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Tag: 2001

Bridget Jones’s Diary

YEAR: 2001
DIRECTOR: Sharon Maguire
KEY ACTORS: Rene Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 6.7
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 81%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️The cast are definitely fuckable. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, Rene Zellweger and Sally Phillips; there’s someone for every mood!
✔️ And although the qualifying dialogue has been described as meaningless, which feels unnecessarily cutting, there are plenty of named female characters who talk about other subjects than men so it passes the Bechdel Test.
✔️ It also definitely inspired fantasies – even though she’s supposed to be a mess, Bridget was pretty aspirational for me sexually. It may reveal the limitations of my own sexual fantasies, but I really wanted dirty weekends away in a B+B, I wanted to send secret messages to a coworker that I was fucking, and I wanted to do all of that while I still didn’t think I was perfect. And I really, really wanted a kiss like that between Bridget and Darcy.
✔️ It is also incredibly rewatchable. I cannot recall how often I’ve seen this film but it still makes me laugh every time and still makes me so happy, every time!
✔️ After much deliberation, I also decided that it is sex positive – more on this later!

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

STREAMING: Amazon Prime (free with subscription), NowTV (free with subscription), Sky Cinema (free with subscription), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

[Content warning: body image, dieting, emotionally abusive relationships]

The poster for Bridget Jones’s Diary

I have spent more of my life than you would expect thinking that I would eventually end up as Bridget Jones. It seemed inevitable. Even at the age of sixteen when the film came out, it was all achingly familiar. I come from the kind of middle-class country family who would hold a turkey curry buffet on Boxing Day and my parents had friends who wouldn’t think it unseemly to hold a Tarts and Vicars Party on a summer’s day. I don’t have a pervy Uncle Geoffrey who pinches my arse and asks about my love life, but I do have an outrageous aunt who insists on asking about my sex life, although she would be horrified if I actually told her! I have a cousin who is so exactly Bridget that it freaked me out quite a lot to see her on screen and, if that wasn’t proof enough, through various marriages to various other cousins, there are significantly less than six degrees of separation between me and Helen Fielding, the author of the original Bridget Jones novels. With a messy love life, a cupboard full of control knickers and a fridge that often contained only cheese, I could have been Bridget!

Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice, describing a year in the life of the eponymous Bridget Jones (Zellweger). After her mother introduces her to another eligible single gentleman at the Boxing Day turkey curry buffet, Mark Darcy (Firth), who then insults her, Bridget decides that she needs to revolutionise her life and does so by journaling. She decides to lose weight, stop smoking, and ‘stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits, or perverts.’ Instead, she falls in love with someone who embodies all of these by starting a relationship with her boss, Daniel Cleaver (Grant), a man who ends up cheating on her and breaking her heart. Throughout the year, Jones and Darcy’s paths keep crossing and he eventually tells her he likes her, just as she is. Sadly the manner of his delivery and lies from Cleaver about stolen fiances mean that she doesn’t believe him and it takes her several more months to realise how great Darcy is and they finally get together at the end of the movie, with my favourite ever movie kiss.

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary of Bridget and Mark kissing in the snow

Despite the similarities in the class of our upbringing, I don’t share many of the particulars of Bridget’s lifestyle, but there is still something so familiar about her, which is probably why she is such a popular character, and that’s one of the main reasons why I do think of Bridget Jones as a feminist movie – its a story of an imperfect but relatable woman who achieves her goals without have to change herself to fit society’s expectations.

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary of her big pants

But this is certainly not the view of Suzanne Moore, which she shared in her blistering article ‘Why I hate Bridget Jones’ in 2013. Almost everything that I read about this film since 2013 has quoted or criticised her article, in which she slams Bridget as the ‘epitome of post-feminism – vapid, consumerist and self-obsessed.’ She criticised Bridget for wasting the independence that generations of feminists fought to achieve as she uses it to ‘get pissed, appreciate her female friends and speak openly of her sexual desires’ (Although, really, I maintain that the freedom to do these are important victories!). Moore felt that it wasn’t helpful to identify with Bridget as she was only a manifestation of what the mainstream media think women should be – obsessed with self-improvement, constantly dieting and easily distracted by men. Bridget may be funny but it is a self-critical humour as ‘her rhetoric about being a strong independent woman is always undermined by her pseudo neurosis.’ Feminists didn’t burn their bras and jump under horses to give women the freedom to flirt with their bosses!

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary of Bridget and Daniel at work

I do get Moore’s point – the battle is not yet won. We are not yet living in an equal society and presenting women as overly concerned with their appearance and romantic relationships does comply with the patriarchal image of women as mothers and homemakers, or trophy wives and prizes. Bridget isn’t battling the patriarchy and isn’t trying to reduce or even notice the inequalities she sees around her, but does that really matter? To share a long quote from Caitlin Moran’s introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of the original novel, dismissing Bridget is dismissing the ordinary woman who needs to know that their ordinary lives are also important and also worthy of being a book and a film. Even at our most frivolous, we are of value:

There is a school of feminism, of course, which decries the misadventures of female characters. Why must Bridget obsess about her arse so much? Why must she fall for bad men? Why is she so self-absorbed? Could she not spend these books living an enlightened, guilt-free, empowered existence – engaging only in political activism, literary discussion of restrictive gender-normative tropes, and good works for the poor? What is the point of feminism if Bridget is constantly counting her calories whilst chain-smoking out of her mother’s spare-bedroom window, and banging sexy ass-hats? Whither sexual equality?…Feminism needs the female equivalents of the ridiculous, glorious Mr Toad, Flashman, Basil Fawlty, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Adrian Mole, Ignatius J. Reilly, Falstaff and George Costanza far more than it needs another woman effortfully, and unhappily, trying to live another deserving, upstanding, perfect and dull life, like some kind of angry, teetotal, hectoring nun.’

More than that, I think that there is something very empowering about Bridget admitting her faults to herself and trying to improve. She also manages to do this without too much trauma or pain. Taking Bridget’s dieting as an example, this is not accompanied by self-recrimination when she falls off the wagon nor painfully body-negative descriptions of herself. She wants to lose a bit of weight so she doesn’t need to wear stomach controlling pants anymore but doesn’t seem to make much effort to diet, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a relatable attitude towards food and body shape! Even in her innermost private thoughts, she never berates herself for gaining weight again or calls herself hurtful names. She’s aware of her faults but accepts them with kindness and laughter, and, to me, that is a truly feminist message – an opinion shared by Helen Fielding: ‘I think it’s worrying in the first place that people would think a book about a woman laughing about her foibles is not feminist. It is a mark of strength to be able to laugh at yourself, not weakness.

And I think it’s important to point out that much of the behaviour and language that is thought to be problematic is not seen in Bridget’s wider life – it is all in her inner monologue – and, honestly, how often do we have thoughts that we wouldn’t necessarily share out loud – whether self-critical or perhaps politically dubious. As described in Bustle, Bridget ‘is the poster child for accepting that sometimes, our innermost thoughts don’t always line up with our feminist philosophies.’ Women are often made to feel guilty for our frivolous thoughts, just as Moore did in her criticism above, but they are real, no matter how trivial they may be.

But most importantly, all of this means that Bridget is hugely relatable. Zellweger described her as representing ‘the truth of who we are versus who it is that we aspire to be.’ And I know that that’s why I relate to her. I’m constantly surprised that my life and career aren’t as chaotic as Bridget’s as I often feel like I too am bumbling around, trying to look like I fit in. The only real difference is that we hear Bridget’s thoughts so know how hard she is working to maintain the serene professional exterior. And that is reassuring! It’s reassuring to know that sometimes even those who look incredibly well put together are winging it a bit too! In my own career, I have never been more surprised than when I received feedback from my nursing colleagues congratulating me on how calm I looked during a crisis as I have always felt like a headless chicken – I felt like Bridget Jones!

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary showing Bridget in her pyjamas

Whether getting drunk alone and singing weepy power ballads, accidentally making a fool of yourself then work or prematurely imagining your wedding to a crush, Bridget represents so many things that so many women could relate to but, equally, that we are taught to be ashamed of – and I’m going to tag in the patriarchy here as feeling guilty about our behaviour like this is one way that the patriarchy holds women back. Yet Bridget not only succeeds, she thrives, just as she is. To quote from a Bustle article, ‘through all the successes, failures, and thoughts that accompany both, she gives a sense of community to women everywhere who think those self-doubting thoughts and feel guilty about it.’

But even aside from these feminist issues, this is an important movie for this blog because it’s also a movie about sex!

I spent a long time trying to decide if Bridget Jones’s Diary is a sex positive movie, because there are pros and cons on each side.

On the positives, I love that sex is shown to be a lot of fun! Daniel and Bridget laugh a lot when having sex and, even as a teenager, I knew that that was the kind of sex I wanted to have. I also liked that, despite Bridget’s body hang ups, they can still have great and comfortable sex. The big pants trope started here, and it’s not really shown as a negative. Admittedly, Bridget’s weight issues have aged badly as her figure is stunning! I would love to look that good as a Playboy Bunny and I don’t really think she can be described as fat. She’s not Hollywood skinny but she’s not nearly plus-sized!

An image of Bridget from Bridget Jones’s Diary

But it’s not perfect. When away on their mini break, it is strongly suggested that Bridget and Daniel have anal sex but, just as Daniel is the only character who never tries to give up smoking, I fear that this is used to emphasise that he’s a bad and corrupt person.

Also, the fact that Bridget’s mother wants a sex life is definitely played for laughs. It is both reasonable and understandable that she would still want sex, and is a perfectly good reason to leave Bridget’s father, a man who is useless and appears to make very little effort to maintain an equal partnership. Instead, Bridget’s mother is portrayed as selfish for abandoning her family. When Bridget is celebrated for her independence and career aspirations, her mother is a joke for wanting the same.

But in the end, I gave it the mark for sex positivity as I liked how it described healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how clear it was to differentiate between them.

I was absolutely fascinated by Daniel Cleaver on this rewatch because, more so than ever before, his emotionally abusive behaviour shone through, but I also had to accept that he was still fucking hot. I stand by About A Boy as Grant’s hotness peak, but this is definitely a close second. He’s just so perfect in this role and I can’t blame Bridget for falling for his tricks. I know I probably would have too, and I think this is important as women are too often blamed for the abuse they may later receive. Because there is no doubt that he is emotionally abusive – he gaslights her by dismissing her correct conclusions about his behaviour and sounds in his house when he cheats on her; he basically tells her that she’s stupid and wouldn’t understand his complex life in order to avoid explaining himself; and he emotionally manipulates her into returning to him when he tells her that he needs her: ‘‘I need you, Bridge…If I can’t make it with you, I can’t make it with anyone!’ Also, he had the nerve to say that he thought she’d be alone on a day that is not only her birthday but is also her biggest professional success. What a twat! What a hot hot twat!

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary showing Daniel rowing a boat

In contrast, I love love love Firth’s Mark Darcy! I’m not going to repeat my deep dive into the Darcy character, but I do love that this is another different version of the character. Not quite as personally socially awkward as MacFadyen’s version, I got the impression instead that this Darcy was actually a bit spineless, which is a shame as I otherwise find him fucking hot. His awkwardness seems to come from an inability to stand up to the women around him – he wears the Christmas jumper to please his mother, he doesn’t have more fun when rowing on the lake despite clearly wanting to join in as Natasha thinks it looks childish, and it almost feels like he got engaged to Natasha as he didn’t know how to say no. Do you think she asked him? Or did he ask out of social obligation? Darcy and Natasha have so little chemistry that I don’t even believe that they work well together!

Which is why I love him and Bridget so. Darcy seems so much more relaxed, so much more himself. Them gently mocking each other when cooking and the easy way that he just fits in with her friends is such a contrast from his stiff appearance at other times. Unfortunately, we could draw an unflattering conclusion that he doesn’t feel threatened by Bridget as she’s so chaotic, but I prefer to think that it comes back to the absolutely world-shaking importance of the fact that they like each other, just as they are.

I’ve been repeating that phrase throughout this post as, to me, it’s what the whole movie is about. Bridget spends the entire film trying to improve herself as she has been made to feel inferior and stupid, admittedly originally by Darcy too, but she finds someone who likes her anyway. And Darcy is clearly unhappy with his position in the world, trying to maintain this image of a serious human rights lawyer and well brought up gentleman but, through Bridget, he is able to relax and accept himself as he really is.

And right at the end of the movie, we’re given a hint that he’s not such a straight guy after all (as in boring, not heterosexual, although I would read that fan fiction in a heartbeat). However dull we might have been led to believe Darcy is, that kiss at the end is everything…

Bridget: Wait a minute…nice boys don’t kiss like that.
Mark Darcy: Oh, yes, they fucking do.

An image from Bridget Jones’s Diary showing Bridget and Darcy in the snow

And, to me, that is literally the dream – a good man with a filthy twist. When I see this film, I like to imagine a different future from that revealed in the later movies and books; a future where being loved, just as they are, allows Bridget and Mark to cast aside their body confidence issues and awkwardness and then have lots of hot hot sex, perhaps discovering a shared love of kink, perhaps even with Bridget dominating Mark so he can enjoy being controlled by the strong woman in his life in way that does make him happy.

Now, tell me that wouldn’t be a better movie than Edge of Reason.

Next week – Die Hard

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.

Y Tu Mamá También

YEAR: 2001
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
KEY ACTORS: Gael García Bernal, Maribel Verdú, Diego Luna
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 7.7
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 92%

Today’s review is a guest post from the fabulous Exhibit A – sex blogger extraordinaire and my husband! If you like his perspective, do check out his blog. You won’t be disappointed!

SEX SCORE: 5/5

✔️ It just about passes the Bechdel test – there is only one significant female character but there are lots of named secondary characters that Luisa speaks to about other subjects.
✔️Rewatchable? Well I’ve seen it at least three times now, and enjoyed it on each occasion, so that’s a definite yes.
✔️Sex positive? I wavered over this for a long time. But yes, I think it is.
✔️Inspired fantasies? Yes, though the way in which it does so has changed over the years! YTMT was released when I was 20, so roughly the same age as Julio and Tenoch. Back then, it was very easy to put myself in their shoes; now the fantasies owe more to the general air of anticipation, tenderness, and exploration running through the climactic (heh) sex scene.
✔️Fuck the cast? Tricky one. I would absolutely fuck Maribel Verdú’s caustic, no-nonsense Luisa, and if offered a threesome with either Gael Garcia Bernal or Diego Luna now, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. As bratty teenagers though, they appeal rather less! I’m tempted to go with the cop-out option and give it a half-mark, but given the many wonderful and terrible things I’d do with/to Verdú alone, I think it just about clears the bar.

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

STREAMING: Another great movie that isn’t currently available to stream! But it’s brilliant and definitely a worthy addition to any movie collection so why not buy it.

Poster for Y Tu Mama También (And your mother too!) with Luisa looking out of the poster and both boys embracing her, looking towards each other

Until last weekend, I hadn’t seen Y Tu Mama Tambien for at least a decade. Watching it with a 38-year-old’s eyes was a bit of a revelation, and one that I initially feared would ruin my enjoyment of the entire movie. From the opening scene, I was aware in a way that hadn’t really registered before just how young and obnoxious the two young protagonists really are. I also found myself responding to one of the movie’s two central relationships – the flirtation with (and ultimate seduction of) the boys by their older companion – in a completely different way.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the basics. Y Tu Mama Tambien follows two Mexican boys on the cusp of adulthood, as they prepare for a long summer without their Europe-bound girlfriends. Tenoch and Julio are best friends from different sides of the tracks; Tenoch (Luna) is the entitled son of a prominent politician, while Julio (Bernal) – teased for his ‘peasant’ background – comes from a middle-class family with left-wing, activist tendencies.

At a wedding, the boys meet the Spanish wife of Tenoch’s pretentious cousin. High on youthful braggadocio, they invite her to go with them to a hidden beach along the coast – “Heaven’s Mouth”. She declines, but after receiving two pieces of upsetting news she calls Tenoch, apparently on impulse, and asks him to take her with them.

That’s ostensibly the set-up for the film’s main storyline: the disintegration of the boys’ friendship as they spar and compete for Luisa’s attention, oblivious to the raw grief she carries on the road with her. However, there’s a lot to enjoy and to mull over in those first 20 minutes. I found myself furiously scribbling notes on everything from the solemn, 500-Days-of-Summer-esque narrative cuts to the way we’re immediately shown Julio and Tenoch’s relationship as something that’s instinctively tactile and hyper-sexual, even if those two elements are kept (superficially) separate at first. Both boys are horny all the time, and when they’re not bragging about how (and how often) they fuck their girlfriends, they’re masturbating into a pool together on two diving boards separated only by a lifeguard’s chair. The hugging and chasing and rough-housing feels like a proxy for all the things that sit the other side of some invisible line that they’re either not ready or haven’t yet thought to cross.

Julio and Tenoch are sitting on a poolside with their feet in the water

Meanwhile Luisa is quickly shown to be a more complicated and fragile character than her initial meeting with the boys suggests. I love the choice Cuarón makes not to show us the details of what we later learn to be her terminal cancer diagnosis. Instead, we get to see the more dramatic – but ultimately less consequential – details of her final fight with Tenoch’s cousin Jano. His betrayal spurs her into action and leads directly to her decision to fuck the two boys – or so we’re led to believe. As the movie’s final scenes make clear, it may have been a catalyst, but it certainly wasn’t the primary cause.

Luisa’s grief and fear are directly relevant to the question that didn’t even occur to me as a horny 21-year-old, watching this for the first time, but which I found myself turning over in my head again and again as the movie went on last weekend: are the things she does with Tenoch and Julio – and even more importantly, the manner in which she does them – in any way defensible? If not, does that make it impossible to think of Y Tu Mama Tambien as a sex-positive movie?

And honestly? I still don’t know the answer.

Case for the prosecution: while we don’t know Luisa’s exact age, she’s clearly 10-15 years older than Tenoch and Julio, and infinitely more experienced – not just sexually, but across the broader landscape of love, relationships, friendship…pretty much everything. She preys on the boys’ eagerness to please, and on their naïveté. She has sex with Julio only to even things up, having essentially ordered Tenoch to fuck her when he comes to her motel room in search of shampoo. While they’re all drunk in the climactic – and much-lauded – threesome scene, Luisa is the one who behaves like she knows what she’s doing (and has possibly done it before). Of course she does: she’s a grown-up! We see that the next morning, in the way her easy manner contrasts with the uncomfortable, awkward way the boys respond to what’s happened.

Luisa embraces Julio after they have just had sex in the car

Case for the defence: she’s a woman – and that matters. It almost goes without saying that if you take two 18-year-old girls, put them in a car with an experienced man in his early 30s who they both idolize and would do anything to please, and you have a very different power dynamic. Luisa isn’t a physical threat to Tenoch and Julio. You could also argue that she is vulnerable in ways that they are not. She is half a world away from the country in which she grew up, and preparing herself for death. The man she followed to Mexico – her husband – has betrayed her, and as she gets in the car with two crude, horny teenagers, she is pretty much alone in the world. When you’re about to die, it’s perhaps reasonable to worry less about the emotional consequences of your actions, especially when the people affected are grown adults. Luisa also teaches Tenoch and Julio several important things about sex – the film strongly implies that their techniques and attitudes could do with some serious work – which they’ll presumably take out into the world with them.

Luisa embraces Tenoch after they have just had sex in the motel

The verdict? Eh. It’s not brilliant – and I’m wary of anything that treats an older woman sleeping with a teenage boy as the height of male wank fantasy, rather than something potentially problematic that needs to be unpacked. At the same time, the relationships here feel real, and like they have something important to say about manhood, growing up, grief, sexuality, and friendship. Everyone involved brings their own soft centre to the table (I haven’t even touched on the class tension between Tenoch and Julio), and you could argue that they each end the film in a better place than they would’ve done without their shared road trip.

Because our sexual choices have consequences. They change us in ways we can’t anticipate, and they frequently reward a willingness to defy social convention. That is true for Tenoch and Julio, true for Luisa, and true for all of us – which is why, despite the odd hairy moment, I’m going to say that Y Tu Mama Tambien is ultimately sex-positive. It’s also dramatically satisfying, authentic (neither teenage love, nor teenage friendship lasts forever) full of heart, and still hot, even now that I’m forced to look at the wank fantasy element of it in a very different way.

All three are dancing

And the threesome at the end is brilliant. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a foreign-language indie movie, but it’s also a teen sex comedy, which gained a pretty wide and enthusiastic audience among my peers when it was released in the UK. For the most-hyped and eagerly anticipated scene to focus on a long, passionate, utterly uninhibited kiss between the two lead actors was kind of groundbreaking, and stands as another example of Cuarón nailing all his big dramatic choices as a director. As viewers, we know that Luisa is going down on them at the time (and obviously I really wanted to watch that too), but our entire focus is on the kiss – both as an erotic act itself, and as the ultimate expression of all the tension, jealousy, love, and energy that we’ve seen swirling around Tenoch and Julio.

Additional notes:
• There’s a brilliant moment early in the film where the boys appear into shot from right of camera, just as a sprinkler goes off in front of them. It’s a big, gushing ejaculation that serves as a perfect (if unsubtle) visual metaphor for the mood Cuarón’s created in those opening scenes.
• “They’re such teenage boys!” – Liv’s comment when Tenoch and Julio are running through their ‘charolastra’ manifesto. And yes, yes they are.
• The film’s title refers to Julio’s claim that not only did he fuck Tenoch’s girlfriend, he fucked his mother too. It’s never clear whether he’s serious or not, but by that stage in proceedings it doesn’t really matter!

Next week: Easy A

If you’d also like to write a guest post, click here for details on how to get in touch!

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.

What women want

YEAR: 2001
DIRECTOR: Nancy Meyers
KEY ACTORS: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 6.4/10
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 54%

SEX SCORE: 1/5
Not sex positive – I suspect this was supposed to be sex positive – or at least vaguely feminist – but it hasn’t aged well at all and the male gaze is too infuriating for it to count.
I don’t particularly want to watch this again – I fear that it will only age further…
It didn’t inspire any fantasies – it’s more of a romance than a sexual film, but it’s certainly not a romantic trope that I’d like to be involved in: misogynist undermines professional woman, almost destroying her career, and yet she falls in love with him anyway!?
I don’t want to fuck Mel Gibson. Helen Hunt, maybe, but not enough for a point…
✔️ Somehow this does pass the Bechdel test, but I’m giving the mark very begrudgingly – women talk to each other about something other than men but they rarely both have names and are almost always interrupted by men. Urgh.

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

STREAMING: YouTube (from £2.99), Amazon Prime (free with subscription)

[Content warning: this contains brief mentions of sexual assault and discusses potential non-consensual sex]

A poster for What Women Want showing Mel Gibson smiling forward with Helen Hunt looking passed him

I wish I could remember how What Women Want came across in 2001 when it was released. Eighteen years is a long time but this film feels like a million miles from current acceptability and it seems inconceivable that it was made this century, let alone that it became the second highest grossing romantic comedy of all time! When I added this film to my list, I wrote ‘#MeToo’ next to it as I feel this should be shown to anyone who doubts how difficult men can make life for women – professionally, socially, romantically, publicly. It’s essentially a public information video!

Because Mel Gibson’s Nick Marshall is awful. Was he seen as the hero he thinks he is back in 2001 or did we notice how fucking awful he is? Luckily it seems that reviews at the time were similarly appalled, with Salon stating the film ‘does nothing but condescend’ women and should be seen as ‘an intriguing if ugly little nugget of social history,’ but I was still shocked at how far it went. In the opening scene and subsequent long walk to his office, Nick is condescending, patronising and dismissive. He literally sexually assaults a women, ‘accidentally’ grabbing her breasts, he harasses another, and men are shown to be in awe of his prowess. Less than 15 minutes in and I already feel like I need a shower…

This really bothers me as I don’t think Nick was intended to be such a monumental twat and the Guardian review at the time even felt that ‘from the outset, it is made crystal clear that he is supposed to be lovable.’ He isn’t an evil figure who is shown the error of his ways; he’s a normal, pretty cool guy who becomes heroic – and gets the girl.

Mel Gibson holding items from a box including a bra

My dislike of this film can be summed up by a quote from Nick’s therapist: ‘If you know what women want, you can rule.’ Not help them, not make their lives easier, not act in a more empathetic and understanding fashion towards his equals; he could rule. Urgh, really?

The more I watched, the more I became convinced that the writers of this film don’t actually like women. They certainly aren’t doing us any favours once they ‘reveal’ what we’re thinking – it’s all stereotypes or weak attempts at humour. Women are shown to be constantly calorie counting, anxious or rude. They also seem to be either secret lesbians or attracted to Gibson’s character, further emphasising his value. Oh, and don’t forget that his secretaries have no thoughts at all. Hahahaha, how funny to belittle women in the work place. (This film made me really angry!)

It made me so angry because the depiction of professional women is exactly what we have spent decades trying to undo. It is the Patriarchy writ large, emphasising that women just aren’t as good as men professionally. In 2001. I may be accused of missing the joke…but the redemptive arc did nothing to fix this particular discrepancy.

Whether their thoughts demonstrated frustration or suppressed intelligence, the humour and plot devices serve to undermine the female characters rather than uplift them. Nick’s assistant silently screams in her thoughts about how over qualified she is to be getting him coffee, but he doesn’t promote her – he encourages her to move her boyfriend to the USA from Israel. He gives Judy Greer’s file clerk a better job only when she decides to kill herself. He never appears to change his general opinion of women in the work place, just gains more respect for a select few and gossips with a few more. The fact that he eventually realised how good Darcy is at her job remains the exception rather than his new rule.

Helen Hunt is holding a poster board and looking over at Mel Gibson

Before this realisation, Helen Hunt’s character, Darcy, is particularly poorly served and I hate that she is used to confirm all the awful stereotypes that professional women face. She is literally hired because she is a woman, not because she is the best candidate, and her ‘competition’ (Nick) is told this. What a way to undermine her before she starts! She is also described as a ‘bitch on wheels,’ a very lazy criticism of a professional woman, despite clearly being charming and empathetic once we meet her. I couldn’t help but worry that hearing her anxious and self-depreciating thoughts undermines her further, revealing her insecurities. Does it make her more real and a better role model to know how much she worries about being taken seriously? Or is it fuel to the misogynistic fire that claims women aren’t fit for such professional responsibilities?

A publicity shot of Helen Hunt

It is also such a cliche of gender inequality that men repeat exactly what their female colleagues have said and are given all the credit, and here Nick goes further by stealing their ideas before they’ve even said them out loud. I would have loved to have seen him hear a good idea and encourage the thinker to speak up more, using the fact that his voice will be heard to promote them like a proper ally, even if this had to happen after his epiphany. He literally never used his gift for anything but selfish pursuits.

This is never more clear than when he uses his psychic ability during sex, and using these abilities does raise questions about consent. In two situations, Nick hears thoughts that contradict what the women say out loud – Marisa Tomei’s character Lola thinks regret about turning him down and Darcy pleads in her head for him to ask her inside after a date. I ranted in the Fifty Shades post about how we have to trust the words spoken to us, not whatever clues may be drawn from body language, but does this apply to thoughts? Obviously it’s a hypothetical question but it is an interesting one. Do we ever think in our best interests? I know I let my thoughts and desires run free in directions that I’d never want in reality and would hate to think these are being used to discount my well considered spoken words. I’d go as far as to say that we have as much control over our thoughts as we do our bodily responses (i.e. not very much!) so I’m inclined to feel that Nick is unfairly manipulating the situation in his favour by using these women’s thoughts as an excuse to act. Is it consensual when he has this kind of power?

It feels particularly invasive for Lola as her overheard fears match exactly what happens, despite still desiring him in her thoughts. She turns him down initially as she’s worried about getting hurt, fears he uses to make himself seem like a more sensitive man, and then he forgets and discards her after they fuck, just as she knew he would! Yet she’s portrayed as a crazy girl. We shouldn’t be criticised for having ‘crazy’ thoughts – it’s our words and actions that count and Lola’s were ignored. She tried to protect herself and she was overruled.

This rant is getting away from me so I have just one more thing to say about hearing women’s thoughts during sex. Isn’t it interesting that when he listens and responds to what Lola wants, the sex is incredible. He is even declared a sex god! Can you think of better proof that women should speak up more and men should listen more?

I think it’s safe to say that this film has not aged well! But a recent article by the AV film club suggests that it feels so upsetting now as Nick’s redemption arc is too familiar to that of Mel Gibson himself following his own #MeToo disgrace. Gibson went from anti-Semitic drunk whose career appeared to be over after recordings of violent threats to his girlfriend were discovered to being welcomed back with open arms following his nomination for the Academy Award for best director in 2016 for Hacksaw Ridge. He is described as a ‘blueprint for “a #MeToo comeback,” which other publicly disgraced men can now follow.’ The bar for Nick’s redemption is hilariously low – he forgets his daughter’s prom but is a hero for being called to rescue her there, he costs Darcy her job but is a good man worthy of her love for admitting to lying and getting her job back – and it doesn’t seem like it’s enough. As with these men ‘recovering’ from accusations of sexual assault, their penance is rarely enough.

So what do women want? We just want to be heard.

Next week: Eyes Wide Shut

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.