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The Misogyny Machine That Rules Hollywood Comedies

by Melissa Silverstein
April 5, 2011 3:32 AM
11 Comments
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Some days I wake up thinking that things can't be really as bad as I think they are, then, I see a story like Tad Friend's piece in this week's New Yorker on Anna Faris and the state of Hollywood comedies for women and I think, wow, it's even worse that I thought it was.

Friend's piece Funny Like a Guy (hidden behind a paywall) is an overview of Faris career to this point. But what it does -- I believe intentionally -- is lay out how bad it is for women in comedy. And Friend is able to get people on the record to talk about the misogyny and sexism that is pervasive in this world.

I've been hard on Anna Faris because of Observe and Report and The House Bunny, but after reading the piece I have a much better appreciation of her. Part of the problem is that comedy is very hard for women today. I grew up on the comedy of Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Madeline Kahn, Gilda Radner and Lily Tomlin among many others. There was no problem with women being funny and self-deprecating in the 70s and 80s. These women were funny not just to women, they were funny to everyone and men and women went to see their movies together.

But comedy has clearly changed as has movie going has changed and now we live in a world where men won't go see anything that stars women especially in comedies.

The piece focuses on Faris prepping the release of her latest film What's Your Number. Here's the description from imdb: "A woman looks back at the past twenty men she's had relationships with in her life and wonders if one of them might be her one true love."

And the description from the New Yorker piece:

The film is an R-rated comedy that's "female-driven," meaning that it's told from a women's point of view, and that's always been a tough sell. Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy that experience a woman's point of view, particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.

This constant narrative that male stories as universal as women's stories are "other" is getting so tired. If you have a female lead she has to be gorgeous, blonde and really thin. Faris who is already very skinny was given a gym membership by the studio and told to lose weight. During filming she said she ate only carrot sticks and turkey slices and her character Ally who is jobless, wears Prada heels because that's what all unemployed women in Hollywood wear (Faris did fight against the shoes and the wardrobe but she lost.)

People like Faris because she's funny like a guy, not funny like a girl, which is so unbelievably sexist. Her director from Observe and Report Jody Hill said: "All the other women are more Dick Van Dyke Show, more light and sweet, like Sandra Bullock. Anna's more Lucille Ball - she's funny like a guy would be funny." Suffice it to say that Lucille Ball was a woman but that's besides the point. Anna Faris makes guys laugh, she makes them feel comfortable and that's the objective so it's ok for her to be in comedies.

The Faris "fuckability factor" is another reason why she's making $1.75 million for her upcoming film. As an agent anonymously said "What Anna has going for her, to be crass, is that guys want to nail her." Crass my ass. That's common language in Hollywood.

Films that star women -- that women and not just men want to see -- are always dismissed. The article cites Juno, Mean Girls, The House Bunny, Julie and Julia, Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated and Easy A. All those movies except for Easy A and I would throw in The Devil Wears Prada and My Big Fat Greek Wedding into the mix) were written by women.

Amy Pascal who runs Sony (the only female running a studio) puts it in perspective:

You're talking about a dozen or so female-driven comedies that got made over a dozen years, a period when hundreds of male-driven comedies got made. And every one of those female-driven comedies was written or directed or produced by a woman. It's a numbers game - it's about there being enough women with the power to get movies made."

Bottom line from the woman with the most power in the film business. Women do not have any power.

But back to Faris. She wants to be funny and herself. Her husband Chris Pratt who plays a loveable dimwitted guy on Parks and Recreation according to the article finds discarded scripts in the house with $1 million offers. Faris turns down the parts where she would just be playing "the girl." She doesn't just want to play "the girl" so she gets involved in the development of her scripts and fights for roles that she wants. (She doesn't always get them though cause there are people in front of her in line.)

While I have A LOT more respect now for Faris, I wish that she would be able to make the comedies she wanted without all the bullshit thrown in cause that's probably where things fall apart. She doesn't want her comedy to be neat and that's the problem with Hollywood, we expect our women to be neat and pretty and then they can be funny. If she were a guy she would be huge. But she is working and developing scripts with women and she wants to create a community of women who work together not just compete with each other for the few crumbs that come their way.

If you are interested in women and Hollywood at all, this is a must read story.

Here are some more choice quotes from the piece:

"Men predominate in Hollywood, and men don't write much for women."

"Studios also believe that making comedies for women flouts the almighty Laws of Date Night, which hold as follows: Men rule. Men decide which movie a couple will see on a given weekend, and any hint that a film involved fashion, pedicures or female troubles in 'manpoison.'"

From Nicholas Stoller director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall: "There's a misogyny in audiences, a much higher bar of required likeability for women stars."

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11 Comments

  • San | March 18, 2013 5:04 AMReply

    Is there any where I can find a list of comedy movies that don't contain misogyny? I'm having a hard time finding some. Thanks.

  • S_ | August 12, 2011 3:40 AMReply

    Thank god I wasn't the only one who kept tripping over glaring errors.

  • Jane | August 6, 2011 8:10 AMReply

    "You should edit your work a bit more before posting. All of the typos and mistakes make for an arduous read."

    Arduous? Good God Jennifer, you give whining women a bad name. And for the record, adverbs are the hallmark of bad writing.

  • Ronnie D. | August 5, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    This article is just a bunch of hyperbole. Also, Birdesmaids which was widely seen by women and men alike was directed by a man.

  • Erica | July 24, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    You know what's odd? Both this post and the New Yorker article don't hesitate to mention who Anna Faris' husband is. But in all the magazine articles and blog posts I've read about Parks and Recreation lately, I don't ever remember seeing an aside that Chris Pratt is married to Anna Faris.

    I just think it's strange. That being said, what I've seen from "What's Your Number?" makes it look more watchable than your average romantic comedy.

  • jennifer | April 13, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    You should edit your work a bit more before posting. All of the typos and mistakes make for an arduous read.

  • Pen1 | April 13, 2011 1:35 AMReply

    "There was no problem with women being funny and self-deprecating in the 70s and 80s. " Ha! They had to fight hard for it. Might want to talk to Goldie Hawn, Jane Curtin and others. Belushi would whisper anything written by women, insisting women couldn't be funny. Goldie Hawn wasn't taken seriously at all but she persisted. For that matter, ask Joan Rivers. You have to be tough as nails behind the scenes to get your work out, male or female.

  • Susan | April 10, 2011 9:30 AMReply

    The premise that men pick the date movies is wrong. Women pick the movies and men want to get laid. Watching what we want has a better chance of that happening.

    No one got laid after seeing Knocked up, while When Harry met Sally STILL gets guys laid.

    And I agree with the above comment - a working actor is a rarity in the profession. It's a job. It's not like she or any other actor has the power to turn down work, when hey don't know where they'll be n a year or two. Actresses have a short shelf life.

    Jody Hill should be punched in the nuts for making Observe and Report. I feel disappointed in Anna, but again, it was a job, and she doesn't have the career of Seth Rogan, who I fault more for taking that role. His name and star power got that piece of crap made.

  • Z Budapest | April 8, 2011 4:47 AMReply

    When i am sitting in a movie house with my woman friends, looking around, i don't see "couples" on a date, i see white haired people, same sex couples, and women sitting alone or with a friend. The young is not interested paying a lot of money to sit in a chair and watch a Hollywood shoot them up. So where is this imaginational need to cater to men? Hollywood loves men more then women. Its an internal flaw. Or repressed homosexuality.
    51 percent of women with jobs live on their own and love it.
    Women buy 86 percent of all goods in this country including movies.
    I think this is a lie they fed us since the seventies, click flicks don't sell. The did and do. Shame on hollywood power holders, for clinging to their woman hating sways. We are bored here people! get some entertainment up or we all defect to netflix.

  • Allison | April 6, 2011 3:05 AMReply

    Yes, but Anna Farris does tend to play a lot of dumb blonde roles, so maybe it is understandable why Meilissa might be disappointed in her.

    And there's the fact that Faris agreed to appear in Observe and Report, in which her characer was date raped by Seth Rogen. Was she that desperate to work that she couldn't have turned down the role?

  • Scott Mendelson | April 5, 2011 5:05 AMReply

    I guess one question is why you were so hard on her in the first place. We can argue about the merits of House Bunny or Observe and Report (which I liked her in because she wasn't playing the female lead as an idolized dream girl). But truth be told, Anna Faris is one of countless working actors who aren't really superstars. Point being, they generally have to take whatever work is offered to them in order to stay noticed. Sure there are some actors/actresses who are so famous and powerful that they can pick and choose projects, and there are some who simply got rich early on and can afford to only work when they want to work (think Michael Keaton). But most actors, including many that we would consider 'big stars' are still basically 'take the gig when you get the gig' actors. I would no more condemn Anna Faris for making Yogi Bear than I would condemn David Cross for making Alvin and the Chipmunks. For most working performers, work is work is work.

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