I had no desire to read Eat, Pray, Love when it was a book, and I have even less desire to see it now that it has been made into a film. I was content to argue that my lack of interest was because, for whatever reason, the film just didn’t appeal to me, but after hearing comedian Jim Norton’s sexist review of the movie, I’m beginning to worry that it has something to do with the stigma attached to “lady films.” Especially “lady films” in which the lady in question is trying to find herself – not just to get a man.
My favorite movie of all time is Stand By Me. And while I vehemently argue that it’s because the film so perfectly encapsulates that moment of childhood right before gender really started to matter, I also admit that I hate its explicitly female counterpart Now and Then with a passion. We already know that female comedians are absent from the big screen, but what about dramatic actresses? Is it that female protagonists are less interesting, or just that less interesting films are typically made about them? I know that this is hardly a groundbreaking argument, but Norton’s comments infuriated me, if for no other reason than because he seems to suggest that a woman’s spiritual journey of self-discovery is frivolous, irresponsible and – worst of all – boring.
First, there Norton’s completely unoriginal misogyny about the unimportance of a woman’s self-discovery:
“I was the first one to start clapping, because I didn’t know if she would overcome. It was heartbreaking, these yoga scenes, and I’m sipping my chamomile tea and I’m lactating and I’m thinking about my vagina and motherhood… And then she finally realized what she was supposed to realize, and I don’t want to spoil it for everybody, but it was inspirational.”
Yawn. We get it — women’s films are boring and they’re all about emotions and junk. Where were the guns? Where were the nameless hot chicks?
One thing I found astounding about Norton’s review was the fact that the “leaky female body” trope hasn’t changed at all in hundreds of years. Women lactate and menstruate and emote and give birth, and their oozing bodies and minds are confounding and disgusting. And then Norton recounts or imagines a couple of other “leaky body” moments:
“And there’s that wonderful scene where she vomits gelato and Jägermeister into a butter.”
“Through a series of wacky mishaps, Julia Roberts has to learn how to say ‘It’s an emergency, where’s the toilet,’ in 40 different languages.”
But perhaps most appalling of all is Norton’s assertion that Roberts’s character, based on the novel’s author, Elizabeth Gilbert, is just a bad, irresponsible person trying to escape from her failures as a woman:
“It’s important, Greg, because it says that no matter how bad of a wife you are, and no matter how horrible of an employee, or how bad you are with money, there’s always time for a vacation. …Just get up. Go to Karachi.”
Now again — I haven’t seen or read Eat, Pray, Love and I’m probably still not going to (it’s rating somewhere in the mid-20s on RottenTomatoes right now). But Norton’s criticism seems to have almost nothing to do with the film itself. Instead, this seems like a platform for Norton to gripe about the dullness and unimportance of independent female protagonists.
It’s attitudes like these that keep more films with female leads from being made. This past week, the only top 10 box office film with a female protagonist is Salt, an action role that had originally been written for Tom Cruise. Straight women accompany their significant others to action movies, but I doubt that the same number of men will happily trout along to Eat, Pray, Love or Sex and the City 2.
But why? Why is there less crossover appeal? Why are female leads supposedly less interesting or more self-absorbed than male leads? Why are “chick films” necessarily less substantial than dramas helmed by men?
Is the Bechdel Test at work once again?