Written by Jenny Lapekas.
Navigating male prostitution has always been tricky, but Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (Mike Mitchell, 1999) unburdens audiences from tackling any heavily philosophical explications through its potty humor, shallow characters, and offensive depictions of ailments such as Tourette Syndrome, Gigantism, Narcolepsy, and obesity. This same brand of mindless humor is found in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (Mike Mitchell, 2005). However, despite what the movie lacks (and it’s certainly aware of itself as an unconventional rom-com), its central themes are love and kindness, and what is perhaps less apparent is the seemingly rare ability to pause and see someone for who they truly are, as opposed to how they may be of service in terms of sex or money. This goofy film featuring Rob Schneider begs a feminist critique not only because the film lacks many multi-dimensional characters, but because it is a prostitution narrative encoded as a story that illustrates the pursuit of romantic love, rather than a cautionary tale about the dangers of the world’s oldest profession.[caption id="attachment_8140" align="alignnone" width="300"] We see Deuce’s priorities are obviously askew when he pours Fiji water into his fish tank while he drinks murky tap water.[/caption]
While sex for pay is in fact criminal in most places, we’re positioned to believe that any form of prostitution is also unsafe and downright gross. However, audiences respond differently to Deuce due to his male status. Female prostitutes are typically interpreted as vulnerable, desperate, and revolting–quite the contrary, we sympathize with Deuce, we root for Deuce, we like Deuce. Would most audiences feel the same way about a woman protagonist? Probably not. In fact, TJ’s (Eddie Griffin) continued use of terms like “he-bitch” and “man-gina” only serve to further affix a pseudo-stigma to Deuce in his pursuits as a hooker. Indeed, Deuce is not stigmatized; rather, he’s reigned a sort of hero for his accomplishments as a “he-bitch,” as he helps to develop the self esteem of his clients and urges them to remember that they’re worthy of love. Also, Rob Schneider is not a traditionally handsome man, which may aid audiences in feeling more at ease with Deuce’s profession. Gender in comedy is certainly an issue here–many viewers find male characters like Deuce funny precisely because we don’t take men seriously when they’re sexualized, especially awkward, goofy Schneider. It is this quietly confident brand of masculinity that feminist viewers endorse, if we can excuse the insulting placement of minorities, people with disabilities, and others. TJ fulfills the stereotyped role of the token Black friend and the experienced pimp, yet he’s Deuce’s only source of guidance in his misadventures as a gigolo. What is perhaps most troubling is when, in the film’s concluding scene, Deuce spots TJ sitting behind him in court, disguised in “white face” to avoid being accosted by the police for his involvement in pimping. This disguise surely eliminates any suspicion of wrongdoing or affiliation with the prostitution business.[caption id="attachment_8141" align="alignnone" width="300"] We’re struck with the sobering fact that Deuce is indeed desperate, and yet the effect is still one of comedy and likability.[/caption]
A particularly significant scene in this discussion depicts Deuce accidentally taking home an actual prostitute in a classic case of mistaken identity. Claire adamantly requests $500 for her services, and they argue over who exactly pays who. We find ourselves comfortable with Deuce’s new career when he insists that he wants only $10, which is clearly the price he believes he’s worth after a kinky woman dresses him as a German tourist and her rabid dog chases him out. This run-in with a female prostitute is a refreshing reminder to audiences that sex workers can indeed be ambitious and business-savvy, and works as a wake-up call to Deuce that perhaps he should stick to cleaning fish tanks for a living.
TJ uses the term “man-whoring,” which implies that “whoring” itself is a practice reserved exclusively for women. Deuce agrees to “man-whore” to replace the expensive fish tank that he breaks in Antoine’s home. However, money is not the motive; Deuce simply wants to do what’s right by replacing the expensive item he broke while housesitting. We may also note that Deuce returns the money given to him by Kate’s (Arija Bareikis) friends to take her out, and also stands up for her when they argue that she’s “not normal.” When Deuce first meets Kate, he’s thrilled that she seems so “perfect,” of course not like his other clients who attract unwanted attention in public. Also vital to unravelling character development is that Deuce’s discovery of Kate’s prosthetic leg takes place during foreplay: an act of intimacy, exploration, and trust–and he doesn’t bat an eyelash.[caption id="attachment_8142" align="alignnone" width="300"] A portly girl scout serves as our surrogate when Deuce answers the door to offers of cookies shortly after he accidentally turns on pornography. “You’re a sick man, and I’m gonna tell!”[/caption]
Each of Deuce’s clients present a challenge: to “normalize” their bizarre behavior and off-putting appearances. Deuce takes Ruth (the lovable Amy Poehler), a woman with Tourette Syndrome, to a baseball game so her disorder doesn’t alienate her in public. He exercises with the hefty Fluisa (Big Boy) and even plays a food trivia game with her, and he accommodates Carol’s (Deborah Lemen) Narcolepsy to prevent self-injury.[caption id="attachment_8144" align="alignnone" width="300"] Detective Fowler can’t seem to stop whipping out his junk for Deuce to assess.[/caption]
The film is resolved in a court scene where all of Deuce’s “clients” testify on his behalf. Tina (Torsten Voges), an exceedingly tall woman from Norway, declares, “Deuce and I never had sex. It was physically impossible. It’s true I paid him money to be with him, and I’d do it again because he made me feel good about myself.” Deuce must admit that he did, in fact, sleep with one woman who was a client, but he asserts that he is in love with her. He is pardoned since she never actually paid him for sex. “This whole gigolo thing was just a mistake,” he tells Kate. His time as a man-whore essentially leads him to love, to a woman he finds ideal. Deuce refuses to ostracize any of these women simply because they are society’s “throwaways,” and other men have perhaps rejected or abandoned them due to their quirks or impairments. We can argue that the film hates fat women, tall women, perhaps all women, but we must consider the possibility that these characters represent the hyperbolic caricature images many women imagine of themselves: “I’m too fat,” “my feet are too big,” “I’m no fun to be with.” We all have insecurities, especially about our bodies and social identities; however, enter Deuce to confirm that we all have the right to unapologetically be who we are.
All of the “flaws” Deuce’s clients exhibit only serve to highlight that nothing is actually wrong with any of them at all. Every woman Deuce “pleasures” is “broken” in some way, as the film seems to insist. Even Kate’s roommate Bergita, a very minor character, is newly blind, a disability which serves as comic relief throughout the movie. While the placement of disabled, queered, othered, or otherwise “damaged” women in the film is no doubt offensive, these characters undeniably aid in the narrative structure of Deuce Bigalow. Although Deuce is obviously not destined for life as a sex worker, his sampling of the trade offers viewers the reality that prostitutes are indeed hard workers and human beings.[caption id="attachment_8143" align="alignnone" width="300"] Bergita worries that something is wrong with her “cat.”[/caption]
Deuce actually grows by choosing to become a prostitute, primarily because he’s so horrid at it. His redeeming quality, amid choosing such an unsavory career path, is his unrelenting kindness, his willingness to please, and his natural role as the “good guy.” Deuce tells Kate, “This whole gigolo thing was just a mistake…but I’m glad it happened, cause I never would have met you. I never would have known what love was.” Throughout Deuce’s time as a man-whore, he comes to know himself well, he forges authentic friendships, and he finds the girl of his dreams. Deuce tells one client, “I just can’t do this. I’m head over heels for a girl. We’re going through a rough time, me being a man-whore and all, but I know it’s gonna work out because I love her,” a moment that negotiates the shady boundaries between romance and plain raunchiness. Although he initially recoils at the idea that he doesn’t bring any women “pleasure,” Deuce provides comfort, support, and friendship to all the women he takes on as clients. As Ruth explains in court, “Deuce taught me to be comfortable with who I am.” If we pause to look past the poop jokes, the unoriginal stereotypes, and a cop who can’t stop flashing Deuce his “thin” dick, we can easily detect a genuine person who simply wants what we all want: love.
Jenny has a Master of Arts degree in English, and she is a part-time instructor at Alvernia University. Her areas of scholarship include women’s literature, menstrual literacy, and rape-revenge cinema. You can find her on Pinterest.