Freeheld stumbles over too many hurdles to recommend it. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its focus is not.
From Marty Carpenter of Lititz PA:
You won't care about anything I say, but I'm writing anyway just to get it out of my system. I've enjoyed your website for years but lately it's been bothering me that you use different standards to judge men and women. I've come to the conclusion that you don't really like women (as opposed to liking their bodies, which you obviously do), and like to take little digs at us and the things we enjoy. Sometimes I wonder if you only do it to annoy because you know it teases, but I've begun to think it goes deeper than that.
Your covert dislike of women as people is more than equalled by your love of women's bodies. Are you trying to make a name for yourself as The Old Lech Movie Critic? You almost always comment on the appearance of lead actresses, and practically smack your lips when you get to see nude bodies (as in one movie known mainly for the fact that Halle Berry received a 6-figure bonus for going topless in a scene). In one review you reminisced about the good old days when movies regularly included topless women "simply because they were beautiful". (You don't think box-office-draw had somehing to do with that? Were you really born yesterday?) You didn't go into any such raptures about the shirtless male characters in the latest "Twilight" movie, never acknowledging that the male body might also be "simply beautiful" to half the population of the world. (I hope you don't believe that good looks have nothing to do with the success of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and most other highly-paid actors.) You wrote condescendingly about the "coos and ripples of delight" from the female audience, as if it were silly of them to enjoy the male pulchritude. I've heard the "aesthetic appreciation" of female nudity voiced by male audiences, and frankly I think coos are a lot classier.
I'm not trying to say that you shouldn't enjoy watching your nekkid wimmin, but you could show a little consideration for the people behind the boobs. The actresses no doubt would feel flattered by your admiration, but no-one wants to feel like a piece of furniture, however lovely. And if you're going to object when men in films get the kind of treatment that women have been getting all along, you're judging by a double standard. Maybe you don't mind being an old MCP, and think sexism is no big deal compared to other forms of unfair treatment. But if you're going to say that all people are equal, you can't turn around and say that some are less equal than others.
You recently blew off a reader who asked why you never called a male character a "sexaholic slut" as you did the Samantha character in "Sex and the City 2" (which I'm not a fan of, BTW). You made a jokey reply and hid behind the dictionary definition of "slut" as always referring to a woman. We all know of course that dictionary definitions are cast in stone and can never, ever change. I couldn't even find "sexaholic" in my dictionary, but probably you can afford a more comprehensive one than mine.
Where did that "slut" come from, anyway? "Sexaholic" has a not-too-serious sound, which went well with the tone of your review of a silly, inconsequential movie. It's not like the girls are influencing foreign policy decisions or anything. On the other hand, "slut" just drips with disapproval and judgement. It's a word that would come naturally from a religious zealot, like the ones you're always condemning. So I was very surprised to see it in your review. I thought you were taking Samantha's lifestyle a lot more seriously than it deserved. (Remember when Dan Quayle went all huffy over "Murphy Brown" having a baby out of wedlock? Like that.) I had to wonder what buttons Samantha pushed that brought out your inner Jerry Falwell.
Anyway, what WOULD you call a male character to express such viiolent disapprobation of his sexual habits? I haven't read every single review you've written, but I'm hard-pressed to remember you reviling a male character in that way. Recently your site ran a review of "All the Real Girls" in which you described the lead male character as "having spent his young manhood having sex with any girl who would have sex with him". He sure sounds promiscuous to me. Yet you didn't call him names for it, not even "alley cat". This was apparently a better movie than SATC2, but promiscuity is still promiscuity. If it's anathema for the goose, it should be anathema for the gander.
Your review of "Julie & Julia" made me actually wonder what Julia Child had done to you to deserve the kind of remarks you made. I wondered if maybe you were jealous because of her iconic status, and because food will always be more important to most people than movies are. I thought perhaps you might not like "larger-than-life characters" which she certainly was, God bless her; but then I remembered all the larger-than-life MALE characters you write about with great affection. Most of THEM had long-suffering wives or girlfriends whom I would consider saints for putting up with these guys, and sometimes you yourself referred to these women as saints, but in a kindly way, not in the sneering way you referred to Paul Child. (I'm not at all sure the film depicted their relationship accurately, but that's beside the point.) Then I read your review of Quentin Tarantino's WWII fairy tale, in which you praised QT and his characters for pretty much the same qualities you seemed to dislike in Julia Chld. Being over-the-top is apparently OK for men?
You also wrote of the other main character's husband as having the "self-respect" to walk out on her because (horror of horrors) his wife was getting obsessed with the cooking project. (If that was the worst problem this marriage ever faced, they would be a very blessed couple.) You made some gibes at Paul Child for not having that kind of self-respect, and not being able to say No to his "goddess" wife. A little more "spriit" on the part of the males would have made the movie more interesting, you thought. Well, movies are filled with long-suffering, DULL women who put up with all sorts of crap from their men. Where are your complaints about those doormats? Take Stravinsky's wife in the movie about the composer's affair with Coco Chanel. Her husband takes her and her children to live with his mistress, but you don't complain about her lack of self-respect in going along with this humiliation. You do mention that she has "some pride" and therefore confronts Chanel (whom you take some time to criticize). Confronting the mistress (who owed her nothing) instead of the husband? Hmph. The movie would've been a lot livelier if she had taken some pots & pans to the jerk who had sworn to love, honor and cherish her. But you don't mention any of this. Why not? You make the excuse for her that she has to consider her children, as if their father couldn't soil his hands with honest work to support his flesh and blood. Maybe you're one of those people who think geniuses shouldn't have to soil their hands with "ordinary" responsibilities. But I suspect you would not have the same tolerance for a female genius.
You dissed the Julia Roberts character in "Eat, Pray, Love" for leaving her husband because she was "tired of him". As if men in the movies don't ever leave their wives because of boredom, and amuse themselves with younger partners of whom the less said the better. Or end up with too-good-to-be-true soulmates. And what's your problem with "wish-fulfillment" films for women? I wish I had a dollar for every movie I've seen or read about that was aimed at MALE fantasies. Every sin (in your eyes) that this film committed has also been committed in hundreds of movies where a man was the protagonist. Then there are those films where a dweebish guy ends up with a knockout gal, who values him for his "inner beauty" and can look past his less-than-stunning exterior; that's a type of male fantasy that has hardly ever been gender-switched in the movies. There are so many more movies made for male audiences that it seems petty of you to complain about the ones that are made for females.
In one review you even sneered at the target AUDIENCE of women out on shopping trips with their pals, an activity that is no worse than guys going out to drink too much with their buddies. (At least shopping doesn't impair your senses.) All of this makes wonder what women have done to you. Obviously you don't like them to have the upper hand in relationships. You don't even write about your mother with discernible affection.
I don't doubt that you have been thinking up ad hominem arguments against everything I've said, basing them on surmises about me and my personal life. Women who get "uppity" always have those kind of charges made against them, but it doesn't diminish the truth of what we say. If you're as fair-minded as I used to think you were, you would at least take a good look at some of your attitudes and what you write.
From Roger Ebert: Gulp. I love and respect women. Apparently I've done a lousy job of communicating that. I suspect your close reading will inspire me to do a better job in the future.
I have noticed and praised female bodies in my reviews. It's true that I don't recall lavishing any praise on male bodies. That's the way I think. Nature made me that way. My physical descriptions are not intended as objective, but as subjective responses. I doubt that will change.
Anyway, thanks for writing such an essay. I consider it a compliment.
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