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I just saw it and boy does it...
318

A controversial (feminist) impression of Sideways
Topic by: lividsnails
Posted: January 19, 2005 - 6:02 PM PST
Last Reply: May 25, 2005 - 8:42 AM PDT

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author topic: A controversial (feminist) impression of Sideways
lividsnails
post #1  on January 19, 2005 - 6:02 PM PST  
I can't believe there's not a thread set up for this one yet. Did I miss it? I know Sideway's been out forever but I went back three pages and other than it appearing on people's picks for best of 2004 films, nothing. Why is that (that no one's written anything)? y'all must have something to say about it! I sure do!

I finally went to see it. I mean, geez, I've heard so much about this film --it's supposed to be great. I didn't know if I could identify with forty year old (slightly?) washed up men so I wasn't going out of my way to see it.

It was good, but I don't know if it was great. The acting was excellent of course and there was some nice cinematography and it *was* funny.

But everyone's written a lot about all that. Let me get to what bothered me about this film. It made me think 1.) either the movie as a whole or else just the characters's --mostly Jack's-- view of women was really disturbing for me. Which made me think 2.) men are gross. (I swear it cured me of any thoughts about sex with the opposite gender for a good week! )

I mostly want to blame this ickiness on Jack's character -from a female point of view, he was jerk, that's true. I know we were supposed to find his little faults endearing but only the guys I went with could see him that way. But I don't think it's just the one character. Every time we see or hear sex in this movie the women have the same fetish: they want to be spanked and punished and treated like children. Maya might not've been like that but we didn't see that sex scene. It also seemed a cliche to me that the homely waitress reacted like she did to Jack's manipulative flirting. Why couldn't she have been a studious chemistry major who couldn't have given a shit who this arrogant guy was? That woulda been different.

Maybe it's not that the depictions of women in this movie are problematic, but just the depictions of their sex lives are. Maya's character was great. Stephanie was real too. I guess what I'm saying is I don't like how they were treated. By who I'm not sure of yet. (By the director or just by the character.)

I mean it wasn't so bad that I'd throw out the charge that this is a mysogynist movie. I'd almost just say it's a "guy's movie" but that implies that guy movies are just gonna have to involve mean-spirited, unflattering, inaccurate depictions of women (or their sex lives) and I don't think that's true.

I'm also not saying that every movie has to be a feminist flick or even have entirely positive depictions of women's sex lives. But I guess this movie just feels weird to me.

hamano
post #2  on January 19, 2005 - 7:20 PM PST  
That's kind of the current zeitgeist, though, ain't it? I mean, look how popular shows like Sex in the City, and now the even more preposterous Desperate Housewives are (with both male AND female viewers)! I enjoy the funny writing and good acting, but if you look really really close what kind of image of women do these male-created female ensembles present? They're like post-post-feminist, right? So your critique is not really controversial at all... it's still a man's world in the movies. Really how many of those films on everyone's top ten lists are told mostly from a feminist perspective? Are Chalie Kaufman or Larry David "feminist" writers?

And really is there any viable solution being put forth? Judging Amy? Veronica Mars? The Bachelorette? Legally Blonde? Bridget Jones?

Virginia Madsen has always been a favorite of the boys, too, a voluptuous and earthy Barbie doll who'd strip nekkid at the drop of a hat! Creator, The Hot Spot, Becoming Colette, Candyman... maybe the only film I saw with her where she didn't at least doff her top was David Lynch's DUNE (was Princess Irulan's bath scene cut out by the producers?)....
Catullus
post #3  on January 20, 2005 - 2:53 AM PST  
> On January 19, 2005 - 6:02 PM PST lividsnails wrote:
> ---------------------------------
(I swear it cured me of any thoughts about sex with the opposite gender for a good week! )
> ---------------------------------

well at least that gives me a week to come up with something witty to say in reply.

No but seriously haven't seen the movie, it looks alright, not really the type of movie that I would seek out to watch.

But then again whats wrong with a movie portraying women being treated badly? Thats real life for a lot of women (sad but true), what really pisses me off is that when all these romantic comedies come out and all these guys treat women perfectly and everyone is happy and in love the end. (lets face it, irl at least 90% of men are selfish assholes)

That just gives women unrealistic expectations... I think romantic comedies should feature more disrespetful and lazy men. That way women don't set their standards too high. I mean a guy sitting on the couch watching tv demanding a beer while cupping kind of realism needs to be in a few of these movies as a reality check.

Otherwise it basically leads to a woman going from jerk to jerk while looking for prince charming / mr perfect and never finding him, then that probably leads to self doubt, they probably wonder whats wrong with them and in turn go crazy.

Signed
A Bitter Cynic

HAHAHA okay all of that was a joke im tired and going to bed and if you read all that garbage I apologize, apparently I have no sense of humor either.
Cinenaut
post #4  on January 20, 2005 - 8:13 AM PST  
***SLIGHT SPOILERS***

I don't think "endearing" was what Alexander Payne was going for in the depiction of those two. I think "pathetic" is more like it. Miles steals from his mother and Jack doesn't exactly get rewarded for his trysts with Stephanie and the waitress. Jack and Miles are portrayed as self-destructive twits, especially Jack. Miles certainly doesn't buy into his behavior. Maya is the calm, intelligent and healthy one in the midst of all the craziness. How many movies these days portray a female character like her -- especially a female character that's not 20 years old anymore?
lividsnails
post #5  on January 20, 2005 - 8:47 AM PST  
> But then again whats wrong with a movie portraying women being treated badly? Thats real life ...
---
EXACTLY! and I like movies that portray real life as opposed to some idealized version BUT AT THE SAME TIME problematize that reality (Our world *is* violent and that should disturb us. This is what I like so much about Tarentino) so i agree with you on that (I have no respect for those romantic comedies you mention that portray human relationships as simplistic and easy but I come home from work and watch a cheezy Mexican soap-opera exactly like that and I love it-- it's the equivalent of cheeze doodles.)

I guess I just didn't feel like this film did enough of that problmatizing. Because Jack never really got his come-uppance. He never realized the emptiness of his superficial deceitful life. Miles didn't really address his problem with alcohol and his inferiority complex. The reason i say their problems were supposed to be endearing was because I didn't think the filmmakers were trying to get the audience to feel repulsed by that behavior, critical of it or anything like that. we were supposed to feel amused and that's ok. It's just that type of film and nothing's wrong with that.

oh well. I guess I'm just rambling here.
underdog
post #6  on January 20, 2005 - 1:28 PM PST  
> On January 20, 2005 - 8:47 AM PST lividsnails wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> > But then again whats wrong with a movie portraying women being treated badly? Thats real life ...
> ---

Ms. LividS,
You make some really valid points, or at least it's a great launching point for discussion. I had a similar discussion with my mom (an ardent feminist, as am I in some ways) about the film, she had a similar take as you did. But we both came a bit closer to each other's positions on it after talking for awhile. One of the many great things about SIDEWAYS, in my opinion, is that it *does* create these kind of dialogues. I think that's what a great film does - provokes, stimulates...

>
> I guess I just didn't feel like this film did enough of that problmatizing. Because Jack never really got his come-uppance. He never realized the emptiness of his superficial deceitful life. Miles didn't really address his problem with alcohol and his inferiority complex. The reason i say their problems were supposed to be endearing was because I didn't think the filmmakers were trying to get the audience to feel repulsed by that behavior, critical of it or anything like that. we were supposed to feel amused and that's ok. It's just that type of film and nothing's wrong with that.
>

I sort of disagree with this -- I thought Jack did get his comeuppance (I mean...
SPOILER ALERT

He got the crap beat out of him by Sandra Oh's character, deservedly so, and even though you're right, he obviously didn't learn much about how shallow his life is, and is still a cad - I think Payne was going for some realism here, not going for the easy audience-satisfying character arc. The changes are subtle, even for main protagonist Miles, who does change at the end, I feel more hope for him, even if he didn't end up with Maya.

Of course, that does seem like a male fantasy doesn't it? Giamatti's such a schlub that it's hard to imagine Madsen falling for him, but she's also painted as someone who looks beyond the surface, into people's souls, she's deep. It's possible. But I can see how that could strike some as a male fantasy. I do think we were supposed to feel something critical of their behavior. That's what impressed me so much about Payne and Taylor's script is that they walked such a fine line between comedy and pathos, sometimes at the very same moment (such as when Jack comes back to the hotel room naked, having lost his wallet - this is absolutely pathetic, as is his decision to have a fling with the young waitress - but also, I thought, absolutely hysterical.) That's pure Payne: You cringe, you laugh, at the same time.

(See ELECTION for an example.)

I do think he borders on the misanthropic through all his films (not as much misogynistic, but you could make that argument), which enervates me (particularly in ABOUT SCHMIDT, which I found hard to take), but I think he's more interested in telling the truth of the characters more than taking the easy way out.

People have had so many different reactions to this film, but all of them interesting to me. They, We, see themselves in one of the characters, and it's not always a happy reflection shining back on us.



underdog
post #7  on January 20, 2005 - 1:32 PM PST  
> On January 20, 2005 - 8:13 AM PST Cinenaut wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> ***SLIGHT SPOILERS***
>
> I don't think "endearing" was what Alexander Payne was going for in the depiction of those two. I think "pathetic" is more like it. Miles steals from his mother and Jack doesn't exactly get rewarded for his trysts with Stephanie and the waitress. Jack and Miles are portrayed as self-destructive twits, especially Jack. Miles certainly doesn't buy into his behavior. Maya is the calm, intelligent and healthy one in the midst of all the craziness. How many movies these days portray a female character like her -- especially a female character that's not 20 years old anymore?

And, what Cinenaut said (some of which I sort of repeated). Yeah, I really don't think you were meant to love these guys and their behavior, only to believe in it and perhaps to cringe, and laugh... I really did think Maya was a great part for a woman.

When Jack does get his comeuppance a woman sitting in front of me in the movie theater leaped to her feet and said "YESSSS!!" -


ALittlefield
post #8  on January 21, 2005 - 5:42 AM PST  
I cetainly thought that the film was disdainful of Jack's behavior, while it felt that there certainly was some hope for Miles; to me, Madsen was the most "together" person in the film, and she fell for Miles because she saw the potential in him (she liked that he is a writer, even an unpublished one).
fred3f
post #9  on January 24, 2005 - 11:25 AM PST  
From an admitted male:

I don't want to upset anyone here, but I think this is being a bit over-analyzed. Sure Jack is a jerk and everyone in the audiance is supposed to know that. That is what makes the movie funny. If the writers directors and actors took his character seriously, then it would be a much different movie. This is a comedy that exposes certain human weaknesses but still maintains a basic faith in humanity. In other words it is comedy, not vicious ridicule.
Jack is a characture of a certain kind of personality. Most comedies and in fact most films and dramas have a lot of charactures in them. They are characters that represent a certain point of view or a certain way of life. Only a few of the characters in a fictional work, if any, have dimension and are similar to the complexity of real people. In Jack's case he also has some redeeming quailities, like his desire to pull his friend out of his shell, and a genuine (if short sighted) desire to have everyone enjoy themselves. Because Jack is a characture, he represents many people, so he must have these redeeming qualities or the audience will be led into hating a the group of people that Jack represents. This would be offensive if Jack were, for example, black, or gay or a woman. So it should likewise be offensive in all cases. That is that danger of a characture. It is a danger this film does not fall into, and so we should praise the film for sticking to comedy and not indulging in the ridicule of a group of people through a characture.
The women in the movie are also charactures for the most part. (The two leads being partial exceptions - Stephanie more so than Maya). No this does not show women at their best, but then again does it show men at their best? If it did, it would not be a comedy, because people would not be laughing, or it would decend to ridicule.
Does this mean that people will walk away from the movie thinking all men and women are like this? I doubt it. If anyone did, I haven't met that person. Hopefully we are all a bit more intellegent and mature than that.




fred3f
post #10  on January 24, 2005 - 11:40 AM PST  
Sorry, about that last post. Something happened in the computer and it posted before I could review it. So please excuse the errors. It is mostly what I wanted to say, but not very well dressed.

There is one other thing I wanted to say. Deciding to write off an entire sex (1st post - "Men are Gross") because of a character in a movie is, IMHO, a bit extreem. Both men and women have their individual flaws. Woman can also, at times be quite false and manipulative, and there have been some great portrayals of women on the screen with that very character (All About Eve, for example), but they have never made me give up on women. We are all (men and women) individuals, who are quite complex and changable with our own unique personailties, not like the characters in a movie. All the jokes and wise sayings about how men are a certain way or women are certain way are all false. The characters in a movie are not real people. It is important to remember that.
Eoliano
post #11  on January 24, 2005 - 2:58 PM PST  
> ...not very well dressed

It's okay to be casually dressed around here or even undressed for that matter.

> The characters in a movie are not real people. It is important to remember that.

Ah, however stereotyped they might seem, the characters in Sideways are very recognizable as real people, in fact...
Cinenaut
post #12  on January 25, 2005 - 8:51 AM PST  
...in fact...

...in fact...

IN FACT, WHAT?


I know the author of the novel was writing from personal experience with some of this stuff (like being unpublished and broke), but I don't know how much of it would be REAL LIFE STUFF.
fred3f
post #13  on January 25, 2005 - 4:32 PM PST  
Sorry, as I said, I didn't get a chance to review it, so some of it was not as clear as it should be. The point I was trying to make is that even if a character is drawn from life and even if the character is recognizable, the process of fictionalization turns any character into a stereotype. To begin with, no matter how carefully you observe someone you will never be able to capture their full personailty. Secondly the time and other restrictions of fiction, and in particular a film, permit the observer to showing only a limited number of character traits. Thirdly, fiction, and comedy in particular, take certain character traits and emphisize them for the purposes of moving the plot in certain directions and for to emphisize the theme of the film. Thus although a character will and should have realistic traits, they do not represent any real person in the full sense. It works because you and I see things in the character that we have seen in real people. While those things do not fully represent any real person in their total personality and potentials, they can ring true as characteristics that exist in real life. The hope of many artists is that some of us might even see this trait in ourselves, and have a rare moment (and such moments really are rare) where we see ourselves without some of the self-deception that we usually use to hide our faults from ourselves.

This is all basic fiction theory and I can not claim to have thought it up.

But to say that an artist is remiss because s/he did not include all the politically correct character traits is to misunderstand the workings of fiction. I do not refer to intentional or unintentional works of bias and propoganda where a certain race or other group is shown in a poor light with the intention of making that group look bad. That is where the whole mechinism of fiction changes from an attempt to shed light on character to an attempt to manipulate emotions of the audience for political or cultural ends. Unfortunatly, this kind of manipulation goes on even today in some very popular films who's names I won't mention here, because that is not what this thread is about. However, Sideways is not one of those films. It belongs instead to the fist type - the type that attempts to shed light on character and perhaps some light on our own characters.
fcobourn
post #14  on January 27, 2005 - 2:48 PM PST  
> ---------------------------------
Hats off to Lividsnails for starting such a lively discussion, and Cutullus for reminding us that when male and female characters are presented in idealistic roles/films where everything works out in the end, that tends to be a boring turn-off and cheesy. I hate to use Gigli as an example but everyone loves to rail that movie, so why not pile on. (I'm sure that's why many of us are members at GC rather than other rental compaines because who needs to see another hollywood blockbuster predictable ending full of predictable characters??) And to Fredf for presenting lots of compelling points regarding what a director or writer has in mind with a film like this when they are presenting their work to the masses, i.e., if some of the traits presented in the film allow some accurate self-reflection, and thus, some real feeling in your stomach, one way or the other, then the writers/directors have done their job. Movies like Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, Ghost World, and Rushmore come to mind as obvious examples. On the flip side, nothing is worse than paying $10 at the theater and coming out with no reaction whatsoever, good or bad (not that I ever saw Gigli but don't we all know that it just HAD to suck??!!)

In the end, I think what we saw with Miles and Jack, is something that we see all the time. A type of person that is humbled by their experiences, who thinks about lessons learned, and how they will move forward with those experiences, and the other type, who is kind of blind to what's going on around them, always puts themselves first and does whatever they want, and never seems to change their behavior for any reason or any person.
underdog
post #15  on January 27, 2005 - 3:29 PM PST  
Amen to that.

I thought, apropos to this discussion y'all might be interested in what Alexander Payne had to say on the subject of likeable characters (in a recent interview in Screenwriter Magazine):

"I just want them to be real and human. I think because we write comedies, even if you don't like the people that much, there's truth and humor to them. Even if the characters aren't so sympathetic the film will be sympathetic because of its point of view toward the characters. Who do you really like in The Godfather? Who do you really like in A Clockwork Orange? There's a big difference between liking characters as people, as human beings, and liking them as characters. Who gives a shit about Othello? We like Iago. He's delicious. We don't like him personally, we wouldn't want to hang out with him, but as a character he's the lead.

I'm more interested in movies where you as an audience member feel implicated in what's going on. Maybe you've met people like that or seen people like that. I love many different types of movies, but the one's that I'm interested in making are much more about people recognizing themselves or people they know. Cinema at the same time has become much more unreal as compared to how it was in the 60s and certainly the 70s. I find very few people in mainstream American cinema who have much connection to anyone I know."

kingturtle
post #16  on February 25, 2005 - 6:22 PM PST  
"Every time we see or hear sex in this movie the women have the same fetish: they want to be spanked and punished and treated like children. Maya might not've been like that but we didn't see that sex scene."

That's the point - you didn't get to see the sex scene between between Maya and Miles - because it was genuinely intimate - not even the camera was allowed in there. All the other sex is the movie was raw #$%*ing. The Maya/Miles moment was emotional, and touching, and very different - that's why we don't see it - for respect. for symbolism juxtaposed against the raw stuff.

IMHO.
ahogue
post #17  on May 4, 2005 - 1:28 PM PDT  
Looks like this topic died, but here are a few of my thoughts which I haven't seen addressed so far.

I am sympathetic to the feminist cause as I understand it (i.e., as seeking gender equality), but such interpretations trouble me. Consider what kind of movie seems to be posited by such a critique as the ideal film. Cat suggested it might be a typical romantic comedy, but I don't think that's quite right.

It seems to me the ideal film would be a rather flat morility play. We can have bad characters, but the film must make certain that the audience knows that they are bad and that the filmmakers don't like them. Since the traits of any individual character are interpreted as reflecting an entire group to which that character belongs, on the other hand, it is hard to imagine how the ideal film would have any bad characters at all, since as someone else pointed out earlier, they would all be potentially offensive in some way.

Of course this means that all characters, regardless of the film's moral stance toward them, are basically allegorical, and the film's ultimate aim is moral instruction of an unpleasantly didactic variety.

I don't think this is the sort of filmmaking I'd like to see, and I do not think it gives the audience credit as being anything more than passive receptors, which as a member of that audience I find very annoying. So it bothers me a little when movies are criticized on such terms.
Cinenaut
post #18  on May 5, 2005 - 8:45 AM PDT  
Kiki's Delivery Service is an example of what a good feminist film might be, I think.

ahogue
post #19  on May 5, 2005 - 9:34 AM PDT  
> On May 5, 2005 - 8:45 AM PDT Cinenaut wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Kiki's Delivery Service is an example of what a good feminist film might be, I think.
> ---------------------------------

I haven't seen that one. I love the Miyazaki I have seen, but I can't help but wonder if it's significant that this movie is considered to be for children? Not exactly the realm of moral complexity, children's movies, which would seem to support my idea that critiques like the above (not any possible feminist critique of course, but this particular sort) ultimately demand a kind of simplistic moral schematism.

This is an interesting question, though. What other films would people say are good feminist films?
MMcDonough
post #20  on May 11, 2005 - 10:57 PM PDT  
I just thought this flick was boring. These characters as real people? Not on my block. Characters obviously don't need to be Ideals, but there does have to be a hook that helps you connect, somehow. Especially for something to be funny. Add the meaningless pseudo-expertise re: wines, and the schmalzification factor (I'd give it an 11), and I say go back to the drawing board.

A feminist movie? Interesting question. Maybe a little clarification as to what you mean by that?
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