Quickly: off the top of your head, how many movies have you seen - or at least heard of - lately that feature a young or middle-aged white dude floundering around and trying to work out the meaning of his existence?
(Indeed, a recent script search by an independent producer stated they were only interested in "a MALE lead 25-50 years old, multi-dimensional with some fatal flaw", presumably because there's a real dearth of those sorts of films around.)
Now, think about how many movies featuring a similarly shambolic female lead. There's Young Adult, Rachel Getting Married, and...? The most recent addition to the genre is Lola Versus, starring Greta Gerwig, which opened to a rather disappointing gross of $34,100 over four theatres in the US this past weekend.
Remarkably, the filmmakers sent out an email that suggested sexism on the part of film critics was to blame for the film's lukewarm opening:
"The male critics are attacking the film and our box office really struggled last night. We think this has a lot to do with it being a female driven comedy about a single woman, and the older male critics don't like messy unapologetic stories with women at the center. There was a similar backlash against HBO's Girls at first from men, but we don't have the luxury of a full TV season to change their minds."
So, did the critics sink Lola Versus?
In reality, probably not entirely. Even though the sort of cinemagoer likely to consider seeing an indie romantic dramedy is arguably more likely to take note of critics' opinions than, say, the person who just wants to drink a car-sized Frozen Coke through the latest CGI explosion showreel, the film's main problem was a crowded market.
Lola Versus had the misfortune of being released on the same weekend as Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and the well-received Sundance favourite Safety Not Guaranteed. As IndieWire noted, both films targeted the "young, hip twentysomethings" market that Lola also sought.
(And there was also the small matter of some nobody called Sir Ridley Scott shunting his micro-budget mumblecore flick, Prometheus, into a handful of small theatres without much fanfare that same weekend.)
I should note that I haven't seen Lola Versus yet (I'm still processing my rage about the Nostromo-sized plot holes in Prometheus' terrible script, and recovering from the Red Vines I ate at the midnight screening), so I can't vouch for its quality either way.
And while having read all of the reviews, I'm not sure these ones are sexist, I'm certain that there is a real thread of sexism in film criticism.
(Not to mention the howling down you get if, as I am, you are a female film critic who dares to question the dominant Hollywood paradigm; read the comments on my review of The Descendants for a real laugh-a-line.)
There is a tendency for critics to gleefully rip into female-centric films, whipping themselves into a feeding frenzy in a critical game of one-downmanship.
A perfect example is the response to Sex And The City 2. Now, I'm not suggesting the film was critically wronged - indeed, at one point while watching it, probably about around the time my soul escaped my body as Samantha threw condoms at generic "Middle-Eastern" men, I found myself wondering whether it might be the new Ishtar. But the film was attacked by critics in a way that male-fronted equivalents (say, Hall Pass or Hot Tub Time Machine) weren't.
As The Guardian noted at the time, "The spectacle of a lot of grown women together - particularly ones who are not suffering - apparently fills them, bafflingly, with contempt. The women/actresses/characters/whatever are old, ugly inside and out, bitches, lewd sluts, whores, venal, selfish, haggard, vulgar, self-pitying, neurotic 'girls'. These are all words from the reviews."
There are plenty of other examples; most romantic comedies and dramas ("women's interest" films) tend to receive a harsher critical once-over than the glut of films in which white men consider their place in the world (which get Oscars). But then, when the industry itself is hopelessly sexist, what do you expect?
It would be nice to think that in this brave new post-Bridesmaids world, female-fronted films could expect a slightly easier go of it. Unfortunately, for the most part, it's still a hard slog.
There were dozens of projects awaiting the production greenlight when the Kristen Wiig vehicle opened; "Let's wait and see how Bridesmaids does" became a convenient shorthand for producers and studio heads who were wary about sinking dollars into a new movie about women.
Had Bridesmaids failed, the studio rhetoric would have been completely different than the way in which they deal with the lukewarm performance of a male-fronted comedy; it would have been "proof" that audiences "aren't ready" for a female buddy movie.
One thing the industry and the critics have in common is the sense that once you've seen one film about women, you've seen them all. There are already grumblings about the fact that the upcoming Bachelorette appears to cover similar narrative ground as Bridesmaids. God forbid we make two movies about women behaving badly at a wedding! Don't make me quote Highlander again, but... well, you know.
Which brings me back to the fact that the main thread between the reviews of Lola Versus seems to be that critics find the film's premise "generic": a woman is dumped and flails about on the brink of 30. I can't think of the last time a similar film about a male protagonist was widely decried as "generic". So, the more I think about it, maybe that team Lola Versus email is right.
- The Age
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