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When Heterosexism Attacks

When Heterosexism Attacks


Hollywood bias ruins Gone Girl and Men Women & Children (but Adam Sandler gets it right)


Pictured: Ansel Elgort & Kaitlyn Dever in 'Men Women & Children'

"I'd like to crack her lovely head." Ben Affleck says at the start of Gone Girl--one seriously sexist, female-hating movie. Instead of getting at the frustrations of male/female relations, it's ugly exploitation of what used to be called social norms. If Gone Girl really is about marriage as its silliest promoters claim, then it shows what a mess heterosexuals have made of marriage--and sexual equality in general.

This is the movie crisis of the week: Big-budget sexism sanctioned by Hollywood hype for the latest dismal David Fincher project opens simultaneously with Men, Women & Children, a maudlin comic epic whose restricted--biased--view excludes LGBT experience from its depiction of modern American life. It's less grotesque than Gone Girl but is similarly offensive.

Gays occupy the slimmest, farthest periphery of Jason Reitman's Men Women & Children. You can glimpse a TV-loving teen referred to as one of the "girls" and a prim high school therapist, both glancingly involved with the main characters--supposedly a cross-section of Texas students and their parents all involved in heterosexual misalliances. It's not that movies have to have token gay characters but as this film simplifies modern relations to sexual problems, it falls short of the specificity that gave a TV show like Skins a fuller reflection of millennial affections.

Men Women & Children (even the title somehow seems segregated) starts cosmic and goes wrong. Narrator Emma Thompson describes the Voyager space probes (both launched in 1977) that were designed to carry evidence of life on Earth into outer space, basing the film's consideration of personal interaction on technological dependence. But Thompson's Brit voice also bases the film on a specious viewpoint. Couldn't an American voice (and not Morgan Freeman's, maybe RuPaul's) provide a more authentic approach to this American story? When Reitman's script (based on the novel by Chad Kultgen) deals with bulimia, adultery, masturbation, divorce, and mistrust, a particular box of contemporary issues seems left unchecked.

How physical intimacy is ruined by digital remoteness and internet porn is an issue that also pertains to gay life. It's what Hollywood needs to include that in order to earn gay viewer confidence--not just for marketable demographic reasons but simply as part of the popular audience. Instead, Reitman's humane intentions are strictly commercial. Presuming to examine the sexual lives of digital-era Americans, Reitman pimps their problems like an overcalcuated (and over-sentimentalized) TV show.


Bella Thorne & Adam Sandler in 2014's 'Blended'

Director Chen Kaige dealt with digital alienation in the Chinese film Caught in the Web bone of the best films last year), but Reitman merely updates John Hughes' films like Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful (enjoyable for their time, the Hughes movies seem sexually exclusionary now). This year, the brave exploration of sexual impulse that makes Francois Ozon's Young & Beautiful so great derives from gay awareness as well as broadminded insight. Reitman envisions a major statement with Men Women & Children, hoping to expand and deepen the subject of Juno (his biggest hit to date), but his attempt at seriousness is seriously lacking.

The best of Reitman's segments are the pantomime of desperation played by Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever as they sit by a Maxfield Parrish waterfall in a quarry, but the most moving scenes belong to Adam Sandler. Yes, Sandler, portraying a husband stuck in sexual dysfunction and a failed marriage. Sandler doesn't confuse his serious intentions. His role here confirms the insight that is overlooked in his own comedies--especially the boldl, insightful modern classics I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Jack & Jill. In Blended, Bella Thorne played Sandler's butch-looking daughter whose desire for romances forces her to break-out of her father's gender dictates and her own gender frustration. Imagine the level-headed humor Sandler could have brought to Gone Girl--saving it from gynophobia.

Reitman's troubled teens don't come close to admitting such sexual ambiguity that Sandler recognizes as part of human life, so Reitman leaves out a major portion of human experience. If Reitman's intention was to make a millennial version of Robert Altman's great American panoplies like Nashville and the specifically heterosexual examination Short Cuts, he doesn't cut it. In Men, Women & Children, Reitman's Nashville is Podunk.

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