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Tag: 5/5

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.

Pride and Prejudice

YEAR: 2005
DIRECTOR: Joe Wright
KEY ACTORS: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen
CERTIFICATE: PG
IMDB SCORE: 7.8
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 86%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️ I love this film and definitely think it’s rewatchable!
✔️ I also definitely want to fuck the cast. Keira Knightley is beautiful as always and Matthew Macfadyen is seriously fuckable in this movie!
✔️ I’m going to give it a mark for sex positivity. Sex isn’t mentioned explicitly but enthusiastic consent for marriage and making good relationship decisions is certainly a big topic, as is disrespectful treatment of women, so I’m happy to say it’s sex positive!
✔️ And it passes the Bechdel Test! I mean, the named women talk about balls and ribbons and dancing, rather than directly talking about men, but it’s still a pass!
✔️ And, drum roll, I’m going to give it a mark for inspiring fantasies as Darcy is a fantasy man for so many people, including me. 5/5!!

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

STREAMING: Amazon Prime (rent £2.49, buy £7.99), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

The Pride and Prejudice showing Knightley and Macfadyen

I have a very strong memory of watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with my mother. We were boarding in the granny annex of a friend of the family as we were in the process of moving house and I remember that the apartment didn’t have a separate living space so we had to watch TV sat on my mother’s bed. Can you imagine the decadence of being allowed to stay up longer than your little sisters to watch a programme such as Pride and Prejudice and to watch it while snuggled up in bed with your mother? It was literally heaven! I suspect that we were watching a re-run when I was 12 in 1997, rather than the original showing in 1995 when I was 10, but this was still my first exposure to Jane Austen, to Pride and Prejudice, and to Mr Darcy. I never looked back…

An image from Pride and Prejudice showing the Bennett family in a carriage

In case you need a summary, Pride and Prejudice is a story about marriage and status. Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley, two highly eligible bachelors, cause a stir in the village where the Bennet family lives, simply by moving there and being single. Mr Bingley soon falls for Jane, the oldest and most beautiful Bennet, but no one likes the arrogant and brooding Mr Darcy, especially not after he insults Elizabeth. After spending more time together, Mr Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth but manages to propose in such a hamfisted fashion that she is even more insulted and refuses. This isn’t the end of the story, however, and events soon occur that enlighten Elizabeth as to Darcy’s true personality. Rather than the arrogant wanker she suspected, he proves to be a good and gentle man and, of course, they end up getting married.

And after such an indulgent introduction, I fell head over heels for the story and the drama and the style of Pride and Prejudice, going straight out to read the book and devouring as much Jane Austen as I could, but I never really got the whole Darcy thing. Or rather, I was consciously caught up in the fuss that surrounded the character ever since Colin Firth stepped out of that lake with his wet shirt and brooding look, but I always felt that I was crushing on Darcy because that’s what everyone did rather than because he particularly set me aflame.

That was until I saw the 2005 movie version. Oh. My. Gosh! Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy changed absolutely everything and I honestly don’t think I couldn’t love him more!

As a rule, I tend to enjoy most retellings of this story, even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! And I while like the chemistry of the Firth-Ehle pairing in the BBC version, the difference here is that I love the Knightley-Macfadyen combination. The Pride and Prejudice story has been told so many times in so many ways that you wouldn’t think that it would be possible to create such a radically new perspective, but this feels all new to me.

The movie is often unfavourably compared to the 1995 BBC version but I much prefer it. For me, it has everything that a British period drama needs to have – elegant and overcrowded dances and balls in great halls, walks in libraries, enviable dresses, plus an odd chicken walking around here and there – but I love it because I believe it. I believe that Mrs Bennet spends every moment plotting the love lives of her daughters. I believe that Bingley is wholly in love with Jane, but I also believe that he is stupid enough to persuaded that Jane’s love isn’t real when his friend warns him off. He is so sweet and guileless and trusting that he would just nod along with his friend’s recommendation and break his own heart rather than believe his feelings.

An image from Pride and Prejudice showing Elizabeth at a ball

More importantly, I love this film because I believe in Darcy. I believe that he is completely overwhelmed with his feelings for Elizabeth and just doesn’t know how to handle them, which, when combined with an obvious social awkwardness, creates that famous diffidence and aloofness that makes him appear so proud.

And I love them as a couple because I am cheering them on from the very first second that they lay eyes on each other. They are clearly in love with each other from that very, very first second! It’s why they keep glancing at each other; it’s why Darcy’s remarks about how ‘tolerable’ Elizabeth is sting so much, and it’s why he stumbles over his words and phrases when talking to and about her. He wants her. He wants her so much that he can’t think straight and it is just intoxicating! He is so obviously trying to impress her, trying to make up for accidentally insulting her but keeps failing and just making it worse. As the New York Times describes, ‘the disparity between his diffidence and her forthrightness makes the lovers’ failure to connect more than a delaying tactic to keep the story churning forward; it’s a touching tale of misread signals.’

Because Elizabeth is no better – I had never really associated the Pride of the title with her, but in this version it is definitely her wounded pride that causes her to keep toying with Darcy and teasing him, never letting him get the better of her again. But in this version of the character, I really, truly believe that he is worthy of Elizabeth’s love and I completely understand why she falls for him. In other versions, I didn’t really get it. Was it because he had a big house? Because he saved her family’s reputation? All good reasons but not exactly ones to inspire such romantic longing.

But I do long for them to get together. Macfadyen’s secret finger flex after he holds Knightley’s hand makes me gasp like I imagine everyone did when Firth started wandering around in wet shirts, but this is just the beginning. By the end, when Mr Bennet tearfully exclaims that Elizbeth really does love him, I’m sobbing along with him as I can’t contain my happiness.

Gif from Pride and Prejudice showing Darcy flexing his hand after touching Elizabeth’s hand

So what is so different about Macfadyen’s Darcy and this film to cause such a huge change in my emotional reaction?

Well, I think it comes down to the fact that I had previously really struggled with the idea of Mr Darcy as a dream romantic icon, and this was made worse because I see in Firth’s portrayal everything that I don’t like about the Darcy character.

In my opinion, Firth’s Darcy is arrogant; he is brusque and offhand and thinks he is better than everyone else. He snubs Elizabeth because he genuinely thinks that he is above that kind of company and hasn’t bothered to get to know her at all. Firth’s Darcy is as surprised as anyone to find himself in love with Elizabeth and his proposal feels selfish somehow, as if he hasn’t thought of her opinion at all and just presumes she’ll accept as he doesn’t think she can get any better. Firth’s Darcy is every one of those horrendous but beautiful fuckboys who don’t treat women nicely because they know they don’t have to. Women swoon at his feet regardless of how he behaves. Until Elizabeth, of course. Then he has to learn to be a better person because that is what Elizabeth demands it of him.

In contrast, Macfadyen’s Darcy feels like a good person all along, just one who doesn’t know how to show his emotions: ‘Matthew Macfadyen finds a human dimension in the taciturn landowner Fitzwilliam Darcy that was missing in earlier, more conventionally heroic portrayals. Mr. Firth might have been far more dashing, but Mr. Macfadyen’s portrayal of the character as a shy, awkward suitor whose seeming arrogance camouflages insecurity and deep sensitivity is more realistic.

Interestingly, I prefer Firth’s second version of Darcy – Mark Darcy in 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary – although he is still no Macfadyen! That Darcy seems like a middle ground between the arrogant and the socially awkward, and I am fascinated by the trend, because there is a definite trend in how Darcy is presented and received. Honestly, delving into the history of Darcy and his place in popular culture has proved to be my favourite piece of research for this blog so far!

Darcy is undoubtedly an archetypal romantic hero. He is supposed to be exactly what women want and a poll in the early 2000s revealed that ‘1,900 women across the generations voted for Mr Darcy as the man they would most like to go on a date with.’ And that is what fascinates me – ‘across the generations.’ Why does Darcy appeal to everyone? And is every generation of women attracted to the same Darcy?

An image from Pride and Prejudice showing Darcy and Elizabeth dancing

I read an absolutely incredible article about the history of Mr Darcy that I would strongly recommend that you read as I am about to essentially paraphrase and quote from it, but it proposes that Austen originally wrote Darcy at a time when masculinity and the role of a gentleman was in flux; a circumstance not that dissimilar to the current social upheaval prompted by #MeToo, discussions of toxic masculinity, and the next generation of feminists. Could this be why I find the most recent versions of Darcy more attractive and more true to my reading of the novel?

Austen wrote Darcy as a character who looked forward – he was a Victorian man with Victorian masculine sensibilities at a time when more Georgian gentility still dominated society. He has a ‘serious moral tone and a strong sense of purpose,’ which contrasted with Bingley’s ‘eighteenth-century gentleman’s refinement and easy, sociable manners.’ Darcy is straightforward, ‘paying more attention to “the promptings of his inner self” than to the “dictates of social expectations.”’

It could be argued that Darcy was a very early example of the struggles of toxic masculinity. He works so hard to maintain his position as a man and a gentleman at a time when it is not clear how best to be both, and this conflict causes him to be rude to, well, everyone. His status as a gentleman is ‘complicated by the lack of ease required to develop the manners and conduct that will recommend him to others.’ In the traditional sense of the word, he is a gentleman by birth but not in action and, until Elizabeth, this had never been tested. Elizabeth even directly attacks his identity as a gentleman when refusing his proposal – ‘You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’ No wonder it shakes him to his core!

But such is Austen’s genius that she is able to demonstrate both the struggles of this change in requirement of a gentleman and the reasons why such a change is necessary. Not only is Mr Bingley an adorably laughable character, exemplifying the superficial nature of gentlemanly behaviour, but Austen also wrote Mr Wickham as ‘Darcy’s foil’ – a reminder to both Elizabeth and those reading the book that ‘pleasant, easy manners alone are not an adequate measure of masculinity.’ Wickham may be the perfect gentleman but he is a cruel and manipulative man. Instead, Austen presents Darcy as a modern man and a more attractive option. He is not frivolous; he is measured and moral and good.

An image from Pride and Prejudice showing Darcy looking brooding

But this version of Darcy, the straightforward masculine man who struggles with knowing how he should present himself in a changing world, got lost for a long time in modern representations of him.

It is Lawrence Olivier in 1940 who is credited for being one of the earliest diffident and arrogant versions of Darcy, and his character progressed from there until Darcy had become a more brutal romantic hero and was almost an example of the weakness and inconsistency of women. We yearn for ‘dark, smouldering, moody, charismatic, arrogant Darcy types, whom we hate at first sight and then later find ourselves falling in love with’ only to feign surprise when they ‘turn out to be rigid, dominating and controlling.’ Fuckboys; our love for Darcy is what leads us to fall for fuckboys. And to fall for Heathcliff and Edward Cullen and James Bond and Mr Big and all manner of other emotionally unavailable men who treat women like crap. This Darcy may be a fantasy for women, but perhaps not one that we should want so much!

In a somewhat scathing attack written in 2004, the year before this movie came out, Cherry Potter suggested that ‘when society was deeply patriarchal, men like Darcy really were severe, remote and all-powerful’ and women had no choice but to marry them because they needed protection. But now, she worries about what our obsession with Darcy says about women and what message it sends to men: ‘As modern women with our wealth of relationship experience and all the benefits brought about by feminism, we should know better.

But but but but…that’s not the Darcy that Austen wrote and that’s not the Darcy in this fabulous 2005 movie!

An image from Pride and Prejudice showing Darcy walking in the fog

Darcy is strong and sexy and powerful but he is also respectful and honourable. Compare how he reacts to Elizabeth’s refusal of his proposal with Mr Collins’s response. Darcy defends himself against her erroneous views about him but then leaves her in peace. He only approaches the subject again when he has a glimmer of hope that her opinions might have changed, and even then promises to never speak of it if his hope is mistaken. He believes her no! I cannot tell you how important and admirable that is. Mr Collins, on the other hand, assumes that Elizabeth is playing a game to tease him, as women are so tricksy, and doesn’t believe her, asking again more ardently and forcefully and not letting go.

Stealing the words of the Happy Feminist, our fantasies for Mr Darcy have ‘nothing to do with deep down wanting a patriarchal, dominating or controlling man.‘ Instead, Darcy represents that guy we admire, the one we never thought we could get, but who it turns out thinks as highly of us as we do of him. He’s the unrequited love who really does love us back, the extraordinary writer who loves what we write, the brilliant colleague who asks our advice; he’s the intoxication and joy that comes with realising someone you look up to thinks of you as an equal: ‘The fantasy is to win the utter respect, admiration and passion of a man of great intelligence and great character, especially a man who is not easily won.’ Oh, be still my beating heart…!

An image from Pride and Prejudice showing Elizabeth standing surrounded by laundry

And this leads on to another aspect of Joe Wright’s film that I think is absolutely perfect. Keira Knightley is beautiful, there is no doubt about that, but Elizabeth Bennet shouldn’t be. She was intelligent and witty and attractive because of all of these non-physical features but Knightley’s beauty shifts the balance: ‘Her radiance so suffuses the film that it’s foolish to imagine Elizabeth would be anyone’s second choice.’ But I loved this because it allows Elizabeth and Darcy to be equals again. Darcy’s good looks are never described in the novel and he is a figure of attraction because of his wealth and status. Making Darcy gorgeous while Elizabeth remains plain is just mean. (And misogynistic!)

Instead, they are equals, each bringing different strengths to their partnership – Darcy has higher social status and greater wealth, but Elizabeth is definitely emotionally superior and arguably more intelligent too. It is ‘a marriage of equals.’ And, of course, that is the secret. The mutual admiration between Darcy and Elizabeth is what I have always longed for in a partner, and is a part of my own relationship that never stops bringing me joy.

An image from Pride and Prejudice showing Darcy and Elizabeth kissing

And that is why I love this movie and why I cry with happiness that Elizbeth and Darcy are able to finally understand each other and see each other and love each other. This version of Pride and Prejudice is a remainder that ‘the best romances are between strong people who appreciate each other’s strength.’ The best romances are between people who admire each other and value each other and understand each other.

And that is why Darcy is still my ultimate romantic hero. Not the brutal, distant and brooding icon, but the real man. He is far from perfect and he would be a hard won prize but, damn, he would be worth it…

Next week: Showgirls

This week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt is ‘Ceremony’ so, as this movie is all about weddings and marriages, I thought I’d link it up! Do click through to read more erotica and sex writing on the theme of ceremony…

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

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. Gifs from Tenor.com

Dirty Dancing

YEAR: 1987
DIRECTOR: Emile Ardolino
KEY ACTORS: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Cynthia Rhodes
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 7.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 71%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️Definitely rewatchable – the soundtrack alone would tempt me to watch it again before even considering the dancing!
✔️ And yes, I’d want to fuck Patrick Swayze at his peak. Didn’t we all?
✔️ For a film made in the 80s when rape and misogyny were often amusing plot points, this is such a sex positive film! It supports easy access to abortion, and the coming of age through holiday romance, hot hot sex and dance. It would rank higher than a lot of more modern movies; it’s extraordinary.
✔️ Just as Up in the Air is an archetypal hotel fuck movie, this is the holiday romance movie to inspire all holiday romances. Of course I wanted the hottest guy on holiday to notice me and want me and fuck me in secret and then publicly announce his love for me. It’s the dream of a teenage girl who never thought she’d be noticed but it’s still a great dream… Oh, and I always always always want to dance like I’m being fucked. It’s everything.
✔️AND it passes the Bechdel Test! Only the second 5/5 film yet!!

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

STREAMING: Netflix, Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £5.99), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

Dirty Dancing poster showing Swayze and Grey in the starting position for their dance

I don’t remember when I first saw Dirty Dancing; I genuinely don’t remember a time when I hadn’t watched this film. But I do remember watching it in my early teens and realising what it was really about.

It wasn’t just a film about learning to dance and having a holiday romance. It wasn’t just a film for girls or teenagers or something that should be dismissed (famously by prominent male critics) like so much romcom and chick lit. It is a fucking gritty film for women about women’s pleasure and women’s issues – abortion and privilege and class – that just happens to be wrapped up in a lovely dancing plot with a cracking soundtrack. This is a frivolous, hilarious, cheesy film but it is such a Good Film and rightfully deserving of its 5/5 score – only the second one I’ve given. It’s a feminist masterpiece!

Dirty Dancing follows the Houseman family through their summer holiday at a resort in America. The youngest daughter, Frances, is always called Baby (Jennifer Grey) and, because she’s in the right place at the right time, becomes aware that one of the dancers, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), is in trouble – Penny needs an abortion and has neither the time or the money to get one. Baby uses her privilege to get her the money from her father, who trusts her without question, before she is taught to dance by Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) so she can cover for Penny while she sees the doctor. Sadly, the ‘doctor’ turns out to be nothing more than a back-alley quack with the equivalent of a coat hanger, and Baby once again turns to her father for help as he’s a doctor. Of course Baby and Johnny then fall in love. Of course Mr Houseman is horrified that Baby is mixed up in all of this mess. Of course it has a happy ending with a rousing dance number that will never fail to bring a smile to your face.

Penny, Baby and Johnny dancing in formation

Oh, I have so much to say about this film!

For a start, it’s so fucking hot! And I mean that from the perspective of an innocent young teenager and from that of a horny woman in her 30s. I have spent my entire life wanting to dance like the staff dance at the beginning in their secret club. It is literally and figuratively hot; steamy, red, gyrating, dirty, close, sweaty, dishevelled, talented. Fuck. It’s probably the closest thing to sex that I’ve seen on screen that isn’t actually sex, and it’s certainly hotter than most movie sex! And it’s so fucking performative, it’s an exhibitionist’s dream. They’re all dancing like they’re fucking and they’re doing it in front of each other. Unff. I think about this scene whenever I dance with someone new. I think of this scene whenever I press myself up against my partner when dancing. I think of this scene and I imagine that I’m that sexy just because I’m dancing!

And it’s not just the dancing that’s hot – Baby and Johnny are so good together. They’re clearly having so much fun and they are so into each other. They’re affectionate, they’re considerate and they look good. I also love the teacher-pupil dynamic between them with the dance lessons. Hot. It’s just hot. They were a relationship model of sorts for me growing up – I wanted to laugh like that with my partners, I wanted to be that proud of them and that comfortable with them. And it is such an empowering image of female sexuality. Perhaps knowing what it would cost him if he were to make a misstep, Johnny lets Baby lead and the camera follows her hands across his body and in every gratuitously topless shot, revelling in the female gaze. To find all that in a holiday romance is almost too much!

Swayze, topless, standing behind a Grey who is laughing hysterically

I’ve not seen Dirty Dancing 2, mainly as I cannot imagine lightning striking twice, but I know it doesn’t follow Johnny and Baby’s future. Swayze has a role as a dance instructor but he’s not named – I assume he’s Johnny but I don’t know why they wouldn’t name him if he was! Anyway, I often wonder what would have happened to the two of them after the events of the original film. When I was younger, I never doubted their happy ending, but would they have stayed together? Could they have overcome their class differences and heavily implied religious differences and made it work? Their love seemed too great to just be over, but now I can’t imagine it working out any other way. ‘I’ll never be sorry’ Johnny tells Baby, and that somehow made it all OK that they’d likely go their separate ways now the season was over. Heartbreaking, and likely a love story that would weigh heavily over all of their future relationships, but OK. I don’t know that they’d have made each other happy long term.

Of the various nuances that I missed in my early viewings, the class differences wasn’t one of them. The already existing customer/service divide is exacerbated because the Housemans seem to be special guests of the management. Are they rich? Or high status? Or just friends of the Kellermans? Such is her privilege that Baby doesn’t notice the difference. ‘I envy you,’ she tells Penny when she hears that Penny has been dancing professionally since she was 16. Baby sees only the romance of life on the stage but I dread to think what hoops Penny needed to jump through to succeed.

Johnny and Penny dancing

Johnny is also very aware of the divide between him and Baby. He knows that despite being Baby’s teacher and superior at the holiday camp, that isn’t their future. She plans on volunteering to join the Peace Corps; he is soon to start a manual labour job. He knows that he could never financially support Baby in the manner to which she is accustomed, never compete with her intellectually. It’s frankly quite adorable how grateful he is when she acknowledges him to her parents, and I realise how patronising that sounds. As the film progresses, the extent of Baby’s privilege becomes more and more obvious – the revelation of her affair with Johnny causes disappointment in her father’s eyes but isn’t likely to affect her future. Johnny is fired and is unlikely to be re-employed next year.

But the class divide isn’t just played out through Baby and Johnny. The waiters are instructed to romance the guests’ daughters, ‘even the dogs,’ but the entertainment staff are only for dancing. The class divide here is too great; that would be an embarrassment to the wealthy families. Except this works in reverse with the bored wives – they’re not looking for a future for themselves so instead throw themselves at the hired help! And it’s difficult to say no. This was an early lesson for me in coerced consent – Johnny can’t really afford to say no to these rich women, both through immediate tips and because he needs to keep his job. ‘They’re using me!’ he tells Baby, and the power differential here is obvious.

This is just one example of what I find so extraordinary about Dirty Dancing – it casually covers subjects that remain topical and pertinent today, and manages to do so in a way that is real and sympathetic. As described in an opinion piece in the Guardian written in 2017, it lightly and almost casually portrays ‘the kind of issues that today’s Hollywood would handle with Christopher Nolan-esque gravity or sidestep altogether for fear of criticism,’ such as abortion and sexual assault. As it quite correctly concludes, this film would never be made today!

And it remains astonishing that it was made at all. This is a notable exception among 80s teen movies to show sexual assault as wrong rather than an amusing plot point – Molly Ringwald being casually fingered without her consent in The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall sleeping with a drunk girl who doesn’t know who he is in Sixteen Candles; the 80s were a difficult time for women and I fear that this freedom to feel up unsuspecting women is what boomers are talking about when they moan about how the world is not like it used to be.

But Dirty Dancing takes a dim view of that kind of behaviour. As much as this movie has a villain, it is Robbie – the cocky waiter who is the father of Penny’s baby but won’t help her. He’s also shown to sexually assault Baby’s sister and sleep with other guests, which is ironic as he accuses Penny of sleeping around. Particularly viewed with post-#MeToo sensibilities, his entire attitude is pretty revolting. He wants Dr Houseman’s support and recommendation before starting a career in medicine so dates his daughter (!), tries to force her to go further with him that she wants (!!), and then presumes that Dr Houseman will side with him and understand when he admits to his role in Penny’s pregnancy (!!!). ‘Some people count and some people don’t,’ he tells Baby when she confronts him about Penny, effectively summing up the whole film!

And perhaps Robbie isn’t that wrong to believe that Dr Houseman shares his views on who is worth attention. Baby calls her father out on the hypocrisy of his actions compared to the more magnanimous ideals of providing help and support to everyone that he taught her, declaring that ‘you meant people like you.’

But the most important and most radical plot line involves the representation of abortion. The film’s writer, Eleanor Bergstein, talking to Hadley Freeman for her book on 80s movies ‘Life Movies Pretty Fast,’ said that she had intended to present social messages in a ‘pleasurable way so that the moral lesson would sneak up on people,’ and she definitely succeeds!

Baby and Johnny messing around on the floor. She is crawling towards him as he plays air guitar

I love love love how intentional Bergstein was in using this film as a vehicle for a pro-abortion message. Her film was dismissed by men on all sides as it was a film for teen girls, and they apparently didn’t even notice the abortion plot until it was too late and money had been invested. It’s completely integral to the plot – nothing would happen without it. I suspect that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t yet heard a credible suggestion of remaking Dirty Dancing.

For me, it strikes exactly the right note with regard to discussions about abortion. Penny is not judged for needing an abortion; she’s portrayed sympathetically but her response to the predicament is understandable. No one ever suggests keeping the baby. Why would they? And yet her sensible and reasonable need for an abortion almost kills her as she is unable to get one safely and legally. She can’t go to the doctor even after she’s been butchered as what she’s done is illegal. Again taken from her conversation with Hadley Freeman, Bergstein is so ahead of her time with her intentions: ‘when I wrote the film, abortion – like feminism – was one of those issues that people thought just wasn’t relevant any more…But I thought Ros vs Wade was precarious…The film is set in 1963 but it came out in 1987 and I wanted young women seeing the film to understand that it wasn’t just that she went to Planned Parenthood and it went wrong.’

Wow.

Set in 1963, first came out in 1987 but upsettingly relevant today.

Rolling back our reproductive freedoms and limiting access to abortions doesn’t mean more babies; it means more people desperately resorting to ‘some butcher…with a folding table and a dirty knife.’ People will die. Without any doubt, people will die. And disproportionately people like Penny – people who can’t afford to see doctors with clean operating theatres and who are willing to risk ignoring the rules. Vulnerable people will die. And that is just not good enough!

It should also be noted that, importantly, Dirty Dancing does not suggest that sex should be avoided despite acknowledging these potentially tragic consequences. The plot around Penny’s abortion is what brings Baby and Johnny together; they have all this wonderful, hot, life-changing sex almost immediately after seeing what happened to Penny. The fault, it correctly implies, is not with the people having sex – it’s with the system that denies them access to safe abortion.

Baby and Johnny lying in each other’s arms

God, I love this film!

It’s not perfect. I don’t know why Baby does so much of the dancing in her underwear, except to unnecessarily perve on her body, which feels out of character with the rest of the film, and the ‘gu-gung’ heartbeat scene is nauseatingly cringeworthy. I also don’t know if it can be forgiven for the number of copycat weddings, parties, dance scenes etc that have tried and failed to recreate Johnny’s prance down the aisle at the end or the iconic lift scene.

(I can forgive this one)

And yet Dirty Dancing‘s importance cannot be underestimated – it’s a quiet yet ‘powerful morality tale.’ It shows the consequences of limitation of our reproductive freedom in an accessible way; it demonstrates how ‘youthful indulgence [and] daddy’s girl privileges can be harnessed to foster social unity’ – as the Guardian comments ‘Ivanka Trump take note!’ – and it demonstrates and condemns casual indifference to sexual assault. Big, important issues, all displayed for the mainstream to see.

All this, and it’s just so joyful. It’s wonderful. It’s the time of our lives!

Next week: Gone Girl

I have specifically chosen this film as it has an abortion theme because Smutathon 2019 is approaching! A charity smut writing challenge when an entire community of erotica and sex writers will be writing as much as we can for 12 hours on 28th September to raise money for the National Network of Abortion Funds, a charity that aims to reduce all barriers to accessing abortion in the USA – financial, logistical and legal.

Click the button below to read more about our challenge or click here to donate!

The Smutathon badge showing a woman’s legs in fishnet tights bending over a chair

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.

sex, lies and videotape

YEAR: 1989
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
KEY ACTORS: James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.2/10
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 96%

SEX SCORE: 5/5 (Fuckable cast, sex positive themes, source of fantasy material, passes the Bechdel test, rewatchable. Yes!!)

This contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: YouTube (free, with Spanish subtitles), Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £5.99), iTunes (rent £3.49, buy £5.99) Sky Store (to rent), Ratuken TV (from £2.49)

The movie poster of sex, lies and videotape, showing images of the cast intercut with thick black lines

Of course this was going to be the first movie in this new series – it was the one that inspired it all! A film about sex, relationships, voyeurism, exhibitionism and with Secretary’s James Spader as the lead? It’s safe to say that this movie had a big effect on me…

Made in 1989 and Steven Soderbergh’s feature directorial debut, sex, lies and videotape tells the story of four people: married couple, Ann (Andie MacDowell) and John (Peter Gallagher), her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) and an old college friend of John’s called Graham (James Spader). Ann and John’s marriage is struggling – she is in therapy discussing how she no longer likes it when John touches her and all the while, he is fucking her sister. John’s friend, Graham, has only recently moved to the area but creates ripples in the uneasy balance of these relationships. He reveals to Ann that he is impotent and unable to have penetrative sex. Instead, he gets off on videos he’s made of conversations with women talking about sex. His arrival, and the videos he makes of them, prompt both sisters to reconsider and eventually end their relationships with John. It’s such a good film!

And it’s not just me that thinks this film is great – it won the Palme d’Or and FIPRESCI prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, where James Spader also won the Beat Actor Award, and Steven Soderbergh was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 1990 Academy Awards.

I first saw this around 2005 during my many years at university and when I was deep into an obsession with the OC’s Sandy Cohen, also played by Peter Gallagher, as many women in my friendship circle were. ‘What would Sandy Cohen do?’ had become a mantra of sorts for us! I was in my early 20s and a long way from working out who I was sexually and what I liked, and I watched this with a group of girlfriends mainly to see what Sandy Cohen had done before becoming Sandy Cohen. They were intermittently shocked and bored – he is not a good person here. I could not tear my eyes away and I’m not sure I have ever been the same!

This film initiated such a paradigm shift in me because it caught me at a time when I had no real sexual experience or confidence, but I knew there was so much wonder waiting just out of reach. At that time, I recognised so much of myself in Ann; her hesitation and embarrassment about sex, her frigid existence as a housewife locking her into a life that she knew was making her unhappy but that she couldn’t work out how to change, and I was so afraid that this was my future.

A two year relationship during sixth form with an eighteen year old boy who was too afraid of being caught buying condoms to actually have PIV sex had been followed by several years of celibacy, and I was left somewhat paralysed when it came to sex. The very few times I did have sex had not gone well and I was stuck, bound by my fear and lack of experience. Maybe I would never work out how to have good sex? Maybe I too would end up in a sexless marriage, living as the perfect housewife but never be sexually fulfilled?

Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher in bed. He is asleep, she looks frustrated

So, like Ann, I was fascinated by Graham and his videotapes. Maybe it’s because of my love of movies but there is something nostalgic and a little romantic about Graham’s box of videotapes, each labelled with the name of the person he was filming. As a viewer of the movie, you don’t see much of what is on these tapes and it is left to your imagination, but just the idea of all of these women opening up and talking about sex, answering Graham’s questions and discussing these intimate subjects with such ease, was intoxicating.

And, oh my gosh, I wanted Graham to make a tape of me. I imagined feeling terrified and vulnerable but safe enough to talk, which is a hot combination of emotions! I imagined Graham’s questions probing me and making me realise things about myself that I wished I could vocalise. It was such a delicious fantasy, and one of the earliest that I can remember that was definitively sexual rather than more romantic. I only watched the movie once until many years later but I cannot tell you how often I reimagined that scene and that idea…

Interestingly, in 1989 Roger Ebert described his use of video as a form of sexism assault as ‘he has power not over their bodies but over their minds, over their secrets.’ While I’m not sure that this view of assault stands up in the post-#MeToo world where more definite assault has been revealed to be so dishearteningly widespread and Graham clearly has the consent of the women he’s recording, it did strike me that his simple voyeurism could be seen so negatively.

Because looking back now, this is almost the perfect acting out of my exhibitionist/voyeur tendencies. To be watched so intently by someone who will get off on watching me over and over is among the hottest things I can imagine. Equally, I love the idea of videoing a partner like this, and it proved to be as hot as I’d hoped when I filmed my husband finally breaking his 10 day orgasm denial streak a couple of years ago. The results were definitely NSFW but I got off on the filming and the watching later in almost equal measures, and I remembered Graham’s videos with new eyes.

Andie MacDowell looking towards the camera, wistfully holding a camcorder

This is also a form of voyeurism that adds distance and time to the immediacy of the experience, a deliberate choice by Soderbergh. Talking to Film Comment in 1989, he explained that ‘video is a way of distancing ourselves from people and events…[Graham] needs the distance to feel free to react without anybody watching, which, I guess, is the definition of voyeurism.’

This won’t be the last time I talk about James Spader but it is a good place to introduce him. He is among the most fuckable of all actors and, unlike most celebrity crushes, this is more because of how he is rather than how he looks. In the same review mentioned above, Roger Ebert feels that Spader has the ‘kind of sexual ambiguity of the young Brando or Dean; he seems to suggest that if he bypasses the usual sexual approaches it is because he has something more interesting up, or down, his sleeve.’ That is true of his character here and it is definitely true of his character in Secretary. Both are superficially ordinary, almost boring, and yet have such fascinating and kinky depths, and the juxtaposition is intriguing and a little dangerous.

James Spader with a mullet, gesturing towards the camera

Although the videotapes appealed to me more than the sex or lies of the title, there is so much of interest in the sex and sexual relationships from the other characters. The interplay between Graham’s impotence and Ann’s frigidity in contrast to John and Cynthia’s hypersexuality is almost a caricature. Is this to suggest a challenge or to justify the behaviour of the other characters? Roger Ebert describes the ‘fundamental fact of the human ego’ that we believe that a new partner could cure impotence or overcome frigidity – they’ve just not found yet right one, they’ve not been fucked by the right guy, and other such sexist opinions – and it is true that both Ann and Graham’s character resolutions do revolve around them finding each other. But it doesn’t play like ego; they are almost reluctant in their approaches to each other.

Unlike Cynthia who does visit Graham with the intention of ‘curing’ his impotence as he won’t be able to resist her. And I can see why she’d think that – Cynthia is just so fucking sexy in that 1980s stereotypical kind of way with big hair, a filthy laugh and denim cut off shorts (Laura San Giacomo also played Vivian’s friend Kit in Pretty Woman, another character who rightly or wrongly taught me how women can be sexy), and I did want to be her. I wanted to be that brashly sexy, that confident and capable of getting what I wanted.

Laura San Giacomo lying on her back with her feet in the air, wearing a black dress and black boots

But despite the use of unusual camera angles, sweaty faces and red based colours making it clear that her and John were having Good Sex, it’s not hot. The further through the film I got, the less attractive I found them. Certainly, neither of them are as attractive as they think they are and the sex may appear incredible – energetic, hard and fast, sweaty – but it is framed by so much deception that I struggled to find it that appealing! John is also too much of a twat to be attractive, and their sex less desirable as a consequence.

I think this was the beginning of the end of my reliance on movie sex as a visual learning aid. Porn has always been too starkly real for me, preferring to create my own imagery when reading erotica instead, so movies were really my only visual references for how sex should look. And it turns out that it’s rarely as hot as anything I’ve experienced in real life.

After this film, I stopped expecting the sex I saw to be as hot or arousing as the sex I could imagine. The words? The ideas? Fuck yes! And that’s where this film delivers those delights in spades…

Next week: The Thomas Crown Affair!

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