Gir(l)dle your Loins
Warning: Do not try to pronounce ‘girldle’ when drunk. It may result in serious muscular damage in the tongue. It is also inadvisable to attempt pronouncing this non-word when sober because listeners are liable to think you are a) drunk, b) illiterate, or c) drunk and illiterate. The author of this post apologises for her terrible need to pun when coming up with titles for posts.
The final sequence in “Kick-Ass” shows an eleven year old girl being punched repeatedly, flung down with such force that her fall breaks a table and almost choked to death. A leering villain stands between her splayed legs, looks down at her face which is streaked with tomato-sauce-red blood, and cocks his revolver at her. In case anyone is sniggering because they think there’s some humour in this cinematic situation, allow me to quote the god of film reviews, Anthony Lane:
“Kick-Ass” is violence’s answer to kiddie porn. You can see it in Hit Girl’s outfit when she cons her way past security guards—white blouse, hair in pigtails, short tartan skirt—and in the winsome way that she pleads to be inculcated into grownup excess. That pleading is the dream of every pedophile, and I wonder if Goldman paused to examine her contribution to the myth. … The standard defense of such material is that we are watching “cartoon violence,” but, when filmmakers nudge a child into viewing savagery as slapstick, are we not allowing them to do what we condemn in the pornographer—that is, to coarsen and inflame?Read the whole review, including a genius line about Oedipus, here.
The first time you see the 11-year-old in question (Chloe Moretz, a.k.a Hit Girl), she’s being shot in the chest by her dad (a moustachioed Nicholas Cage). Soon after, she appears in an electric purple wig and slashes her way through a room full of thugs in a manner that probably gave Quentin Tarantino a joy-induced epileptic fit. Ultimately, she’s got her face-off with the arch villain, which I described earlier. The director and writers of Kick-Ass probably thought they’d created a wonderful female character: cute, funny and tough as a Sheffield blade. They must have figured that she’d delight audiences, male and female alike. I was disgusted. Kick-Ass is a lurid example of why comic books don’t always translate to film. Some things need to be contained within stillness and a frame to prevent the imagery becoming nauseating. Aaron Johnson’s David, who becomes Kick-Ass, is sweet, clichéd and flatter than a sheet of paper. Nicholas Cage was one of the best things in the film, and that should give you an idea of just how disappointing I found the film. As for Chloe Moretz, I’d say there’s a good possibility that she may grow up to be a 21st century Charles Manson. The way her character is written is appalling and when she had her final, glorious showdown, I actually had to leave the room. Not just because it was borderline pornography but also because I’m sick to death of female characters who have their strength measured by blood spatter and crushed bones. And dammit all but one of Vaughn’s co-writers is a woman (Jane Goldman). So much for a female perspective.
I’m very dubious about the whole “women director” spiel because surely the critical component of creating characters and telling a story isn’t gender. But this week, I have to say, I’m considering reconsidering. (That’s me: decisive and articulate). While watching Rebecca Miller’s brilliant “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee“, I kept wondering whether a man would have been able to make a movie like this. At one point, I realised a man has made a movie like this. Not just one in fact, he’s made quite a few. Woody Allen. Miller’s film is set in precisely the world that Woody Allen loves. Writers, adulterers, cuckoos and other such characters who gleam with the patina of sophistication and who never lose their poise and wit, no matter what the situation. There’s a scene in the movie where Pippa Lee (Robin Wright Penn) is in the visitors’ area of a hospital. Her husband, Herb (Alan Arkin) is on life support in a nearby room. She’s sitting with her son. With them is Pippa’s good friend Sandra (Winona Ryder), who has been having an affair with Herb and who tried to slash her wrists with a safety razor when she was discovered by Pippa. I can’t explain to you what it is that Miller did in that scene but somehow, between her, Robin Wright Penn and Winona Ryder, they created a moment that was terribly sad and yet hilarious.
“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” isn’t flawless but it’s a delight. It’s made up of superb performances (Robin Wright Penn is just luminous; there’s no other word for her), a wonderful set of characters and a story that makes you wonder just what it must have been like to grow up in the Miller household. Everything and everyone in “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” is eccentric but all the excesses are played with unwavering restraint so that it feels normal while you watch it and strikes you as entirely insane the moment you consider what you’ve watched. The most interesting aspect to the film for me was how feminine it felt and that’s something that you never get in a Woody Allen film. Those are always decidedly male, thank you very much. It wasn’t because the lead character was a woman but because of the nuanced way that Miller had written this woman. I felt like I could relate to her and that I could relate to her far more closely because I was woman, even though I haven’t done speed, run away from home, modelled for “artistic” photos, confused boyfriends, watched someone kill themself, or had someone who looked like Keanu Reeves (with an enormous Jesus tattooed on his chest) help me pray for someone’s soul. Incidentally, this prayer involves Reeves ripping off his shirt, roaming hands and lots of gasping. If the women in the congregation had known this is what praying for a soul meant, I bet they’d have made sure Reeves wasn’t rejected from priesthood.
I was actually going write about the other womanly genius who got me thinking about gender and creativity but that’s going to have to wait because I can smell the dal burning.