Friday, July 5, 2013

Critiquing the Critiques of This is the End and The Heat: Penises, Vaginas, and Gendered Summer Comedies

First of all, I am well aware that nothing takes the funny out of a good comedy faster than critical analysis. With that in mind, I want to say that I enjoyed both This is the End and The Heat. They both made me laugh out loud in the theater, and they were both very well acted and fun. (Also, I don't know that I'll give "spoilers" in the sense that the plot isn't really what I'm talking about here (and neither has a plot all that deep anyway), but I will be talking about both films.)

Since This is the End and The Heat are both occupying theaters at the same time, it seems only natural that we could draw some comparisons between them. This is the End is a supremely male-centric film--to the point of being almost ridiculous. There is literally a giant penis sculpture that features prominently in more than one scene. The only women who have speaking parts are in the film for mere moments. Emma Watson makes a late entry to break up the all-male bond of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, and Danny McBride only to literally flee minutes later when she overhears what she (mistakenly) thinks is a plot to sexually assault her. This is a film written by men, starring men designed to celebrate (and mock) the bonds of male friendship. I mean, just look at the movie poster:

The Heat, on the other hand, is definitely a female-centered flick. Lacking the post-apocalyptic landscape and the shield of the patriarchy, though, our female protagonists still interact with many important men throughout the plot line. Still, the film consciously calls into question misogyny in the male-dominated field of criminal justice and presents us with two powerful and self-confident women. It was also written by a woman. 

Both films depend almost entirely on the charm and ability of their respective stars as neither has much in the way of plot. Both films deliver laughs through witty banter and crude jokes. Both films use a serious setting (the aftermath of the Rapture and a major drug operation, respectively) to juxtapose the silliness of the interactions. Both depend on taking a common Hollywood trope (post-tragedy actions and the buddy cop film) and twisting them. They have a lot in common. 

Except one thing: ratings. 

As of right now, The Heat has a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes (a "Fresh" rating, but just barely). By contrast, This is the End has an 84%. At the same time, 78% of viewers liked The Heat, leaving a gap between critics and the public of 16%. However, 83% of viewers liked This is the End, leaving only a 1% disparity, and in the opposite direction, with viewers liking it less than critics. We see similar ratings on IMDb (which is also an aggregate of viewer ratings). The Heat gets a 7.1 and This is the End gets a 7.9. If viewers are responding to the films about the same, why are critics being so hard on The Heat?

Side-by-Side Critic Reviews

The New Yorker

Consider this review of The Heat by The New Yorker. Critic Richard Brody claims that the film is drowning in cliches and that McCarthy's "salty-tongued pugnacity seems routine."

Meanwhile, The New Yorker review of This is the End calls it "an accurate assessment of contemporary manhood" because "all mouths are foul, all bellies are yellow, all drugs are on the table, and all the guys want candy." While critic Anthony Lane admits that "the casual misogyny that bedecks it feels a whole lot less amusing," he ultimately recommends that viewers "enjoy the ride."

So, to recap, the "routine" of McCarthy's "pugnacity"--which she's demonstrated in, what, three films now?--is stale and not worth seeing, but the debacle of Rogen and Franco's half-grown man-children getting high--which is, well, the plot of most of their films, right?--is an enjoyable ride. 

The Tampa Bay Times

Both movies were reviewed by the same reviewer in The Tampa Bay Times: Stever Persall. 

I'm not saying that you have to like both of these movies to like one of them, but the criteria used to judge seem very unequally applied. Here, Persall claims that The Heat goes on too long because "the screenplay is rough" and parts of plot feel "forced." At the same time, he thinks This is the End "plows through and laughs at unsavory doomsday scenarios, from playing soccer with a severed head to a "rapey vibe" when Watson's around. Franco and McBride's tiff about carelessly deposited bodily fluids takes the gag too far then goes further, hilariously. There are no boundaries in this movie, so deal with it or leave."

He is praising a disjointed plot in one film while damning it in another. 

7M Pictures

Kevin Carr reviews both films for 7M Pictures

He is immediately defensive of his loathing for The Heat claiming "gender doesn’t come into the picture. I didn’t hate “The Heat” because of some misogynistic nonsense. I hated it because it’s not funny, tedious and poorly written. Just like a dozen other bad buddy cop movies – including “Hollywood Homicide,” “Cop Out” and pretty much anything starring Martin Lawrence – it’s a mess."

Which would be fine, except that his review of This is the End starts like this:

"By all assumptions, “This Is the End” should be entirely critic-proof. It should also not disappoint anyone who sees it, aside from people stumbling into a movie theater and seeing a movie completely blind to it. After all, this is the kind of movie that hides nothing in its marketing effort and delivers on exactly what you would expect. If you don’t like this sort of thing, you probably have no interest in seeing it."

So, he says that people who don't like this genre of film (male-centric stoner flicks, I suppose) shouldn't bother to see This is the End and have no right to judge it if they do. However, he admits himself that he hates buddy cop movies, and yet judges The Heat for being part of the genre. 

Penis and Vagina Jokes

I am not accusing these critics of being sexist, but I am accusing our general society of it. There are so many negative reviews of The Heat that focus on it being "crass" or "crude." This Christian Science Monitor review, for instance, says "It’s not really such a great achievement to have women cops in the movies acting as boorish and rowdy as their male counterparts."

But you know what? Yeah, it kind of is. 

There is a scene in This is the End where James Franco and Danny McBride have an extended argument (at least four minutes, seriously) about where McBride is allowed to ejaculate and how each of them will ejaculate wherever they want to demonstrate their power over the other. In addition to this scene, we are given multiple demon penises (one severed and withering) and the aforementioned penis statue. 

There are a couple of jokes about the female anatomy in The Heat. They are neither extended nor graphic, and yet I suspect that they are largely what these critics have in mind when they talk about this "crass" film. While I wish it wasn't the case that slinging around profanity and a couple of jokes about an areola and a vagina makes a win for gender equality, I also see evidence of the need for this lesson right here in these very reviews. 

Women do not have to be sex symbols, "ladylike," or a love interest to be a character, and men and women can laugh at the same ridiculous, raunchy things. It appears that the viewing public has gotten that message (as the similar ratings between these two comedies suggest), so I think it's time that our professional critics catch up. 

No comments:

Post a Comment