Something for the ladies? Send it back, says Donald Clarke
More than a few critics have noted that, despite featuring three female leads, useless revenge comedy The Other Woman still manages to fail the Bechdel Test for gender balance. Sadly, those characters discuss virtually nothing but their feelings for arch-cad Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Personal validation can only come, it seems, from cuddling a bloke or spiking his smoothie with oestrogen.
All this is made more depressing by the awareness that the film has been marketed almost solely to women. A string of nags on Twitter urges respondents to consider who among their friends is the best dancer or dresser. A quiz inviting you to discover which of the characters you most resemble does not list Mr CosterWaldau among the answers.
There’s no point pretending that Hollywood doesn’t play to the demographics. The “Woman’s Film” has been around since movies began. But, over the last decade and half, that loose configuration has taken a depressingly grim dive into conformity, self-abasement and materialism.
The first two Bridget Jones movies kick-started the reactionary shift by offering as a role model a woman whose mood is determined by shifting relationships with a shit (H Grant) and a bore (C Firth). Complete debasement came with the truly horrible Sex and the City films. Whereas the TV series allowed its characters some career fulfilment, the hugely overlong, persistently racist films argued that happiness comes only through shopping and – here it is again – the attention of desirable chaps.
Whole generations of right-on men who’d dutifully read through Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Kate Millett came to the conclusion that they’d got it wrong all along. Men are more useful to women than fish are to bicycles. Indeed, they seem to be essential.
So what? Films aimed largely at men promote the fetishisation of firearms, the objectification of women and the tolerance of Danny Dyer. Both sexes are treated like idiots. Right?
Well, it wasn’t always this way. Consider Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford in the tough melodramas and sharp comedies that illuminated the 1940s and 1950s. You did not, in All About Eve, catch Davis’s formidable Eve Channing – or, for that matter, Anne Baxter’s ruthless Eve Harrington – pining around like ninnies over drippy men. Nor did they drone on endlessly about overpriced shoes. They took life by the gullet and strangled it.
What did for the mainstream Woman’s Film was not a kickback against feminism or the aftereffects of ladette culture, but vulgar capitalism. As anonymous corporations engulfed studios, middlemen demanded easily digestible projects aimed at easily identifiable target audiences. Lowest common denominators help that process.
Ladies and gentlemen (but mainly ladies) I give you The Other Woman.