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Tag: Feminism (Page 1 of 3)

Fatal Attraction

  • YEAR: 1987
  • DIRECTOR: Adrian Lyne
  • KEY ACTORS: Glenn Close, Michael Douglas, Anne Archer
  • CERTIFICATE: 18
  • IMBD SCORE: 6.9
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 75%

SEX SCORE: 2/5

✔️ Fatal Attraction does pass the Bechdel Test but it’s described as a ‘weak pass’ as the conversations are very brief and very few!

✔️ And I think it is rewatchable. It’s a tough watch and it’s horrifying, but it stands up to each rewatch and it is still incredibly affecting.

❌ But it is not sex positive. It makes a horror film out of an extramarital affair and highlights the dangers of causal sex without offering an alternate explanation for her actions except that women are crazy and sex outside marriage is dangerous! To quote The Rewatchables, this is ‘fucking with punishment.’

❌ It also didn’t inspire fantasies. I totally get cuckolding fantasies and I love watching my husband with another partner, but this is not it. This is horrifying.

❌ And I don’t want to fuck the cast. Glenn Close is wonderful but her intensity (and perm) are too too much and I literally can’t fancy Michael Douglas. I just don’t see it and never have!

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

STREAMING: NowTV (free with subscription), Amazon Starz (free with subscription), Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £4.99), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

[Content warning: stalking, murder, self-harm and suicidal ideation, mental health disorders]

Fatal Attraction movie poster

I had seen Fatal Attraction before this most recent rewatch. I knew the plot beyond the famous scenes and I knew the history and feminist critique of the movie from reading up afterwards, but I had forgotten how fucking traumatic it is. Fatal Attraction is a freaking horror film! How is this described as a thriller?! It’s full of every horror movie cliche you can imagine – shaky Steadicam shots across the room, shots angled up to make Glenn Close look like Carrie’s mother, and so so many shots of mirrors or open windows or empty spaces in which someone might appear at any moment. I have rarely been as tense watching a movie as I was watching this and it took a long time for my fear-stoked adrenaline rush to subside.

Fatal Attraction tells the story of Dan Gallagher (Douglas) who has an affair with editor Alex Forrest (Close) while his wife and daughter are away for the weekend. They have energetic sex before spending the day together in the park, and Dan hopes that that is the end of their affair. Unfortunately, Alex had other ideas. She tells him that she’s pregnant but Dan chooses to stay with his family, offering to pay for an abortion but not taking any other responsibility. In response, she stalks him, destroys his car, boils his bunny, kidnaps his child, and eventually tries to kill him. Dan fights back and thinks he’s drowned her in the bathtub, until she bursts out of the water like any stereotypical psycho killer and is shot by Beth (Archer), Dan’s wife. Pheeeeew.

Aside from the cinematic tricks, Fatal Attraction is also a horror film because it’s a misogynistic nightmare of epic proportions. It is the poster child for the backlash against feminism in the early 1990s and it created visual memes that have been used against women ever since. Bunny boiler. Crazy ex-girlfriend. Career woman who is desperate for love and a baby. All originated, or were at least perpetuated, by Fatal Attraction. Thanks for that.

For me, the pinnacle of this swing against women occurs when Alex is considered wholly unreasonable for not accepting the abortion that Dan offers to pay for and ‘her refusal to do so is taken as yet another indication that she is a selfish bitch.’ Considering Hollywood is now so pro-life that movies about unwanted and unexpected pregnancies, like Juno and Knocked Up, never present abortion as a reasonable option, I can’t quite get my head around the fact that Fatal Attraction was so liberal and so pro-choice in the late 1980s! I can only conclude that it is being used as another stick with which to beat the newly enlightened feminist woman – we’d worked so hard to have full reproductive freedom that it could now be used as a weapon against us. Isn’t the right to abortion exactly what we wanted? How unreasonable of us to also want to choose not to have one!

An image from Fatal Attraction of Alex

And that’s the whole movie. It’s about how unreasonable women are. How unreasonable to want a career and a family. How unreasonable to want independence and a relationship! In her 1991 book ‘Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women,’ Susan Faludi argued that the 1980s was full of movies and other forms of media that intended to ‘scare women against the strides they’d made during the feminist revolution of the 1970s.’ Just like Fatal Attraction, these movies were often written and directed by men who felt the need to ‘remind women of their place…[and] told stories of miserable women whose lives were “ruined” by feminism.’ As Faludi argues, Alex is ‘an example of the barren career woman, so desperate for love, marriage and a child — the things she’s rejected for years — that she’s willing to kill for it.’ She starts the movie as a smart and hot woman who was in control of her career, and yet is rapidly ‘driven mad by little more than Michael Douglas’ penis.’ It’s so insulting…and that’s not going to be the last time I declare this film to be insulting to women.

Urgh, there is so much about this movie that makes me angry.

But as angry as this feminist backlash makes me, my main complaint about Fatal Attraction involves the misrepresentation of mental illness. This is clearly still an indirect attack on women but my concern goes beyond this to how Fatal Attraction will have perpetuated harmful stigma against mental illness.

As a rule, I strongly discourage the random diagnosis of strangers with mental health disorders as it risks adding to the stigma by pathologising what are simply negative character traits, but it has become part of the wider discourse surrounding Fatal Attraction that Alex has erotomania, or de Clerambault’s Syndrome. This is a delusional disorder where the sufferer becomes convinced that the object of their affection secretly loves them and they take increasingly desperate steps to declare their love in return. But I don’t think Alex’s behaviour fits with de Clerambault’s Syndrome – this is better demonstrated in Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love – and, to me, that makes it pretty obvious that it wasn’t director Adrian Lyne or writer James Dearden’s intention for her to have this diagnosis.

But despite this, Alex’s behaviour is not rational. It’s not normal. She’s obsessed with Dan in an obviously unhealthy way. She tries to kill him! She kidnaps his child!! And yet, the movie’s explanation is simply that Alex is lonely and that’s how lonely women act. I wish this was a joke because it is staggeringly insulting, but it’s the truth. When Dearden adapted his film for the stage in 2014, he wrote that ‘people may be surprised to hear that I initially conceived Alex as an essentially tragic, lonely figure, worthy of our sympathy. Yes, she does go a bit far, but I think we can all recognise how close to obsessive behaviour we can be driven by love – or the illusion of love…Alex is not a study in madness. She is a study in loneliness and desperation.’ I…I just can’t.

Worse, Glenn Close did a lot of research into the motivations of her character because it was important to her that she understood why Alex behaved how she did but, as she told CBS in 2013, she ‘talked to two psychiatrists [and] never did a mental disorder come up. Never did the possibility of that come up.’ Which both she and I found absolutely astonishing! Are we honestly supposed to believe that this is normal female behaviour?! If nothing else, Alex’s over-the-top reactions suggest that she has been triggered and is reliving past trauma, such as childhood abuse, and it is staggering that it could be accepted as how woman act when rejected.

The reaction to the movie and the way that Alex’s actions have now become synonymous with those of a crazy scorned woman have led Close to become an advocate for mental health charities, founding a nonprofit organisation called Bring Change to Mind that aims to remove the stigma around mental health disorders: ‘I think as public figures, as entertainers, that we have a moral responsibility to only portray characters, that if, if they have disruptive behaviour or behaviour that is negative that it has to be responsibly explained. I really do not believe that we can anymore just say, ‘Oh, let’s make our person somebody mentally ill.’ That’s really easy because that plays into the stigma that people with mental illness are violent and that is not the truth. Most people with mental illness are not violent. And most people who commit violent crimes do not have a diagnosed mental illness. That is wrong, and it’s proven wrong and it is immoral to keep that perpetrated.’ She’s a bit of a hero.

This is, of course, why Close was so betrayed by the change in the ending of the movie. Dearden described persuading Close to film the new ending as ‘one of [his] most shame-inducing recollections’ and, having seen the original ending, I can understand why.

Because while Alex’s suicide is dramatic and over the top, I believe it. It fits with her psychological decline and is at least a crazy that makes sense! In comparison, the published ending is genuinely psychotic. And I’m sorry to use such damaging language to describe her but by running around with a knife and creeping into the Gallagher house, Alex does become the stereotypical villain of slasher movies who have, unfortunately, appropriated words like ‘psycho’ and ‘crazy.’ She is deranged and she is punished.

Alex and Dan fighting with a knife

That’s why I hate it so much. It absolutely definitely perpetuates those damaging messages about mental health disorders and their connection to violence and, in doing so, ruins what could have been a really interesting movie about desire and obsession and obligation. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, Fatal Attraction is a ‘spellbinding psychological thriller that could have been a great movie if the filmmakers had not thrown character and plausibility to the winds in the last minutes to give us their version of a grown-up “Friday the 13th.”’ The original ending went down so badly with test audiences that they spent $1.3 million to reshoot it and created one that prompted audiences to gleefully chant ‘Kill the bitch’ at the screen. When discussing this movie, the Rewatchables team suggested that the new ending was the only way that the audiences were able to feel that ‘moral justice’ had been done – they didn’t just want Alex to die; they wanted her to be killed by the perfect and innocent wife, Beth, so that Alex could be made to pay for the damage done to her family. ‘They want[ed] us to terminate the bitch with extreme prejudice,’ former Paramount exec Ned Tanen told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. Cool.

And Fatal Attraction could have been so much better if they’d leaned into Dan’s betrayal of Alex, rather than immediately making her the bad guy. Imagine how much interesting an exploration of infidelity it could have become if Alex had fallen pregnant after their one-weekend-stand and simply wanted Dan to acknowledge his responsibility. ‘I’m not going to be ignored,’ Alex threatened him, ‘I’m 36 years old, it may be my last chance to have a child.’ The more he ignores her, the more insistent she could become that he needs to recognise his child, and so when he finally tries to kill her and his own unborn child, Dan is recognised as the villain he really is!

Because Alex’s descent into slasher movie madness does allow Dan to get away with it. As Dearden himself wrote, ‘the crazed career woman [is] put out of her misery, the family saved, the status quo preserved.’ And it’s horrifying because Dan is an absolute scumbag! When looked at through a post-#MeToo feminist lens, ‘Fatal Attraction is a movie in which a woman is repeatedly physically assaulted by her married lover, slut-shamed by him and verbally abused for refusing to get an abortion at his behest.’ It’s too easy to get lost in Alex’s obsession and forget quite how badly Dan behaves – he cheats on his wife for seemingly no reason, he breaks into Alex’s house a number of times, HE TAKES HIS DOG ON A DATE WITH HIS SECRET MISTRESS, he physically and verbally assaults her, and then he tries to kill her.

Sorry, I know it’s an overreaction but the dog thing really makes me angry. Who takes their dog on a date with a one-night stand? Looking at that date in the park from Alex’s perspective, it’s not totally impossible to see why she misunderstands Dan’s intentions. The first night was clearly just about sex. They have that incredible conversation over dinner about whether they could be ‘discrete’ and talk about Dan’s marriage. Here, Alex is seducing Dan and there is no doubt that they both know what they are getting into – he is married but they’re attracted to each other and they’re ‘both adults.’ It was just sex.

But to meet up the next day for a picnic in the park with your dog? Bringing work over to her house so you can still spend time together? That’s a date! Pets are family members; he’s introducing her to his family!! I’m not condoning Alex’s actions in any way, but I do recognise that she could have felt she was receiving mixed messages. And the fact that Dan doesn’t understand that makes him a scumbag!

An image from Fatal Attraction of Dan

Michael Douglas’s career in the late 1980s and early 1990s is fascinating as he seems to consistently play scumbags who are still not the villain of the movie. The Rewatchables described him as a ‘walking erection’ during this time, playing flawed Every Man characters who were as we really were, rather than the Tom Hanks Every Man that we hoped to be. The Fatal Attraction podcast also wondered if he chose so many scumbag roles as a direct response to his father, Kirk Douglas, who famously played strong jawed heroes. Dan Gallagher, Basic Instinct’s Nick Curran, Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko; scumbags!

And, for me, this is why I struggle to see Michael Douglas as a sex icon. Too often he’s sleazy and morally dubious but isn’t quite a bad boy. He’s just a bit of a loser, with cream cheese on his nose and failing to open an umbrella in the rain. And I think we’re supposed to sympathise with him being a loser and understand that that’s why he cheats on his perfect wife – he’s a loser and Alex is incredible and wants him so why wouldn’t he take advantage of the opportunity?

Anne Archer looking gorgeous

It’s a shame that so much of Fatal Attraction angers me because the sex scenes are pretty hot! As he’d already proven in 9 ½ Weeks, Adrian Lyne can direct sex. He likes making movies about the details within relationships, describing liking ‘the small picture really, rather than the big one. And obviously sexuality is part of that.’ According to the Fatal Attraction podcast, Lyne also liked to add humour to the sex scenes he directed as he wanted to preempt the nervous laughter associated with sex with something intended to be funny – and this is a classic example of that. Splashing water on themselves while sitting in a sink full of dirty dishes is a little strange but it is fun, and I didn’t need to see Douglas staggering across the kitchen carrying Close with his trousers around his ankles, but it is kind of joyful and realistic. And Lyne is right – sex can be funny and, more to the point, it’s so much better when we’re relaxed enough to laugh!

An image from Fatal Attraction of Dan and Alex

And the blowjob in the elevator was undoubtedly hot. Alex was firmly in control, the location is brutalist and industrial, and the exhibitionist thrill when someone walks past is so so hot. So many people – Adrian Lyne included – had doubts about Glenn Close’s ability to be sexy but I think she’s incredible in this movie. Her big hair is ridiculous but it does hint at a wanton wildness. And there’s an intensity to her gaze in the early scenes before it develops the edge of madness that oozes sex appeal. She’s powerful and in control and she’s incredibly sexy!

But, sadly, none of this makes up for the car crash of misogyny in the rest of the movie nor the lasting impact of Fatal Attraction on how women are treated. Glenn Close claims that people still thank her for saving their marriage, as if the fear of inevitably releasing a murderous instinct in the scorned women is the only thing stopping them straying. Fatal Attraction is described as the movie that ‘scared the pants on men’ and is seen as a ‘powerful cautionary tale.’ Made during the AIDS pandemic, it emphasised once again that sex was dangerous and, of course, that women weren’t to be trusted.

And it doesn’t matter how good the movie might be, messages like that don’t age well…

NEXT WEEK…

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.

Her

YEAR: 2013
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
KEY ACTORS: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 95%

SEX SCORE: 4/5
❌ Sadly, this film fails the Bechdel Test. Even without asking if the OS have a gender, none of the named female presenting characters talk about anything but men.
✔️ It did inspire fantasies of what our sexual future could be and how technology could influence the sexual relationships we might have. Also fantasies of super hot phone sex!
✔️ And I do think it is sex positive. The science fiction setting allows stigma, personhood, sexual agency and consent to be examined and it does a pretty good job of it. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty good!
✔️ It raises so many questions in my mind that I do think it is rewatchable.
✔️ And I would fuck the cast. Not Joaquin Phoenix so much but I’d love to have phone sex with Samantha. Scarlett Johansson has such a deeply sexy voice after all!

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The Graduate

YEAR: 1967
DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols
KEY ACTORS: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Rose
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 86%

SEX SCORE: 2/5
❌ It fails the Bechdel Test – the two named women (and there are only two!) share two lines of dialogue at the very end of the movie, but they are about Ben so it fails!
✔️ But it is rewatchable. Whatever you might think of the sexual politics and disaffection, it is a beautiful, funny and interesting movie.
✔️ It did inspire fantasies. Not so much about the age difference or the seduction by a older, more experienced person but for the late night assignations at hotels, meeting and fucking and not speaking except to arrange the next meeting. Hot. So hot.
❌ I don’t want to fuck the cast though. Mrs Robinson is glamorous and beautiful and can really wear a pair of stockings but I’d rather be her than fuck her, and Benjamin is just too annoying to contemplate.
❌ This can’t be a sex positive film when so much sexually predatory behaviour is considered sources of comedy!

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American Beauty

YEAR: 1999
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
KEY ACTORS: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 8.3
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 87%

SEX SCORE: 1/5
✔️ It does pass the Bechdel Test. There is a lot of talk of dating and men but there are enough examples for it to easily qualify.
❌ But I don’t want to fuck the cast. Are we supposed to? They’re all flawed and difficult to take seriously. These don’t necessarily make someone unfuckable but here they really do!
❌ And it’s not that rewatchable. It’s not a film I’d watch from halfway through if I found it on TV and it’s kind of intense!!
❌ It also didn’t inspire fantasies. There is something in being totally and utterly desired, as Lester desires Angela, but the power dynamics on display are all wrong for me.
❌ But is it sex positive? I’ve thought a lot about this and I can’t give it the mark. The portrayal of teenage sex was pretty accurate, lies and exaggerations included, and it wasn’t exactly negative about the sexual needs of its characters, but even the slightest hint of sympathy or justification for homophobia and statutory rape is unforgivable.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

YEAR: 1951
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
KEY ACTORS: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 98%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ I definitely want to fuck the cast. Marlon Brando is my ultimate movie star crush, particularly because of this film. His Stanley is an awful, angry man but, damn, no one looks as good in a tight t-shirt. He is stunning.
✔️ So I need to give it a mark for inspiring fantasies as I’ve definitely fantasied about having angry, violent, furniture breaking hot hot sex with Stanley…
✔️ And it passes the Bechdel Test, and does so without difficulty.
❌ But it’s not rewatchable. It’s really quite difficult to watch – it’s intense and upsetting and hard work. I might just watch it for Brando but there are gifs for the best bits so…
❌ And it’s not sex positive. Blanche is literally spoiled and ruined by her promiscuity and ends up in an asylum. I’m not doubting that she’s unwell by that point but it made me uncomfortable how her sexual choices were included among her symptoms.

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10 Things I Hate About You

YEAR: 1999
DIRECTOR: Gil Junger
KEY ACTORS: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 7.3
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 66%

SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ First off, this film is incredibly rewatchable. And it seems to be on the TV all the time. Yay!
✔️ And it is sex positive. I particularly liked how sex was accurately discussed as something teenagers do, rather than being shocking in itself. Bianca’s surprise that Kat had had sex with Joey sprung from her shock at not being told, rather than the act itself, and Kat’s regret was based on how Joey acted afterwards. She had consented to having sex but changed her mind about doing it again; for once, it wasn’t assault as a plot point.
✔️ It does pass the Bechdel Test, although it did take some thought to remember conversations that weren’t about dating!
✔️ And I definitely, definitely want to fuck the cast. It’s Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. It’s not really that kind of movie and I didn’t want to have their ‘outsiders together’ relationship.

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Hitch

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

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

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The Holiday

YEAR: 2006
DIRECTOR: Nancy Meyers
KEY ACTORS: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach
CERTIFICATE: 12A
IMDB SCORE: 6.9
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 49%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️So the cast are definitely fuckable. I’m not a Jude Law fan as such but, wow, this is extraordinary levels of hotness and Kate Winslet is never better than playing an English Rose
❌ But this film didn’t inspire fantasies. In fact, completely the reverse. I actively didn’t want either of their lives!
❌ This may just be my opinion, but I also don’t think this film is rewatchable. I hate Love Actually and I watch it all the time. I have only seen this twice and that’s too many times!
✔️It does pass the Bechdel test, although I am pretty annoyed that this is another pass because of conversations with children. Adult women can talk too!!
✔️ But I do think it is sex positive. It’s full of romantic cliches but the sexual ones are pretty well handled.

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Love Actually

YEAR: 2003
DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis
KEY ACTORS: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.6
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 64%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ I’m begrudgingly giving it a mark for being rewatchable as I do watch it every year, despite it being a definite hate watch now!
✔️ But this isn’t nearly as begrudgingly I’m giving it a mark for passing the Bechdel Test. In a movie all full of women, the only conversation between named female characters that wasn’t about a man occurred between Emma Thompson and her daughter about being a lobster in the nativity. Wow…
✔️ It’s difficult to decide but I think it is a sex positive film. It’s unfeminist and it’s problematic but it doesn’t really shame its characters particularly for having sex. I don’t think…
❌ I don’t want to fuck the cast, despite how hot many of them were at this time. I just don’t like them enough to fuck them!
❌ And it didn’t inspire any fantasies. Even the romantic fantasies are looking pretty problematic now!

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Die Hard

YEAR: 1988
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
KEY ACTORS: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.2
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 93%

SEX SCORE: 3.5/5
✔️Proving quite how easily it can be done even with very few female characters, this does pass the Bechdel Test!
✔️ It’s also incredibly rewatchable and I would watch it every day if I could!
✔️ And I do want to fuck the cast. Whether looking at peak Bruce Willis hotness or the not insignificant appeal of Alan Rickman, there is a lot here to enjoy!
❌ But it didn’t inspire any fantasies! It’s not really a sexual film and I’d rather avoid being involved in a hostage situation.
❓And I’d argue that this is a sex neutral film due to the very limited qualifying content, so it gets a half mark..

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