Tag Archives: women

The Incredibles 2 (2018)

The Incredibles

Pixar

Things that are not worth waiting for: breakfast at that overpriced brunch place, slow walkers, that person you’ve been texting to actually agree on where and when to meet in 3D. Things that are worth waiting for: The Incredibles 2.

A mere 14 years after the original movie came out, the sequel has arrived in cinemas, picking up the action right where we left off. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s dramatic, there’s a baby fighting a raccoon, there are more superheroes: it’s worth your time, and your cash, and the inevitable annoying person sitting next to you texting. But… how does it represent women? Spoilers and insight ahead.

Does it pass the Bechdel test?

Yes: Voyd and Elastigirl talk about being superheroes.

A brief catch-up on the recent history of superhero movies and how they’ve treated women

Remember all the way back to 2004, the year The Incredibles came out. The Recession hadn’t hit, Facebook only existed at Ivy League colleges, President Obama hadn’t been elected, Donald Trump was a woman-grabbing morally bankrupt TV host, Paris Hilton was the most photographed woman in the world, and Juicy Couture velour tracksuits were not ironic. Superhero movies were few and far between. They were either cheesier than a Swiss fondue, like the old Superman and Batman films, or they focused on dark and twisty anti-heroes, like Blade, or Constantine, or V For Vendetta, in a way that made them less a take-the-kids blockbuster, and more of a watch-in-the-dark-alone action drama.

There were some more mainstream attempts, but they were still nerdy and niche. That year saw the release of Halle Berry’s critically-panned Razzie-winning Catwoman. The first two X-Men movies were released in 2000 and 2003, and Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman came out in 2002 (still my favourite) with the first sequel in 2004. Batman Begins, the first of Christopher Nolan’s genre-redefining trilogy, wasn’t released until 2005, and The Dark Knight didn’t come out until 2008.

Come back to now, and it feels like every other movie in the cinema is about people in skin-tight suits with weird powers. From 2017 to now, we’ve had Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Deadpool 2, Black Panther and The Avengers: Infinity War. Those last two are now the ninth and fifth highest-grossing movies all of time in the U.S. – a list that also includes the two other Avengers movies. This summer, we’re getting Ant Man and the Wasp and The Darkest Minds. And, of course, The Incredibles 2.

The only movies in this list to feature a female lead are 2017’s Wonder Woman, just-released Ant Man and the Wasp, The Darkest Minds, which hasn’t come out yet, and The Incredibles 2.

Yes, there’s a terrifying girl in Logan, but she’s not the titular character: she’s a tool to explore Logan’s decay. Yes, Gamora and Nebula are both tough-talking, tough-fighting badasses, but Starlord is the lead. The Spider-Man/Spiderman films always have a damsel in distress, sometimes ‘the other woman’, and the wise aunt, but they’re just there to serve as cheerleaders to Maguire/Garfield/Holland.

The Princess Leia Effect

Women show up in action movies; they don’t lead them. That includes films in the superhero and sci-fi genres. A female lead in a superhero movie is still a novelty, and it’s worse for people of color, and women of color specifically. Hopefully the success of Black Panther will force producers to start putting their money into projects with more diverse casts.

I call this token use of a single ‘strong’ woman in a movie the Princess Leia effect. Male writers think they can appease whiny feminists like me by throwing us one tough, moderately skillful, domineering, underdeveloped female character. (Sometimes, if we’re super lucky, two.) Not only does this mislead us harpies, but she can also serve their dude-oriented plot by becoming bait for the bad guys, which gives him the chance to save her and be the hero. Oh, she’s also always super conventionally hot.

This is why I can’t be bothered with most action movies; they put so little effort into making even the few female characters they include seem like more than just some heterosexual dude’s masturbatory fantasy that it’s annoying and boring. The exceptions are the recent releases from the Star Wars franchise. Apart from Solo, the studio has taken some note of their own tokenism, hence we have Rey, Jyn Erso, Rose, and Vice Admiral Holdo. Not to mention the original Leia, now General Organa, thanks very much. But what about The Incredibles 2?

How does The Incredibles 2 represent women?

This movie accidentally came out at a time when we are seeing a very gradual, very slow, very bitty move away from entirely white male-dominated superhero movies. One Wonder Woman movie – or even two – does not make up for decades of presenting women as damsels in distress, or throwing in one token ‘strong’ woman to quieten down us shrill, complaining feminists. And although The Incredibles 2 is not perfect, it’s definitely an evolution.

Elastigirl

Incredibles 2

Pixar

Let’s start with the single big positive thing: while the first movie focused on Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), this sequel puts Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the crime-fighting, plot-foiling, ass-kicking centre. (And yes, she has a motorbike.)

This is because a finance guy (Bob ‘Better Call Saul’ Odenkirk) who wants to make superheroes legal again has done the numbers and found that the way she approaches going after bad guys is less costly than her husband’s methods. This smells like that very boring narrative of ‘women are gentler than men’ to me, but at least it’s a compliment. In one of the big butt-kicking moments, we get to see her chase down a runaway train, with the help of another woman talking to her through a headset. Director Brad Bird has a history of his female characters playing the action hero: he also directed Brave.

Meanwhile, Bob is back in their fancy new home, running around after the superkids: lovesick teenager Violet (Sarah Vowell), maths-hating Dash (Huck Milner), and multi-talented baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile). Bob is bitter because Elastigirl, who was initially reluctant to leave her kids, gets to have all the fun and the glory.

Annoyingly, the film never directly points out the hypocrisy of his line of thought. Ask yourself: why should Bob be the family member who gets to be the hero?

This is the point where the sexists will say, ‘Because he’s a man,’ and the in-denial sexists will make up some dumb excuse, like, ‘Super strength is better than stretchiness,’ or ‘She’s just naturally better at the whole domestic side.’ If you just read that question and made up a dumb excuse, you are an in-denial sexist. If you’re now considering writing a comment that could conceivably start with the clause, ‘I’m not sexist, but…’ you are an in-denial sexist. See you in the comments!

BTW That internal rage at being dismissed as less competent at the ‘important’ stuff is how many women feel ALL THE TIME.

We never really get the sense that Bob realises this, or that he suddenly comes to appreciate everything his wife did for their family when he was out being Man The Provider. What he constantly screws up, she makes look easy. (This would be a good time to mention that this constant portrayal of dads as domestically incompetent dopes is insulting to dads who nail the whole parenting thing, but this is a blog post about women.) We’re supposed to fawn all over his newfound kid-herding skills, but she gets no credit. Shout-out to all the real-live mums out there throwing their hands up like “Duh!”

Even while Bob is lamenting having to stay home with his kids – you know, the kids who share the same amount of DNA with him as they do with their mother – Elastigirl can’t quite shake off her mummy role. When she calls Bob after the aforementioned train crash, the first thing she asks about is how the kids are, and how he’s doing, before mentioning, oh yeah, SHE SAVED HUNDREDS OF LIVES TODAY AND WAS ON TV. And at the end, when she realises it’s time to bust out superhero mode to stop a soon-to-be-crashing yacht, she pauses to consider, what will the kids do? Bob has no such qualms, because… he’s a testosterone-charged dude?

Somehow, in the middle of that exchange, there was a super sweet moment. When Elastigirl is dithering about whether to charge off and save the city or to look after her kids, Violet turns to her and says something along the lines of, ‘Go, we’ll be fine.’ To me, it felt like this look at the future of being female: Violet understands that her mum can have responsibilities outside of her, and her generation is giving an older generation the permission to do that. It’s a new perspective on gender roles coming to help out people caught up in the old one. Got me right in the feminist feels. (I’ll get to Violet as a character in a sec.)

Oh, and since I was discussing the sexualisation of women in superhero movies earlier, let’s have a chat about the internet’s response to Elastigirl. Specifically, this one New Yorker critic, who basically implies that the (presumably hetero- or bisexual) men in the audience are going to be getting boners looking at her hips. He also manages to turn a conversation between Elastigirl and Evelyn (Catherine Keener) into some kind of male-gaze lesbian fantasy.

On the one hand, it’s nice to finally see someone acknowledging that a female over 40 can be more than just a sexless, frumpy waste of space. (Shout-out to all the women over 40 going, “WE KNOW!”) But it seems like this is pretty much all the guy got from this character. She’s out kicking ass and he’s looking at her butt. What decade are we in, again?

Evelyn

Evelyn

Pixar

Speaking of Evelyn, let’s speak about Evelyn. She’s the sister of that insurance guy, the designer to his ad-man. Basically, behind the big-selling, money-making, bullshit-talking dude is a woman who actually did the hard work. The filmmakers are kind of making this point too, in a roundabout way, although they don’t really examine the gender dynamics so much as the low-level sibling rivalry, and the world vs superheroes. Unfortunately, it turns out that Evelyn is the baddie, which implies that women who are simply ambitious enough to demand credit for their hard work must be evil.

You can tell immediately that Evelyn is evil, anyway, because she has untamed hair. I say this as someone whose most identifiable physical quality is my curly hair. The moment I see someone in a cartoon or movie with hair like mine, I’m like, either we don’t trust her, or we’re going to see her get a makeover. (I also have a British accent and a Russian first name, so I’m basically inherently evil, according to Hollywood.) And this is a thousand times more problematic for women of color. I could write a whole post about the abuse of curly and kinky hair in movies.

When I say Evelyn has untamed hair, I don’t mean Merida-from-Brave’s beautiful big curls, which are wild and defiant, just like her. (Merida is my movie hair icon because she breaks outta that big-hair-bad-girl box I just mentioned.) I mean a pixie cut with strands that form wispy spikes all over her head – it’s a haircut that’s shorthand for women who don’t play nice. Women who scheme. Women with ambition. Women who don’t care what other people think about them. Women, to be very heteronormative, who act like men.

Her motivations aside, I like that we have a female villain. Does she have to be a female because it wouldn’t be believable for a woman to take on a man and win? I don’t think that’s what’s going on here: we initially think the Screenslaver is a man, and Elastigirl has no trouble beating up the unfortunate pizza delivery guy Evelyn frames. The more women we can get, with variable personalities instead of the cookie-cutter stereotype, the better. I want them good, evil, polite, rude, meek, loud, hateable, lovable, messy, neat, all-together, total trainwreck, in all different shapes, and from all different backgrounds, and with all different nationalities and ethnicities. I want them human.

Violet

Violet

Pixar

OK, look, I have to admit that Violet is my FAVOURITE character in The Incredibles franchise. She has many teenagers’ dream power: she can turn invisible, shoot balls of energy, and put up a forcefield around herself and people near her. Also, we share the qualities of external shyness balanced with inner confidence around our families and close friends. (Any family members reading this are like, ‘You? Shy? Get outta here.’ Any colleagues are like, ‘You… talk?’)

I felt that Violet was woefully underused for the first part of the movie, but that’s because I love her. She’s slightly lost in the typical teenager role, specifically a lovelorn, dad-hating teenager. But then we get to the bit where the kids basically have to save the day, and she becomes this warrior girl, who’s smart and decisive in battle, with mastery over her superpowers. Watching her and Dash squabble over babysitting duties shows that she’s not going to be sat around looking after the kids in the future. She also postpones a long-awaited date to go battle crime with her family. In short, she’s the independent girl we need, and her mother’s daughter.

Honey

If you were like, WTF is Honey, then you’ve already identified the problem with this character. Honey (Kimberly Adair Clark) is Frozone’s wife/partner, but you never see her. Although it’s never said, we can assume that her superpower is super-hearing, because she always knows when Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) is about to do something fun and cool, like fight crime, and that’s when we hear her, shouting from the other room. This is a less-than-ideal representation of women, reducing her to just the nagging wife, out to kill her husband’s masculine urge to run around in Lycra, shooting ice from his hands.

Also, although it’s again never specified, Honey is voiced by Kimberly Adair Clark, a black woman, so in that way, the character also perpetuates that stereotype of the controlling, finger-snapping, always-angry black girlfriend. Yes, it’s just a side joke, I GET IT, but it would have been easier to swallow if we’d also seen a woman of color (or even, crazy notion, multiple women of color) in this movie do more than just screech at a man.

Edna

Edna

Pixar

Every scene with Edna Mode (Brad Bird – yes, that Brad Bird) is like the toy you get in the cereal, or the cookie dough in your ice cream.

Like I said, I’m all about all types of women on screen, and I love that Edna gets to be this career-oriented, super rich, no-nonsense business woman, who is also hilarious. She’s the uniform designer, which is, on the surface, a stereotypical female role. BUT her ability to make clothes that are versatile and resilient, as well as visually impressive, deviously undermines this dismissal of fashion as frilly and superficial, and reminds us that ‘women’s work’ is skillful, and what you wear matters. It’s a technical triumph that the family couldn’t perform their duties without.

By the way, you know how we know she’s super competent and hardass? The straight, dark, fringed/banged bob. WELCOME TO THE HAIR CONSPIRACY.

Verdict

Three

Overall, I’m very happy to welcome The Incredibles 2 to the category of Female-Led Superhero Movies, along with recent inductees Wonder Woman and Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones. I love that it’s showing mums as cool and brave and smart (and hot, apparently). I wish that they’d taken a moment to point out that Bob’s sulky resentment is total hypocrisy that women have been putting up with for centuries. I hope the next one has more, better-developed women of color. I love that it has a female villain, even if I think the qualities that make her evil would actually be admired in a dude. I also love Violet, and the idea that she is the future, confident in her abilities and not about to accept being left at home.

Do you agree or disagree? Do you also heart Violet? Did you think Elastigirl proved her mettle? Did you wonder where Frozone’s screentime went, and when we’re going to finally see Honey? Are you ‘not sexist but…’? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook.

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Filed under Animated, Superheroes

13 Going On 30 (2004)

13 Going On 30 shocked

Columbia Pictures

Fair warning: contains references to the ending that may enable the canny rom com connoisseurs out there to deduce spoilers

Plot

All Jenna (Christa B. Allen) really wants for her thirteenth birthday is to shed her geeky image, get in with the popular girls at school (known as the ‘Six Chicks’) and hopefully get a kiss from her crush. When she invites them all to her party, along with best friend and neighbour Matty (Sean Marquette), things don’t go well, and the girls leave her in the wardrobe to go and find some booze. Those wild eighties kids.

When Matty tries to help, Jenna is furious, pushing him away and wishing she was ‘thirty, flirty and thriving’ like the women in glamorous magazine Poise. Suddenly, thanks to some magic dust (no, that’s not a drug reference), she finds herself transported into the body and life of her thirty year old self (Jennifer Garner). Just go with it.

Once accustomed to novelties like mobile phones, boobs and cocktails, Jenna loves her stylish and fun new life as editor of Poise. It turns out that ‘Tom-Tom’, who was the leader of the Six Chicks when they were thirteen, has changed her name back to the far more sensible Lucy (Judy Greer), and is now Jenna’s best friend and co-editor. While Jenna is thrilled to find that she actually became a member of the group, upon tracking down Matt (Mark Ruffalo she learns that they fell out after her thirteenth birthday party, and that he is now engaged.

As time passes, Jenna realises that for all the perks that come with being an adult (such as limitless junk food and credit cards), she barely recognises the mean person she’s become, and that maybe her thirteen year old self’s priorities were somewhat out of whack. Behind the daft plot lies an endearing story about appreciating what you have, being yourself and not growing up too quickly.

Leading Ladies

Jennifer Garner shines as Jenna in her thirty-year-old form, nailing the mixture of naivety, blissful ignorance and sweetness that make the character so likeable in spite of her superficial teenage ambitions. Judy Greer is funny and hateable as sycophantic and conniving Lucy, while Kathy Baker appears as Jenna’s mother, dispensing support and pearls of wisdom from time to time.

How are women represented?

Fortunately, this film generally avoids the obvious problems that could accompany a plot where adults are interacting with a thirteen year old who appears to be a fully grown woman. Much of the joy of the film comes from Jenna’s wide-eyed and innocent perspective on adult life, which is a refreshing reminder of the fun and hard sides of being grown up. This young perspective makes for a rom com that is endearing rather than sleazy and which carries a strong message about personal growth and understanding.

However, the film’s portrayal of women draws on cultural ideas that offer some mixed messages. Furthermore, despite its moral of self-fulfilment and self-confidence, by the end it has given in to the usual trappings of the rom com genre, in that end the heroine’s romance is portrayed as the most important element of her life.

A quick look at how the female characters behave reveals some disturbing stereotypes. Lucy and the Six Chicks manipulate Jenna into doing their homework for them, and then humiliate her by tricking her into sitting alone and blindfolded in the wardrobe, waiting for her crush to kiss her. Let’s address how disturbing the concept of ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’ is. The girl goes and waits, blindfolded, in a confined space, and then a boy she can’t see comes in and is ‘allowed to do anything he wants to you’. Not only is this incredibly creepy, but it defines women as the passive object in male-female relationships. To return to portrayal of women, Tom-Tom/Lucy grows up to be a conniving and two-faced double crosser, who tries to jeopardise the friendship between Jenna and Matt out of jealousy over Jenna’s career. Not such a great image of women. Then there’s Jenna’s initial response to her adult life, which is to go shopping, throw on a ton of make-up, moon over boys, and watch sappy films while eating junk food. There’s nothing innately wrong with any of this, but it is a revealing look at what popular culture believes teenage girls want and think about, and what they would do when put in charge of their own lives.

Despite Lucy’s dubious qualities as a friend, the film certainly portrays relationships between women as enriching and supportive. Although she already has Matt, young Jenna aspires to belong to a group of girls; although this is partly to do with their popularity, it recognises that there is something about female friendships that is particularly desirable. As a thirty year old, Jenna turns to Becky and her friends for support, and the sleepover scene where they dance together in their pyjamas while singing ‘Love is a Battlefield’ into hairbrushes (because that’s what girls do when we get together) again shows female friendships as places where individuals find affection, enjoyment and support. Jenna’s relationship with her mother, which appears sporadically throughout the film, also emphasises a particular understanding between women; having just arrived in her new older body, Jenna is desperate to speak to her mother, and she turns to her for advice after recognising that she’s royally screwed up.

This referential view of the bonds between women draws on a perspective that has replaced more traditional and outspoken notions of feminism among some women. While they are not comfortable with describing themselves as feminists, believing this to refer to man-hating, bra-burning spinsters, these women, including famous names like Jennifer Lopez, Charlene Spiterri and Janet Street Porter, identify their friendships with other women as integral sources of comfort and fulfilment. From this comes an understanding as to how to behave towards other women: Jenna is horrified when she finds that she has slept with a colleague’s husband because of the hurt she has done to another woman, even though she has no personal relationship (that she can remember) with the injured wife.

Although this message of female solidarity is ostensibly positive, since it recognises that women are capable of offering each other support and kindness, it is also reductive, prescribing all women with the stereotypical nurturing and emotive personality traits. Furthermore, it doesn’t suggest how a woman might behave and be seen in a relationship with a man, thereby permitting the continued promotion of stereotypical gender roles. It is therefore not surprising that the film ultimately reduces Jenna to the role of typical rom com heroine; she chooses Matty rather than the girls, suggesting that an audience should care more about how her romance fares than her friendship.

This dynamic also plays out in her professional life at Poise, which Jenna is shown to enjoy: we see her working long hours, trying to improve her skills, and giving a passionate presentation about her new ideas for the magazine. However, when the film reveals how Jenna’s life turned out, this element is totally ignored, and we are only shown the details of her love life, implying that this is all the audience really wants to know about. Despite the film’s emphasis on a young woman’s personal development, by the end it is identifying as a love story. While everyone loves a love story, and this is a particularly sincere and believable example, it’s a shame that a film which offered such an endearing and well-developed protagonist ultimately chooses to focus on her as a love interest rather than an interesting personality in her own right.

Verdict

Two

By examining the adult world from the perspective of a thirteen year old, 13 Going On 30 offers a fresh look at the dilemmas and perks that come with being a grown up. While this concept could have been disastrous, the plot generally avoids being creepy, and makes for a sweet romance and a memorable heroine. The emphasis on Jenna’s female relationships identifies women as a vital source of support, advice and friendship for each other. Jenna is portrayed throughout as someone who, despite some poor judgements, is caring and sensitive, but also capable, hard-working and intelligent. However, despite the initial focus on Jenna’s learning curve, the film ultimately centres on the romance plot. This is fine, but disappointing in a rom com that seemed to promise a personal development plot. Furthermore, the female friendships Jenna seeks turn out to be less fulfilling than her relationship with Matt, and Lucy becomes a jealous, back-stabbing stereotype. 13 Going On 30 offers a fresh new premise but fails to live up to its potential. Gather some friends, bring on the junk food and enjoy, but take the representation of women as a work in progress.

How did you perceive Jenna’s female friendships? What are your views on this new ‘alternative’ to feminism? Did you think women in the film were reduced to stereotypes? How badly did you want your own dream house? Seriously, the cotton wool bath bubbles blew my mind. If you have a response to these or any other points raised, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments section.

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Filed under Romantic Comedy, Uncategorized