The Rule

I have heard many times, as I’m sure you have too, that movies are important. What people  usually mean when they say this is that movies are a direct representation of our culture at that moment. They are the artistic version of historical documentation. What they don’t think of when they say that is that movies also have a great impact on our lives, simultaneously recording and changing our perspective. We go to movies to experience a different part of the the human experience in which we would not otherwise encounter. So when we go to a movie and the only characters are white men, we think “Okay this is a white man’s story, this could be an interesting new perspective for me to experience.” Assuming you’re not a white man. But when all the movies we go to are about white men it tells you that the only perspective is that of the white man. Which is why representation is so important. If women and people of color have no movies it implies that they have no stories worth telling or new perspectives. Which is simply not true.

So yes, there are movies staring people of color and women but not nearly as many as those with white men. And that’s where the Bechdel test comes in. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the test it goes as follows: a movie must have 1. at least two named characters who 2. speak to each other about 3. something other than a man. Which is horrifyingly simple, yet apparently very difficult to accomplish. It’s purpose is really just to measure female representation in a movie and can be changed to measure other forms of representation like that of people of color (what some call the Troy and Abed test) or LGBTQ+ characters (the Will and Jack test).

I will be focusing on the original Bechdel test and the reverse Bechdel test. Not only to measure female representation but also to think critically about how men and women are written. So for the next few weeks I’ll be updating this page every few days with my opinions on various movies in regards to the Bechdel test.


Her

Her takes place in the semi near future, when Theodore falls in love with Samantha, an artificially intelligent operating system.

The film narrowly passes the Bechdel test when Samantha is talking to Tatiana about her feet and when Samantha reassures Isabella (who is credited as “surrogate date Isabella”). They cut it pretty close considering the conversation about the feet is technically about how Paul, Tatiana’s boyfriend, thinks they’re hot. I would consider that half a pass. The other half pass is for the “conversation” between Samantha and Isabella apologizing/reassuring about her performance which is also in direct relation to a man Theodore). There is also, of course, the issue that Samantha is not a human, but for all intents and purposes she played the role of a woman/love interest so I’m going to treat her as such.

Despite the near fail I found this film treated women very well. That’s the thing people need to remember when using the Bechdel test is that it doesn’t actually tell you anything about how women are written in the movie, only the level of female representation. Her followed completely Theodore’s actions and experiences, we didn’t hear or see anything that he wouldn’t have heard or seen. So it follows that every scene was centered around a man. That being said, the film did a great job of representing women. Samantha and Amy, who I believe to be the lead supporting roles, are depicted as just as complex as Theodore and having their own lives and problems that don’t relate to him. That is going to be my second criteria for the films with men in the leading role: that the women’s lives don’t revolve around the leading man, which is basically the point that the Bechdel test is trying to make but I’m going to need more proof. For instance Amy had problems in her relationship which evolved into her splitting from her husband, she was having a hard time at work, and developed a relationship with an OS. These are all “signs” that she is a whole person with her own life. Samantha too, developed an interest in physics, wrote some songs on the piano, became friends with Alan Watts’ artificial intelligence.

So basically, an all around good movie.


Me @ this movie
Me @ this movie

The Other Woman

Or The Lawyer, the Wife, and the Boobs because they literally call themselves that and that’s what the movie comes down to.

Full disclosure; I have already seen this movie and chose to watch it again for this project because of it’s insistence on portraying women as stereotypes despite having a three woman lead. It does pass the Bechdel test but only in snippets of conversation about body maintenance and lingerie that are surrounded by heaps of dialogue about men. The obvious theme of the film is “sisterhood”, and “don’t get with jerks” and other shit along those lines. The “bad guy” is obviously a bad guy from the beginning, and “gets his” in the end. He shits his pants, gets fired, walks into two window panes and breaks his nose, you know, the classics.

Apart from the unoriginal everything, my real problem with this movie is that no one is a whole person in this film. Mark, the cheating husband, is just a bad guy; Kate, the wife, is the over talkative, over emotional, nutcase; Carly is the headstrong lawyer who doesn’t have feelings, and then Amber, the simple, hot girl. Then there are the other characters, who are even flatter, the Frank, Carly’s chronic-divorcer dad, who’s into women younger than his daughter (so of course he pairs off with Amber in the end); Lydia, Carly’s secretary, who gives a winning speech about how pretty girls don’t need to work: they have men to do that for them!

The first half of the movie is this embarrassing medley of terrible characters in cheapshot scenes. The crazy wife, the heartless lawyer, the dirtbag husband in various situations. Then the second mistress is introduced, Amber, played by Kate Upton. She and the wife get drunk and have a conversation that literally goes; “ ‘You’re so pretty.’ ‘No, you’re so pretty.’ ‘You have such nice hair.’ ‘No, YOU have such nice hair!’ ”, so I guess that counts towards passing the Bechdel test. Congrats, Hollywood, you’ve made it. It’s at this point that Carly and Kate’s brother start flirting because a movie can’t end with the main woman staying single. I think it would be appropriate to call every scene in this movie any of the following: atrocious, embarrassing for everyone, ridiculous, awful, insulting.

P.S. If anyone’s seen John Tucker Must Die this is the exact same movie.

Nice.
Nice.

Amelie

I decided to watch Amelie when a friend recommended it to me with the promise of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl lead. Amelie passed the test rather early on in the film when talking to her mother and at various other points in the movie. I didn’t take notes while watching this film so I don’t have exact examples but there were a handful of conversations between all the women at the cafe about various subjects. Though Amelie did share characteristics of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, I would not call her one. Unfortunately, the term has lost its meaning and as become an umbrella term for any “unusual” or “quirky” female character. I did some research (typed it into google) and found many references to Amelie as a MPDG. When people look at Amelie they see the cutsie haircut, animal themed decor, and constant search for skipping stones. These unusual traits lead them to label her a MPDG without realizing the harm in doing so. The classic MPDG was called out because she was two dimensional and existed solely to bring the brooding male-lead to life. Amelie is clearly not that. She is a whole person who showed great growth throughout the movie. She created new relationships with neighbours and coworkers, and went after a man she was interested in, despite finding comfort in her isolation. Amelie was a really beautiful film and the portrayal of all the complexe characters was wonderful.


Barbara

This movie was beautiful. I don’t know how to explain what I loved about it but I loved a lot. It passed the Bechdel test on multiple occasions when Barbara spoke to Stella about a handful of things; all of which were quite important (as in not bush upkeep or cabinets). I really don’t have much to say because the film was flawless. The characters were so real. I really appreciate the pace of the movie, it gave it an overall simplistic feel while still having undercurrents of deep emotion and the darkness of East Germany in the 1980s.

There was one scene that made me roll my eyes ever so slightly. Barbara is standing in her living room with her getaway bag on the coffee table next to the book from Andre. In that moment the scene felt a little cheap “Which will she choose? The book and its symbolism for her life in the province with her new love interest or the bag and her chance to escape and go meet, uh, the other guy whom I can’t find on IMDB.” But this movie is better than that, as it soon showed me. Stella then arrives at her apartment and Barbara chooses the girl’s future over whatever decision she was going to make. The ending could be viewed as her choosing Andre but I truly believe she puts the girl’s needs above her own since it’s so clearly within her character. Just such a beautiful film.


This Is Where I Leave You

This film is about Judd and his “emotional journey” that begins when his wife cheats on him.

Soon after his wife cheats on him, his father dies. His mother convinces Judd and his three siblings that they have to sit Shiva for their father. the film is based off a book I haven’t read so I can’t say how well it was adapted but it definitely had a book feel. The sheer number of secondary characters and their intertwining story lines was something I could see working out in a book but just didn’t in the film. Of the thirteen characters I consider to be supporting/basically lead characters 7 were women. That means of the 14 “center-stage” characters exactly half were women. AND YET, NONE OF THEM FUCKING TALK TO EACH OTHER BASICALLY EVER. For a film with Tina Fey as the second credited actor, you’d think they’d give her a line or two with another woman. Okay so technically there was some dialogue between the woman and it is as follows: Tina Fay (Wendy) talks to Phillips girlfriend about Phillip, Wendy talks to her mother about pulling the tube out of her dead father’s throat, and finally, Wendy talks to her mother about how comfortable her mother’s breast implants are. And that’s how it freaking passes. With Wendy talking to her mom (Hillary, played by Jane Fonda) about her boobs which are a recurring joke during the movie and become an object somehow separated from Hillary. Even after it’s revealed that Hillary has been in a relationship with her neighbour Debra, they are never seen speaking to eachother. They make out, feed each other but never speak, they do fight in another room but you can’t see them or hear what they’re saying.

Judd’s wife is just a tool for his story. She’s supposed to be causing this big turmoil in his life but she’s barely even in the film. She’s the “élément déclencheur” and then isn’t seen again until she comes to escalate his story by telling him she’s pregnant. Which causes more problems and internal struggles for him. She then doesn’t return to the story until he has his emotional revelation and decides he wants a divorce. Her entire reason to exist his story.

An even flatter female character is that of Annie, Judd’s sister in law, played by Kathryn Hahn. She is baby crazy. That’s it. Every scene she’s in, it’s made very clear that she is obsessed with Wendy’s kids. After Annie pulls Wendy’s son out of her arms, Wendy turns to Paul, Annie’s husband, and says “You need to put a baby in her, like yesterday.” No one ever speaks to Annie about how much she wants kids only her husband. Except when Annie tries to seduce Judd into impregnating her. This movie was so infuriating, and I happen to like Kathryn Hahn and Tina Fey so to see them play these weak characters whose lives revolve around men and/or children was really disappointing. Other than dealing with her father’s and Judd’s issues, Wendy’s plot line is crap. She has two kids with a husband who is always on the phone, she goes back to her small home town for the funeral/memorial service/Shiva where she is in close quarters with an old flame. That’s her whole deal, she has a crap marriage and has to spend time with what is hinted at is her true love. Obviously things happen but it’s just such a crap plot line I don’t want to deal with it.

And last but certainly not least, Judd’s love interest Penny. Who is the ideal Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s some girl-next-door from his small hometown who was in love with him when they were in high school but blahblahblah. She has what my mom calls small town hair, her passion is skating and she does it everyday, and she is on anti-depressants that “obliterate whatever filter she had”. So basically she’s blunt and painfully honest. Not that any of that necessarily makes her a MPDG but it definitely adds to the obviousness of her character being one. Her role in the movie is to help Judd discover what real love is, and how to have fun and all that MPDG shit. Even his “emotional breakthrough” moment when he confesses his love for her is the movie equivalent to writing MPDG across her forehead. First of all, his speech is all about him and how much he’s grown through this experience, as these speeches usually go. Secondly, he literally says  “You’re strange. You’re a great strange. You’re honest. And you’re so… You’re good.” Can it get any more MPDG than that. So yeah she’s blunt, and weird, and confident but, most importantly, she made him realize that he’s been having a “comfortable love” with his wife. When he could have been having a complicated, unpredictable, and irrational love. (Which are all his words by the way.)

Other than Wendy, all the girlfriends and wives were nothing more than devices for the men’s stories. I say we kill this movie with fire.

I don’t even know how to wrap this up. There were just so many women. And they never even talked to each other.


So in conclusion, I think the Bechdel test is a good thing to keep in mind while you’re watching a movie just as a kind of scorecard for how much female representation there is in the film. I don’t think, however, that it is enough. It tells you nothing about how well they were represented or whether or not their roles and interactions had any value. The rule also doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film as a whole or whether it’s a feminist film. These are things you’ll have to gauge for yourself. So even though the test is lacking in many areas I think it is a step in the right direction to watching films as critical thinkers rather than passive observers.

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