Sunday, 2 February 2014

Why I’m Worried About an All-Female Expendables

I really enjoyed The Expendables - and look forward to having time to watch the blu-ray again. The sequel? Not so much. But the first one - ah, the first one. It was direct and did what it said on the tin; no namby-pamby fannying around dithering behaviour, but actual find-him-and-kill-him, do-it-or-don’t-but-do-some-bloody-thing action. I found it funny (sometimes unintentionally perhaps, but funny nonetheless), satisfying (Statham showing the ‘new boyfriend’ what he does for a living) and just plain visceral fun. Guns that would give the BFG9000 a run for its money, tough-as-nails blokes going on about love and life in their own manly way, and just plain blokeishness at its best. Yes, I enjoyed it.

Apparently an all-female Expendables is in the works. Various reports of such stellar choices as Gina Carano and Katee Sackhoff have only served to get me sale-on-at-Things-From-Another-World excited. I began to think of names, of a wish-list, that could be cast - Lucy Lawless, Gabrielle Anwar (OH GOD PLEASE GABRIELLE ANWAR), Kate Beckinsale, Michelle Yeoh, Helen Mirren, Claudia Black, Danai Gurira, Sarah Michelle Geller, Rhona Mitra, Michelle Rodriguez, Judi Dench, Alicia Keyes, Nana Visitor, Gina Torres, Salma Hayek, Lucy Liu, Sigourney Weaver, Pam Grier, Milla Jovovich, Linda Hamilton, Summer Glau, Zoe Saldana, and so on.

And then I paused. I got quiet. I got worried. Why? Here’s the rub: the original Expendables worked so well because it was about blokes, written by blokes, for blokes. Men liked it (I think) and us women liked it too. (Admittedly, half of the attraction was so many sweaty men getting their shirts off, but that’s what men think some men and women like to watch, and they’re not always wrong. And it was only half the attraction.) Can you think of one good female superhero movie? It’s hard. And if you can find one, did it make any money?

Why is this? Why is Ellen Ripley pretty much the only recurring ‘good guy’ female in a lead role? Did you know that Ripley was a man in the original script - and they just changed the pronouns and carried on regardless when they cast Sigourney Weaver? Maybe that had something to do with how well Ripley was written. So why do female-heavy movies tank at the box office? It’s not me, trust me - I always turn out to support women in their celluloid efforts to represent the 51% of the world’s population.

Simple fact: women have to hold their own against men. Horrible fact: women also have to hold their own against other women.

But then. Ah, but then

The internet has come a long way. It used to be about communication. Now that communication has turned into tumblr and other places for fan-worship. Phrases like ‘girl crush’ and ‘babies’ gets bandied about more than a full stop (if you use tumblr you’ll know exactly what I mean). It’s easier today for people to admit (anonymously, of course) that they love actresses like Scarlett Johansson ‘so hard’ - not in an ‘I fancy her’ way (well, not only), but in an ‘I want her to do well’ way. Before this silent revolution, women had two choices: feel indifferent about an actress, or actively despise them because society told you they could never be as good as male actors - or because it simply wasn’t done to be seen doing anything else.

Nowadays there’s a new option: you are allowed to like them, to express how happy you are that they’re getting roles and doing well, to show how much you appreciate that a women is gaining enough of a reputation as an actress and gets the same respect - and pay - as her male counterparts. Attitudes of women to women in film and media are changing - in a good way. Perhaps in another ten years we’ll be able to look at women in film as purely (lead) characters, and not ‘the girl they added to make it look inclusive’.

If that out-of-date view that, because you’re a woman you shouldn’t like women in film, is not the only reason that female-led movies bomb (because people like me go to see how bad it will be out of curiosity anyway), then what could it be? Could it be the writing? Yes - blame the writers! Find their offices and burn them down!

But wait. Writers get paid to deliver a script. They do. Then People In Charge - say, producers, directors, script ‘doctors’, those pesky eev-vil (like fru-its of the devil) mythical studio executives, etc. - decide that there aren’t enough explosions, or not enough clothes-sheddage, or something else that has nothing to do with plot but gets bums on seats. So they tinker. They meddle. And somewhere along the way, the writer’s dream of a perfect female-led thriller/action/comedy vehicle is subverted into Barb Wire.

Once upon a time, I watched Torchwood. I liked it, even though I found Gwen mildly to moderately annoying at times. But overall it was an interesting show and I stuck with it. Then series four came along, and I got back into it. The strange thing was, suddenly Gwen was good. I liked her character - even cheered for her toward the end when we were getting to the Big Reveal and Climactic Finish. Now why could that be? Why had I put up with her as a trivial annoyance for three series, and then suddenly found her a great character? Imagine my surprise when I looked up the writers. Jane Espenson. A woman.

Now this doesn’t mean that only women should write female characters - nearly every comic book writer in the world can write a ‘decent’ female. (And those that do it right? How do they do that, exactly?) But sometimes, when you need just that slight push in the right direction, you need someone who knows. As the great Stephen Fry once reminded Alan Davies: write about what you know, what you can see out of the window. Well, everyone sees women about the place and that’s fine, but when men’s normal cry is ‘no-one can ever understand women so don’t even try’, why are all the action flicks about and for women written by men?

We could descend into studio politics, lack of women scriptwriters, inability to pair good scriptwriters with action flicks because women are expected to dole out Jerry Maguire or the latest rom-com that’s a carbon copy of Sex and the City with plots bolted on by others after the fact. Or we could just accept the entire trope that women scriptwriters need to be friends with Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Fisher or Demi Moore, or they have no hope of getting anything read, never mind accepted. Yes, I know every scriptwriter has the same problem. But when you get to the level of an Expendables film, people start head-hunting.

Who do you go for? Well it’s hard to find a woman who’s already written a good female-led film - because there aren’t any. (At least, I can’t think of any. Please educate me in the comments box - I will thank you.) However, look at women who continually meet deadlines to write TV scripts, or who have previously only managed to sell rom-coms, and the list starts to develop itself. And if you can get a good female scriptwriter, you have a chance at getting a good director. I’d recommend Kathryn Bigelow. Her sweeping of the Oscars with The Hurt Locker (and the way the film came over to me) is credentials enough. Now you need a producer - unless she fancies that chair too.

But I’m being sexist. We do need men to make this work, too - but how male characters in the film are treated is so very crucial. Obviously, how the cast of characters comes over is everything. If the plot is ropey or the dialogue is iffy, you can manage. But if they think that, in this day and age, we’ll be happy with Charlie’s Angels (with more guns), then there’s going to be trouble. Now I love Charlie’s Angels, don’t get me wrong. They got away with it because it didn’t take itself too seriously - and that’s the problem. If an all-female Expendables is all about camping it up and going all Cameron Diaz ditzy cute on us while kicking doors down with unbelievably high heels because it’s what’s ‘expected’, then I’m out (and, for the record, I like Cameron Diaz - although my favourite was Drew Barrymore).

I’m not saying the film should be all serious, but it should at least pretend to be getting on with stuff, so that the chuckles and funny scenes come from the plot running its course, not from someone’s idea of shoe-horning in obvious clichéd jokes to pander to certain audiences (some might say ‘Moffet-esque fan-pandering’). Just as the original Expendables needed buddy-time and on-screen affirmation of bonding, the women will need it too. Just, please, do not make them reliant on their luuuuurve interest in a man to make them ‘bond’. Women in the real world make friends and get on with people (people - meaning including both men and woman) without needing to lapse into the awful Hollywood myth that all they talk about is luuuuurve and men - so please let it be the same on film.

I guess what I’m saying is (yes, there is a point to all this), that it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to get the tone just right. Too dark and gritty, too Jodie Foster Flightplan, and it’s going to tank just for its lack of a sense of humour. Too light, too many girlie-giggles and not enough credible action (Gina Carano could smash doors down like the She-Hulk, but Gabrielle Anwar? She’s more a Wing Chun slice to the throat), and it’s going to be derided as fluff for people who don’t get out much - or even worse - a film where ‘chicks’ try to look tough but actually only ponce around looking like out-of-work porn stars. What it needs is an almost James Bond-ish tone - action and excitement and danger and all those things - but with a few sly winks, a few chuckles, a few moments of the characters cheering the sweaty men or women that give them something nice to look at.

And I swear, one crack about shoes or broken nails, and I will find the writers and end them.

* Top gif, of Major Kira from DS9, was gakked from HERE.

I really wanted these pictures included but couldn't fit them in, so they're just added on the bottom here:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...