Misogyny Still Reigns at the Box Office

Despite its abysmal reviews, Transformers: Rise of the Fallen took home the top spot at the box office over the weekend.

Here are some highlights from Rotten Tomatoes:

“It’s a wad of chaos puked onto the big screen, an arbitrary collection of explosions and machismo posturing.” –David Cornelius, eFilmCritic.com

“Will insult your intelligence, hurt your eyes, and offend your sense of decency until you worry that your skull might explode while your brain trickles right out of your ears.” –Tricia Olszewski, Washington City Paper

“A perfectly dreadful sequel that’s the filmic equivalent of a 150-minute waterboarding session.”

–Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing

“Put in your earplugs and grab the aspirin. Enjoyable for the [sic] only the easiest to please 10-year-old boys; this deafening, tiresome epic is a skull-splitting hot mess for everyone else.”
–Diva Velez, TheDivaReview.com

And, my personal favorite: “Only an a*****e could have made this film.” –Rob Humanick, House Next Door

I share these snippets to illustrate, if you weren’t already aware, that this movie was clearly made for, and marketed to, young fanboys who like to watch shit blow up. But what else do they like to see? If you guessed “Megan Fox dry-humping a motorcycle,” you are correct.

In a recent interview, Fox told reporters, “Women in movies, in general, are sexy—especially in Michael’s movies. And if you want to make movies that people want to see, that’s part of it. That’s part of the formula.”

The director, Michael Bay, also chimed in. Referencing the shot of Fox sprawled across a motorcycle in hot pants and biker boots, he says, “We got that first shot out of the way, just to get it out for the young boys … and moved on.”

So, according to Fox (and Bay), making movies people want to see entails objectifying and exploiting women. And what’s worse, Fox goes on to say that making these Transformer films and gaining so much exposure (for her hotness) has opened up many doors for her—she’ll soon star in one film opposite John Malkovich and another film penned by Diablo Cody.

This rhetoric reminds me an awful lot of other excuses actresses have made for the roles they choose. Katherine Heigl famously called Knocked Up a sexist film, and then went on to star in a slew of women-friendlier movies, such as The Ugly Truth and 27 Dresses.

And Elizabeth Banks often finds herself in the same predicament: “‘You can go be in a female-driven indie and make two cents and maybe get an Independent Spirit Award, but then you can’t pay your car lease,'” she says. “‘So Vince Vaughn makes movies, he needs a girl to be in it with him, it might be me.'”

I understand and sympathize with actresses in today’s Hollywood climate. Studios continue to argue that actresses can’t open movies, that any successful women-centered film (Sex & the City, Mamma Mia!) is merely a fluke, and that they don’t find it profitable enough to continue greenlighting movies that exclusively focus on women.

I get that it’s a rough climate out there for young actresses especially, but I’m not exactly sure what the solution is. We need more women filmmakers, obviously. And we especially need women audiences to stop seeing every single ridiculous incarnation of The Proposal and He’s Just Not That Into You. While I don’t want to play into the blame-the-victim ideology, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for these actresses to take themselves a little more seriously as actresses and a little less seriously as male fantasies.

Making blatantly misogynistic films clearly pays the bills for them, but at what cost to women as a whole?

  • kb

    One of the most scathing reviews I have ever read:

    “And, to deal with the token objections of the film’s defenders, I have an inner child; he’s just not an inner idiot. And if how much money something made had any correlation to how good it actually is, doctors would recommend you get more cocaine instead of more leafy greens. And no, I can’t shut my brain off and have fun, anymore than I could rip out my tongue and enjoy a meal, because my brain is where I feel fun. And I could talk about the plot and characters and performances of “Revenge of the Fallen,” but why should I care about those things when it’s so clear that Bay doesn’t? Many will walk out of “Revenge” praising the action and the special effects, but they’ll be indicating that they don’t know what they’re talking about. The action is badly cut, confusing and incoherent, with no sense of space or distance or dynamism aside from close-ups of brutal blows and long shots of explosions. The effects are either too swift to be truly seen (Wasn’t one of the pleasures of the Transformers toys slllllllowly … clicking … each change into place?) or so phony you can’t bear to look (like when walking big-rig Optimus Prime, a giant multiton mass of metal, moves and fights with the lithe lightness of a 12-year-old gymnast). “Revenge of the Fallen” isn’t good; it’s just expensive, and while Michael Bay can’t tell the difference between those things, a reasonably intelligent person can.

    And I haven’t even begun to talk about the racist-caricature robots of “The Twins,” who speak in thug slang and “aren’t much for reading” and talk about getting “up in that ass,” and one of whom has, I wish I were kidding, a gold tooth. Or about how when the film isn’t drooling over Megan Fox’s poreless, lifeless form and visage, it’s busy calling women “bitches” and throwing around “pussy” as an insult…”
    -James Rocchi “‘Transformers’: Nothing Meets the Eye”

  • Wow, that IS scathing. I like this snippet from MaryAnn Johanson’s review:

    ” … eventually I got so bored — for these two and a half hours feel much, much longer than the same two and a half hours the first movie consumed — that I lost track of the number of testicle jokes and taser jokes that flew by. The target audience will be pleased to know, perhaps, that yes: one joke combines testicles and tasers. It’s like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of frat-boy humor.”

  • You know, in our post-ironic age, these bad reviews probably just bolster the movie. I can imagine a member of the target audience thinking it cool that “only an asshole could have made this film.” Because it’s funny to be an asshole, right Judd Apatow?

    Another point you make–about women flocking to see movies like The Proposal–I feel less sure about. The Proposal isn’t a movie I’m interested in seeing, but if a mainstream comedy starring a big female celebrity doesn’t make a ton of money, what hope is there for better movies starring women? I don’t think it’s a good thing that women love a movie that Manohla Dargis describes by saying “Like most Hollywood romantic comedies these days, “The Proposal” is all about bringing a woman to her knees, quite literally in this case.” She also says, about Sandra Bullock: “She’s just another female movie star in need of a vehicle that won’t throw her overboard for sexist giggles and laughs.” So, it’s not good, but what’s the alternative?

    Finally, your line “I don’t think it’s too much to ask for these actresses to take themselves a little more seriously as actresses and a little less seriously as male fantasies” blew my mind. Insert “some women” in place of “actresses,” and that’s how I feel most every day.

  • Good point. I suppose we don’t have much of a chance at getting female-driven inoffensive films made if nobody goes to see the current slew of offensive ones. That may be the saddest thing I’ve ever written.