All-fe­male reboots of films sim­ply place women in the orig­i­nal male-played roles

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - KATE TAY­LOR

In Ocean’s 8, the new San­dra Bul­lock-Cate Blanchett heist movie, there’s a scene set in a sub­ur­ban garage. Bul­lock’s Deb­bie Ocean is re­cruit­ing for a big jewel theft and has come look­ing for Tammy, a for­mer fence now pass­ing as a reg­u­lar civil­ian. Her garage is packed to the rafters with un­opened boxes of stolen house­hold ap­pli­ances and Tammy is try­ing to con­vince Deb­bie she is no longer in the busi­ness – while shoo­ing away a de­mand­ing kid. How do you ex­plain this to your hus­band, Deb­bie asks, ges­tur­ing at all the stuff that has fallen off the back of a truck; “eBay,” Tammy replies.

It’s a scene that stuck with me be­cause, in the midst of a story about a mil­lion-dol­lar neck­lace and a celebrity-stud­ded gala, the hu­mour is based on a fa­mil­iar do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion: Tammy, nicely played by Sarah Paul­son, is a soc­cer mom strug­gling to make space for her ca­reer. Re­place fenc­ing stolen goods with some more le­git­i­mate gig, and she seems like a real woman.

If the rest of the char­ac­ters in Ocean’s 8 don’t feel very real, it is not only be­cause the

Ocean’s fran­chise spe­cial­izes in fan­tas­ti­cal, but also be­cause the char­ac­ters are be­ing dropped into a for­mat that once be­longed to Ge­orge Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Da­mon. That’s the odd thing about re­cent at­tempts to re­cast all-male fran­chises with fe­male char­ac­ters: There’s of­ten a cer­tain bland­ness or two-di­men­sion­al­ity to these newly minted women.

Whether they are bat­tling para­nor­mal ac­tiv­ity in Ghost­busters or lift­ing di­a­monds in

Ocean’s 8, the women are so gin­gerly placed in the films: There is to be no dis­rup­tion of the orig­i­nal film’s for­mat nor pan­der­ing to gen­der stereo­types. Ghost­busters, that re­boot greeted with out­raged howls from misog­y­nist trolls in 2016, largely avoided jokes about gen­der. Ocean’s 8 has lots of girly trap­pings in its high­so­ci­ety plot, but its crim­i­nal char­ac­ters sim­ply re­cast fa­mil­iar types – the nerdy hacker; the manic pick­pocket; the suave boss – in fe­male ver­sions.

Most of all, these all-fe­male reboots avoid ro­mance. Never let it be said that the new Hol­ly­wood only sees women as crea­tures of their re­la­tion­ships. Well, it does ac­tu­ally: A study of 2017’s top-gross­ing movies from the Cen­ter for the Study of Women in Tele­vi­sion and Film at San Diego State Uni­ver­sity shows that male char­ac­ters are more likely to be shown at work and more likely to have goals related to their jobs. Fe­male char­ac­ters are more likely to have goals related to their per­sonal lives and were al­most twice as likely as male char­ac­ters to be shown ex­clu­sively in their per­sonal-life roles.

The reboots, how­ever, are de­ter­mined to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves. Most of the women in Ocean’s 8 don’t have an iden­ti­fi­able mar­i­tal sta­tus and the only spouse-like crea­ture who ac­tu­ally ap­pears is Deb­bie’s schem­ing ex.

Ocean’s 8 passes the Bechdel test – women must talk to each other about some­thing other than a man – with fly­ing colours.

And yet, it is a rather life­less thing, as Hol­ly­wood so very con­sciously seeks out fe­male pro­tag­o­nists, but doesn’t ques­tion tra­di­tional gen­res. Re­cent sur­vival movies, in­clud­ing Reese Wither­spoon as a lone hiker in Wild and Shai­lene Wood­ley as a lone sailor in

Adrift, also re­veal a con­certed at­tempt to find fe­male-driven ac­tion: These are based on real-life sto­ries, but give a new fe­male twist to the long tra­di­tion of movies about men sur­viv­ing ev­ery­thing from hur­ri­canes to bear at­tacks. Wild was the more suc­cess­ful in­no­va­tion, partly be­cause it fea­tured a more com­plex lead char­ac­ter.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, the shoe is on the other foot and fe­male roles are turned male. In the re­cent com­edy Over­board, star­ring Anna Faris and Eu­ge­nio Der­bez, a cleaner takes re­venge on a wealthy yachts­man with am­ne­sia by con­vinc­ing him he is ac­tu­ally her work­ing­class hus­band. The con­cept dates to a 1987 movie of the same ti­tle star­ring Kurt Rus­sel as a car­pen­ter and Goldie Hawn as the be­lit­tling heiress who falls from her yacht, gets bashed on the head and must learn to do house­work and look af­ter his kids. The gen­der-re­ver­sal is cru­cial – who to­day would ac­cept a com­edy about a men­tally in­ca­pac­i­tated woman tricked into a fake mar­riage? – but doesn’t seem to have done any­thing for the movie ar­tis­ti­cally: It has re­ceived scathing re­views and there’s no word of a Cana­dian the­atri­cal re­lease.

I won­der, as Faris falls into the drink and Wood­ley sur­vives it, as Blanchett wa­ters down the vodka while Melissa McCarthy spikes the ghosts, if we will not all look back at this mo­ment in a decade or two and gig­gle dis­mis­sively. Was it re­ally enough to just flip gen­ders on any male en­sem­ble piece? Weren’t there any sto­ries to tell that orig­i­nated with women? Asked about the 2016 Ghost­busters con­tro­versy at the Ocean’s 8 premiere, Bul­lock was scathing about the at­tack on its stars and an­nounced what is ap­par­ently still news in Hol­ly­wood: “The women are here – we’re not go­ing any­where.”

Was it re­ally enough to just flip gen­ders on any male en­sem­ble piece? Weren’t there any sto­ries to tell that orig­i­nated with women?

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