Movie Reviews: Men versus Women edition
Well, is the movie good? The performances are good. The film itself is memorable to the point of being iconic—it has incredible cultural value, providing a snapshot of male-female relations during this screwed-up period in the 70s and 80s when women were making these huge strides towards independence and equality amidst a really severe backlash. I think the movie accurately presents the fear men must have felt about the way women were usurping their cultural roles.
But it’s a man’s fear, not a cultural fear, and that fear was/is irrational, and the movie doesn’t make that point; instead it uses the filmic conventions of a horror film where the “monster” is a needy, aggressive woman, and then it destroys her, because that’s what you do with the monster at the end.
More about Fatal Attraction, plus Harry Meets Sally and I hate the world, after the jump.
I’ll tell you what, for me, was the defining moment in this movie. At the very end (and this is a spoiler for people who have somehow managed not to see/hear about the end of the movie over 20 years later), after the whole bloody bathroom confrontation and Glenn Close is dead, the scene cuts from Anne Archer’s triumphant face to the exterior of the house, where Michael Douglas and a male cop shake hands. The whole philosophical underpinning of the movie is encapsulated in the image of those two men presiding over, basically, the battlefield on which one kind of woman has defeated another kind. Don’t worry, they seem to be saying to each other, we’ll always rise above the messes that women make. We remain in control.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a feminist, and there’s a “feminist” reading of this movie, which characterizes it as domestic womanhood triumphing over female independence. I want to resist that reading, though, just because the Glenn Close character is clearly a nutbar. A devious, manipulative nutbar. She doesn’t try to kill herself, to use an example of one of her many irrational behaviors in the film, because she’s fragile, or because she’s been hurt by Douglas—she does it while he’s still in the apartment, because 1. it’s a way to keep him there, and 2. it will make him feel guilty.
She doesn’t represent a positive image of feminism at any point in the movie; she’s a straw man (funnily enough) of a feminist, plain and simple. The movie’s not a fair argument, and that is what makes it so sexist.
UGGGGHHHHHHH. My sister despairs of me because I am hopeless with the romantic comedies. Just in the last few weeks, actually, she sighed with exasperation when I ridiculed No Reservations, and said something along the lines of, “Why do you ruin everything?”
What can I say? My standards for male-female relations are high. This movie presented me with a pissy, control freak of a woman and an obnoxious ass of a man, and wanted, I guess, the charm of the actors to do the heavy lifting in terms of earning the audience’s goodwill. Well, I am not in the cult of Billy Crystal; I don’t think he’s very funny, and I certainly don’t want to consider him as a leading man. As for Meg Ryan, she can be good. I love French Kiss. Even Sleepless in Seattle is passable on a lazy Friday night (hey, how awesome would it be if Tom Hanks had been in When Harry Met Sally instead of Billy Crystal?). I also think that when people complain that she makes the same romantic comedy over and over again they are willfully ignoring the fact that she has played an alcoholic, an army captain, and a stripper. She tried, America.
Still, I hated When Harry Met Sally in a way that I only do when I’m offended. Any movie which wants to suggest to me that “women do things this way,” and “men do things in this opposing way,” makes me scream. I do not think that there are universal male and female behaviors. Also, I think this movie has spawned an entire generation of romantic comedies which perpetuate annoying and potentially dangerous stereotypes.
See, for example, the end of the movie (again, SPOILER) when Harry and Sally describe how they married 3 months after committing to their romantic relationship. Then, they describe the wedding, which they describe as big and beautiful and having a great cake. It takes longer than 3 months to plan a “big” wedding, but for the sake of argument, we’ll assume they started planning it the second after they had their “we are now in a relationship” kiss. IS THAT NOT CRAZY? That’s too soon. Friendship and romantic companionship are very different things. They should date a little and try to figure out if they actually want to be together, right?
Also, the fact that they end the movie on that note--that bothers me. There’s a whole generation of people who now believe that a wedding closes out a story in life like it does in the movies. Like, marriage is the end of the parts of the relationship that aren’t fun, like the awkwardness and the stalemate arguments. I’ve never been married, but I’m pretty damned sure that’s not true. Sleepless in Seattle is actually really shrewd about this convention—when Rosie O’Donnell’s character tells Meg Ryan’s character, “You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie.” Maybe I don’t really have When Harry Met Sally to blame for this--maybe it began with “And they lived happily ever after…” Still, it bugs.
Was it funny, though? Well, Carrie Fisher was. Meg Ryan wasn’t. A lot of the lines were very clever, but mostly about things I hated or disagreed with. I couldn’t even appreciate the diner orgasm scene, which had the potential to be quite funny, because Rob Reiner basically takes credit for the whole thing, describing how he had to show Meg Ryan exactly what to do because she wasn’t getting it right. Hey, you know what all men do? They take credit for everything. Shut up, Rob Reiner!