July 17, 2007, - 2:35 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
. . . in which men are slacker-losers and the women are put-together, directed, smart careerists? Movies like “Knocked Up,” etc.?
Well, so is The New Yorker film critic David Denby. Read his excellent (but long) “A Fine Romance: The New Comedy of the Sexes.” Here’s an excerpt:
His beard is haphazard and unintentional, and he dresses in sweats, or in shorts and a T-shirt, or with his shirt hanging out like the tongue of a Labrador retriever. He’s about thirty, though he may be younger, and he spends a lot of time with friends who are like him, only more so–sweet-natured young men of foul mouth, odd hair, and wanker-mag reading habits. When he’s with them, punched beer cans and bongs of various sizes lie around like spent shells; alone, and walrus-heavy on his couch, he watches football, basketball, or baseball on television, or spends time memorializing his youth–archiving old movies, games, and jokes. Like his ancestors in the sixties, he’s anti-corporate, but he’s not bohemian (his culture is pop). He’s more like a sullen back-of-the-classroom guy, who breaks into brilliant tirades only when he feels like it. He may run a used-record store, or conduct sightseeing tours with a non-stop line of patter, or feed animals who then high-five him with their flippers, or teach in a school where he can be friends with all the kids, or design an Internet site that no one needs. Whatever he does, he hardly breaks a sweat, and sometimes he does nothing at all.
He may not have a girlfriend, but he certainly likes girls–he’s even, in some cases, a hetero blade, scoring with tourists or love-hungry single mothers. But if he does have a girlfriend she works hard. Usually, she’s the same age as he is but seems older, as if the disparity between boys and girls in ninth grade had been recapitulated fifteen years later. She dresses in Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren or the like; she’s a corporate executive, or a lawyer, or works in TV, public relations, or an art gallery. She’s good-tempered, honest, great-looking, and serious. She wants to “get to the next stage of life”–settle down, marry, maybe have children. Apart from getting on with it, however, she doesn’t have an idea in her head, and she’s not the one who makes the jokes.
When she breaks up with him, he talks his situation over with his hopeless pals, who give him bits of misogynist advice. Suddenly, it’s the end of youth for him. It’s a crisis for her, too, and they can get back together only if both undertake some drastic alteration: he must act responsibly (get a job, take care of a kid), and she has to do something crazy (run across a baseball field during a game, tell a joke). He has to shape up, and she has to loosen up.
There they are, the young man and young woman of the dominant romantic-comedy trend of the past several years–the slovenly hipster and the female straight arrow. The movies form a genre of sorts: the slacker-striver romance.
You get the point. Hollywood hates successful, good, decent, hard-working men. But loves those characteristics on women.
And life imitates art . . . after a while of Hollywood constantly hitting young men (and women) over the head with this view.
Tags: A Fine Romance, baseball, basketball, corporate executive, David Denby, film critic, football, Knocked Up, lawyer, public relations, Ralph Lauren, The New Yorker, Yorker film critic