Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wherein I Intend to Do a Movie Review But Instead Talk about Dick Flicks

Dan forced me to watch Captain Phillips on demand last night. That's one of the 500 movies Tom Hanks has starred in. By forced, I mean that he choose to watch it while I was present. I could've gone to read a book, but I decided to give it fifteen grudging minutes. In case you don't know, the story is about a present day sea captain taking boxes of supplies to Africa. Along the way, they have to go through the horn of Africa in a deserted area, and under the possible threat of Somalian pirates. And they get hijacked. I was resistant at first as I am to any movie that has a cast of 100 men and one female character.  It's not that I'm not interested in the story or don't think you can't tell a good story about a bunch of men doing manly things like sailing and saving lives, but it is ever thus.

The majority of major motion pictures I watched growing up (and now) feature a white male protagonist (the hero) who must prove his masculinity (by doing things like shooting or out-smarting the evil guy or using a rope to get across a chasm) and defeat the villains.  Along the way, there's often maybe one love interest who sometimes does more than get captured (often though, she's just an impediment. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars--two of the biggest blockbusters from my kidhood. I mean, yeah, Marion could throw back a shot of whiskey, but in the end, she gets caught and tied to a post wearing a ripped white gown and needing to be rescued. Same goes for Princess Leia, who was fiesty, but also a princess, don't forget, and she too had to be saved).  Mostly, the singular female character is there to show another side of the masculine picture--that the guy is straight and desired by hot women. I mean, if you're a guy, imagine if the reverse were true in almost all of the films you watched---you being asked to identify and root for women doing things--women going off to war, women saving the planet from aliens, women as world-famous spies searching for their diabolical female counter part and having sex with a bunch of vapid beefcakes along the way who kept needing to be saved. And these are not stories that are about human nature or the human experience, they are about the white male experience almost exclusively.

One of the things I thought was most interesting in the performance class I took last semester is the realization that we have a specific name for the films that have mostly female protagonists in them or where the main plot centers around a love story. Those are "chick flicks"--movies that are really just made for women  about women stuff like best friends, weddings, having babies, dying young, or getting your period (sometimes, all of these in one film, like Steel Magnolias).  But we don't have a specific name for movies that are primarily about men doing stuff--like, that's just normal. From now on, let's vow to call the genre Dick Flicks. Because I don't personally relate to war stories or imperialism or flying a MIG-3upside down or being part of the mafia, or shooting people. That's not the human experience--that's the white dude experience. 

Take a non-chick flick Tom Hanks movie,  for example. Maybe one I saw and didn't totally hate but would never ever watch again, like Castaway. Would you have gone to that film if it was three hours of a woman on a deserted island with a soccer ball? I feel like that film captures this dream some men (some men, not all) have--wanting to get away from it all, the nagging girlfriend, the daily work grind, and prove that they could survive on their wits and strength.

I'm not a Tom Hanks hater. I liked Philadelphia and Big and Forrest Gump. I can see the value in Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile and The Larry Crowne Affair, even if I don't necessarily see myself or my experience of life reflected in any of the characters or situations. And let's not forget that he was in A League of Their Own, maybe the only blockbuster American film ever made about a all-female sports team. In skirts, but you know, that's what they wore in those days.

So, yeah, I didn't feel like watching another Dick Flick, but after I got over my initial irritation (and after I realized it was based on a true story and after I Googled the ending so I didn't have to worry about if he lives or dies), I thought it was okay. The producers at least tried to show the pirates' motivation--how they were forced to do it, how they were victims, and how globalization contributed to their desperation. I mean, they touched on it, sort of. We were still meant to identify with the white guys, and it was clear that we should also be cheering for the Americans, who swooped in with the Navy Seals and executed the pirates point blank from a distance with wicked precision. And Katherine Keener, his wife, had thirty-five seconds of screen time. And the other woman in the film was a nurse. And they spent a little too much time on close-ups of Hanks' face as he was crying and distraught. How horrible for him that he had to endure being a hostage and feel the blood of the massacred men on his skin.  But it is based on a true story of what a man experienced.

By the way, I just discovered that I didn't coin the term dick flicks. It's part of the urban dictionary lexicon.

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