geeky men who feel that they do not fit society’s expectation of what categorises a hot guy. It’s a fucking movie for incels!

This theme isn’t unique to this movie – I’ve written about it before in Zac and Miri Make A Porno – but it feels more obvious here. More intentional. This isn’t just hot girls inexplicably falling for geeky boys; here, those geeky boys are manipulating the hot girls for personal gain. As Feminist Fatale writes, these movies fulfill a ‘male fantasy of the geeky, awkward, less attractive male pursuing and snagging the hot, possibly successful, female hottie without losing said geek status and awkwardness.’ And such is the patriarchal double standard that it never, ever happens in reverse: ‘If some variation is offered, the woman always transforms into a more culturally pleasing version of her former self. You know the drill: the glasses come off, the hair comes down and her wardrobe shrinks from overalls to teeny skirts and tops. Said transformation is not a requirement for the male geek.’

Considering how much I still like this film, it also saddens me that all of the women are pretty lazy stereotypes – the gorgeous cynic workaholic who doesn’t need a man but falls for one who changes her attitude to love, the desperate friend who makes bad choices that act as moral lessons for the main character, the hot but naive supermodel who keeps falling for equally hot men who are cruel and cheat on her. And of course, because these women are caricatures, they have to fit with the idea that they are flawed in some way or another: ‘The women in the film can’t be strong and not cold, they can’t be smart and not frail, optimistic and not naive.’

An image of Hitch and Sara

Eva Mendes’s character, Sara, is perhaps even more of a stereotype than her gullible friend. She is a gossip columnist whose main purpose in her career is to destroy the relationships of celebrities by revealing who is or isn’t cheating, and she is very good at it. She’s also really witty and quick and is enviably good at coming up with a cutting retort – compare this to Hitch who spouts cliched motivational crap like ‘Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.’ Sara is smart and hot and yet none of this is celebrated as it should. Instead, she exists as a challenge for Hitch. She is described as ‘the kind of woman who seems more desirable the more she seems unattainable.’ The Atlantic article takes this further by suggesting that she is ‘Hitch’s perfect foil: a single woman who insists on being at once sexually desirable and uninterested in romance.’ I mean, why is she so hot and sexy if she isn’t interested in being approached by men? How could Hitch refuse her? She’s like his Everest!

Come on!

And yet, despite all of this, I do enjoy watching this film. I can’t explain it.

I do like Hitch and Albert’s bromance and it is also refreshing that this film has many more ‘perpetually lovelorn and useless’ male characters than female ones . It’s even rarer to have a romcom from the perspective of men, particularly men who act ‘at least as far as the tired tropes of the typical rom-com are concerned, very much like a girl’ and this does provide a new angle for an otherwise tired formula. I like that Sara is positive about being single – ‘You’re not sick. You’re single!’ – and never settles for less than she deserves. And it’s funny! Unlike so many romantic comedies, it manages to be funny without being awkward. Albert is basically performing slapstick most of the time but it sort of works!

Essentially, this is a solid 3/5 film, as EA stated after we’d watched it and before I’d scored it myself. It’s not perfect and it’s not inoffensive but it is kind of charming and enjoyable to watch. It’s like a successful pick up artist – he will make you feel like a queen and make you feel great…but you would want to be on your guard to see through his tricks and definitely wouldn’t want to go home with him at the end of the night.

Next week: 10 Things I Hate About You

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.