Sizing Up A Trainwreck

trainwreck_foto_01Last week, the first trailer arrived for  Judd Apatow’s rom-com “Trainwreck,” and most film outlets reported on it as they would any other highly anticipated summer movie. But for Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, it provided him an opportunity to expound his thoughts on the feminine virtues (or lack thereof) of the film’s writer and lead actress Amy Schumer.

In a post titled “Apatow’s Funny-Chubby Community Has New Member,” the veteran entertainment reporter described Schumer as “a chubby, whipsmart, not conventionally attractive, neurotically bothered female comic” who in “no way [would] be an object of heated romantic interest in the real world.” It didn’t take long for his comments section and Twittersphere to light up in the wake of his insensitive and sexist comments, but Wells doubled down in a follow-up post “Schlumpies & Dumpies.” Waxing nostalgic, Wells posited that “that sexual attractiveness standards have definitely evolved in favor of the notties” over the last decade or so, and he “grew up in a world in which conventionally attractive or semi-attractive people used to be the ones who got laid the most often.” And he wasn’t done there, adding that “Schumer is brilliant, talented and somewhat funny but she’s not grade-A or even B-plus material, certainly by my standards as well as those of any moderately attractive, fair-minded youngish heterosexual dude who’s feeling hormonal or what-have-you.”

Certainly, the galling offensiveness and absurdity of Wells’ comments don’t need further dissecting, but sadly, he is but a mere reflection of an industry that has a long tradition of treating women poorly both on screen and off, to the point where it’s nearly culturally ingrained. Indeed, one has to look no further than this weekend’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” to see how acceptable the boorish depiction of women in mainstream entertainment has become. **SPOILERS AHEAD**

The film has been positioned by writer/director Matthew Vaughn as the anti-spy movie, one that riffs on the standard tropes of the genre. Except, it would seem, when it comes to how women are portrayed. The story follows troubled teen Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is recruited by a secret spy service alongside a handful of other youths, and must complete a series of increasingly difficult tests in order to officially join the organization. He initially fails, with Roxy (Sophie Cookson) winning the gig, an initially bold and welcome narrative choice, but each step of the way, her character is undermined. Instead of becoming an ally with Eggsy (who is has to jump back into action when the Kingsman are betrayed and the world is at risk — so much for subverting spy tropes) she needs his help and support to conquer her fear of heights during one particularly trying trial, and again, when she has to balloon into space to destroy a satellite in the film’s final act. But other than that, she’s actually completely removed from the finale, with Eggsy taking center stage.

And fine, ‘Kingsman’ is about Eggsy’s journey to become to kick-ass spy agent, but the movie truly turns sour when during the hectic battle to save the world, our young hero is promised anal sex by a Swedish princess trapped in the baddie’s lair, if his mission succeeds. This moment, played for a gag, is revolting. For a movie that purports to want to do something different for spy movies, it plays the worst cliché possible, using a woman as nothing more than a narrative incentive with a sexual reward on top as the ultimate trophy for the film’s hero. And everywhere else in the regrettable film, women either lack agency (Eggsy’s single Mom must also be rescued from her abusive boyfriend), are part of the villainous scheme (the blade legged Gazelle), or stand by the sidelines (Roxy).

However, it’s sadly not a surprise the $80 million dollar movie got greenlit because, quite simply, studios, financiers and producers, largely don’t put into these issues into consideration, because it’s more important to sell sex — literally and figuratively — than substance. Even the film’s series of posters, riffing on the one-sheet for the James Bond flick “For Your Eyes Only,” don’t hesitate to make a woman’s rear-end the most prominent feature. A surprise? Hardly.

As “Welcome To The Dollhouse” star Heather Matarazzo’s recent blog entry “What The Fuck Is Fuckable” lays bare, actresses must become acclimated to a culture that puts appearances ahead of any talents they possess. Here’s an excerpt from her piece:

When I was 19 or so, I was standing in a Starbucks in West Hollywood with a director, talking about the upcoming film we were about to shoot. It had been a long road, but we had finally made it. Waiting for our coffee, I could see that he seemed a bit uneasy. I asked him if everything was ok. He said yes. I didn’t believe him, so I asked him again. He looked at me and said “Heather, I’m sorry, we have to give your role to another actor. The producers don’t want you.” I didn’t understand. I had been attached to this project for two years, and now two weeks before filming, I’m being let go. I asked him why. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “They say you’re not fuckable.”

It’s an anecdote that speaks volumes about the atmosphere of the industry, and the value it places on actresses, and one can only surmise how that attitude extends outwards when it comes to hiring women as writers, directors, producers, or executives.

It’s somewhat heartening to know that at least observers of the movie world are able to take comments like those shared by Wells to task, but his perspective is part of a larger problem in Hollywood that has long guided how business is transacted. But the industry is caught in a troublesome catch-22, where it is relying on the very people maintaining the status quo to enact progress and change. And while we are seeing a growing number of women-created television shows and films that are both popular and acclaimed, there is still much to be done at all levels to ensure this momentum continues to move forward, and isn’t stymied by the old modes of thinking that are still very much in place.

But at least pleasure can be taken in the small victories when they come, and Amy Schumer’s last laugh on “Trainwreck”-gate is a particularly nice one.