Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


March 8, 2016

This week: Feminism, phobias, and you!

Thelma & Louise
Directed by Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott's ode to totally platonic lady love has some of the biggest balls ever hung from a major motion picture. It's smart, aggressive, funny, and takes absolutely no prisoners whatsoever. Its political statements are beautiful and simple, presented without didactic grandstanding (take that, JFK). Best of all, it rejects Fine Moral Values and spits all over the patriarchy without ever talking down to men. Sure, it blows a few away and makes the rest look like impotent children. But are any of the men in Thelma & Louise unfair caricatures? At the most, the film holds an uncomfortable mirror up to our worst selves and celebrates the women who tell us to go to hell. 

It's notable that the first act of Callie Khouri's script trusts us to keep up with exposition and interpret subtext. It presents characters almost entirely without comment and allows us to make our own judgments about them. This is really important when it comes to the roving cadre of ridiculous men we encounter. Their characterization rides such a fine line between mean-spirited and pathetic that the message would be lost if each beat isn't presented just right. Even Harvey Keitel's Detective Slocumb, basically moral and well-meaning, is helpless and stupefied in the face of our wonder women. That first phone conversation is outstanding because it's a meeting of equals. There's no lesson for Louise to learn, no logistical factor she hasn't considered. Slocumb has no high ground. No mansplaining necessary. 

Now listen closely as I mansplain feminist sexual politics! One thing that troubles me is the film's handling of Thelma's near-rape and subsequent sexual renaissance. On one hand, Geena Davis' performance in the diner after Brad Pitt does all the sex to her is one of my favorite things in the film. She glows in that moment, and it's absolutely cathartic for the character and her fans in the audience. But is it really appropriate for her to jump into bed so soon after her horrifying experience with Harlan? Again, I understand the inherent fascist-millennial-social-justice-warrior bullshittery of this argument, and it's a forgivable omission considering the film's overall goals, but I only ask out of love for Thelma. Anyway, moving on.

Let's get one thing straight: Neither Thelma nor Louise is a criminal mastermind, and neither becomes one by the end of the film. Yes, they make some bonehead moves that the film sort of just glosses over. Yes, they probably could have avoided most of the trouble they get into by coming clean early on. But wouldn't that involve diving head-first back into the same patriarchal bullshit they spent all this time escaping? Wouldn't that mean going back to Darryl and Jimmy and sixty-hour work weeks? Trying to explain why you murdered a man you had already escaped from? Trying to explain why you want to be free? This isn't about posturing or crafting the perfect heist. It's about the need to keep going, come what may.*

*And crazy monkey sex with Brad Pitt.

What About Bob?
Directed by Frank Oz

What About Bob? is the heartwarming tale of a domestic terrorist and his pantophobic man-child. In this zany and carefree romp, a scheming narcissist subjects his family to various tortures and tries to have a guy committed for stealing his toothbrush. It's kind of like The Odd Couple, I guess, if The Odd Couple had a sequence in which Felix tries to abandon Oscar in the woods. Seriously, though. If you're looking for a family comedy that features Bill Murray calling a ten-year-old a "dingleberry butt," this one's for you.

I kid. What About Bob? succeeds chiefly because there is just no such thing as bad Bill Murray. The obsessive-compulsive Bob Wiley is an interesting spin on the wry, sardonic wanker persona Murray was honing around this time in his career, and it's easy to see why this role was appealing. It doesn't always work (his insecurity often reads as improv), but at least he's taking chances. What's more interesting is the way Richard Dreyfuss demonstrates just how hard it is to play foil to Murray, especially when you share absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. Dreyfuss works best when he's manipulating his family's emotions and causing general civil unrest outside of Murray's influence. The two together are just grating. A good odd couple dynamic is based on begrudging respect and dependency, and neither character shows that at all. 

Frank Oz's direction is brisk and the film carries that charmingly naive 90's comedy ethos, but careful viewers will note that the screenplay lacks a third act. The last half-hour has Marvin beating Bob up and strapping bombs to his chest and sort of just rides that out until the end. There's no deepening conflict or twist in theme. Neither character learns anything from the other. The tragedy is that the film makes Marvin's family the pivot point between them (they find Marvin uptight and distant, while Bob is charming and attentive), but it never pays off that dynamic in any meaningful way. Bob fumbles his way into catharsis (and Marvin's sister) while Marvin is punished for his transgressions with a catatonic episode. It's almost as if the film is shrugging at us. Baby steps, I guess. 

Rob DiCristino writes and podcasts for The Ugly Club (@UglyClubPodcast). Follow him on Twitter @RobDiCristino. He mostly tweets about Ben Affleck.


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