Ethan Hawke

Post-Ripley Feminism in “Getaway”: How An Awful Film Can Matter

Selena-Gomez-The-Getaway

How do you make a terrible film, actress, and director infinitely more interesting?

Is it possible? Is it wise to use a terrible film to highlight discussion of gender politics in Hollywood?

These questions might never find answers, but a good place to start looking is in what we see onscreen and recognize first: The human body; the actress herself.

The majority of her lines amount to nothing more than fearful ejaculations. No doubt, her budding image as a young sex symbol—meant to inspire ejaculations of a different kind—is responsible for her landing the part in the first place. She’s pretty. She’s popular. She’s modestly talented. She epitomizes everything that makes celebrity such a shallow, superficial affair on all fronts. She’s Selena Gomez, and she stars in Getaway, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, due for release this Friday.

It was inevitable that a film helmed by the same man who gave us Dungeons & Dragons would be as terrible as it sounds on paper: a woman is kidnapped and her husband, Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke), is forced to indulge a crafty criminal mastermind (Jon Voight) and his diabolical wishes to retrieve her. “The Voice,” as Voight’s character is billed, outfits a car with cameras and microphones and forces Magna to steal it, coaching his victim through a series of illegal tasks with the goal of wreaking enough havoc on the city of Sofia, Bulgaria to distract police from a bank heist.

Courtney Solomon, the captain of this ill-fated shit-ship, hasn’t directed a film in nearly eight years, and it certainly shows. From the sloppy editing to the pitiful narrative logic, the film borders on incoherence unlike any other film I’ve seen in its final cut phase. It isn’t until Gomez’s character (known only as “The Kid”) enters the picture that the film takes on a slightly more enjoyable tone thanks (in part) to the unintentional hilarity of her casting. During my screening, the audience erupted with laughter as Gomez appears onscreen for the first time—clad in “tough girl” attire including a baseball cap and hood—pointing a gun into the car of Hawke’s character and demanding that he “get the fuck out.” She might as well have been a plush toy, and the gun a lollipop. Note to future filmmakers: babyface and intimidation aren’t synonymous.

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It turns out that the car Magna drives in fact belongs to The Kid. One thing leads to another, and we’re forced to endure 90 minutes of painstakingly pathetic excuses for chase scenes as Selena Gomez frantically screams in the passenger seat.

As annoying as Gomez is as a person, The Kid as a character is a rare highpoint in a murky sea of inadequacy, both in terms of the film and the industry that produced it. For starters:

A)     She’s young, and isn’t a sex object

In fact, as sexual as the real-life image of Selena Gomez is, she’s clothed in a bulky hoodie for the majority of the film. Usually roles like this are reserved for older actresses, ones that Hollywood deems as incapable of sexual appeal once they hit 40. But, the efforts undergone to desexualize The Kid are extensive. Her position in relation to Hawke’s character is merely coincidental and not founded on sexual attraction. They’re two people on an even playing field. He is married, and she’s just along for the ride. There’s never a moment where Magna’s determination to get to his wife is broken. The film doesn’t feel the need to justify her presence in relation to a male’s. After all, she actively pursues a male for reasons other than to capture his penis and use it to fulfill a part of her that’s missing; the girl just wants her car back, and uses a gun to try it. She sees herself on an even playing field, stepping to the much bigger Magna, and doesn’t seem like she’s trying to prove anything. Merely existing.

B)      She’s nobody’s property

Of course, The Kid is her father’s daughter.  But, as most children tend to be, they are their parents’ children. Gender, at least here, is irrelevant. She reveals that her dad owns numerous banks throughout the country, and that the car (a souped-up Mustang) was a gift for her 16th birthday. Here, we could have easily lost The Kid to a different kind of sexual marginalizing. She could have readily fallen into the “Daddy’s girl” category which defines so many teen girls in contemporary films. However, we never even meet her father throughout the film’s run. She mentions it once, and only again when the heist is revealed to be taking place at one of her father’s banks. In fact, she actually uses her knowledge of the intricate inner-workings of the bank system to foil The Voice’s plans. It’s Magna, in this situation, who is at the mercy of another man using a woman to bait him to do his bidding. For once we see a woman in a position of power (The Kid, of course, not the idiot who got herself kidnapped) and the male relegated to a one-note, cold-staring, heart-aching quest to retrieve the vagina he feels is rightfully his. As The Kid’s cunning shines through in key scenes, we also being to realize that:

C)      She’s not stupid

If she isn’t a sex object, isn’t someone’s girlfriend, isn’t at the mercy of her father, and isn’t conventionally “unattractive,” she has to have the intelligence of a paperweight, right? Wrong. We’re given little information about her home life, with the film only giving us enough information to satisfy our curiosity’s as to why she belongs in the film in the first place. She has a powerful father, but he remains unseen for the film’s entirety. He has money, but she doesn’t talk about spending it frivolously. She shows huge interest in computers and technology when confronted with the cameras-in-the-car-so-he’s-watching-us thing, prompting Magna to question her ability to handle things like hacking and rewiring. “Oh, a girl likes cars and computers. How butch. This is the 21st Century, you should try joining it,” she tells him, also speaking directly to the audience as we understand her as a smart, talented woman spitting in the face of so many other characters who would have just sat back and screamed the entire time while forming a sort of Stockholm Syndrome-esque attraction to the man driving the car.

The Kid is absolutely that girl, though, in a select few scenes. There must be pages of the script where The Kid’s only lines are things like “Slow down!” *screams* “Stop!” and “We’re going to die!”, but it’s easy to give her a pass because of what she represents as a character written with what seems to be feminist inspiration. It’s sad that female characters like this exist so rarely in these types of mainstream films that they have to be dissected in such a manner. This case is particularly interesting because The Kid is in a film that, by all means, no one should care about. It’s loud, it’s silly, and it’s stupid, and Solomon has to understand that he’s not taken seriously as a filmmaker given his lousy track record both directing and producing. The fact that The Kid is treated almost as an afterthought—and still exists free of the tropes usually plaguing contemporary female characters—is a true testament to how the filmmakers view women, and how women should be represented in film.

It’s a shame that the film is so terrible, and that the only other female character is such a pathetic excuse for a role, but her victimized status is balanced by a strong female character who ultimately becomes the most interesting, varied, and dynamic person throughout the film.

Sandra Bullock in "Gravity" - opens October 4th

Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” – opens October 4th

2013 has proven to be an amazing year for women in Hollywood. Sandra Bullock is earning rave reviews for her film-carrying performance in Gravity, Vera Farmiga similarly escaped sexual objectification and male-dependent status in The Conjuring, and the “Bridesmaids Effect” continues to work its magic as female-driven comedies like Identity Thief, The Heat, and The To-Do List make exponentially more than they cost to produce, while male-driven and targeted films with hefty price tags continue to sink.

The best way to think about Getaway, however terrible it might be, is to focus on these characters that are all interchangeable with the opposite gender. The Kid could have easily been a male with minimal script restructuring. As Brent and his wife could just as easily switched roles. It’s telling because the only other film that automatically pops into my mind when talking about interchangeable parts is Alien, which contains a script that was intentionally written so that each of the characters could be played by a man or a woman. The film doesn’t get any better, but this single element has given me more to talk about in terms of gender politics in Hollywood than Iron Man or The Lone Ranger.

While Getaway is lightyears away from the quality of Alien, at least we can credit Solomon for allowing Ripley to live on in the smallest of ways all these 34 years later.

Mining for Early Oscar Gold

Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Is it smooth, yet? The air?

Just curious, because I’ve had a hell of a time adjusting to the dust cloud that’s been accumulating on Blu-Ray copies of Argo.

Last year’s recipient of the Best Picture Oscar faded from prominence even faster than the previous year’s The Artist, a gimmicky Academy-pleaser in itself, thanks to a sympathy-based vote to accredit director Ben Affleck with some semblance of relevance as his career transitions from notable star to almost-there-but-not-quite-yet filmmaker. Whereas Argo‘s meritless win leaves a sour taste in my mouth, I’m more than happy to shake the Oscar etch-a-sketch and begin afresh with 2013’s crop of awards season contenders.

This year we welcome new talents to compete with industry mainstays. We harken back to the eras of social icons of years past and adapt their lives for a contemporary audience. We relish in a year that Meryl Streep’s potential to win a fourth Oscar increases dramatically. We revisit previously-published material with a fresh cinematic perspective; but, most importantly, we face another year of submission to The Weinstein Company which, if all tentative release dates remain unchanged, will see six of their distributed films as likely contenders at the next Oscar ceremony.

Here’s a look at a few other industry figures bound for greatness during the 2013 awards season.

It’s going to be a good year for:

Anyone involved with Fruitvale Station

The freshman feature effort from USC graduate Ryan Coogler is one of the buzziest films coming out of 2013’s festival circuit.

Having claimed both the Grand Jury and Audience prizes for a dramatic feature at Sundance as well as sashaying away from Cannes with Best First Film after screening in the Un Certain Regard section, Fruitvale Station is shaping up to be a major contender in at least three major categories.

Coogler’s film, about the real-life events surrounding the murder of Oscar Grant by an Oakland police officer, joins the ranks of other grim Sundance prizewinners like Winter’s Bone, Precious and Frozen River–which each went on to be recognized by the Academy with major nominations (and a few wins) in key categories.

The film hosts the breakout role for star Michael B. Jordan who, after having had minor roles in television (“Friday Night Lights”) and a few pictures (last year’s Chronicle), finally gets the chance to show his dramatic chops off for a wider audience.

Fruitvale Station seems poised to score nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor coupled with building momentum which could potentially push co-star (and Oscar-winner) Octavia Spencer into the Supporting Actress race, which could easily happen as the Weinsteins have acquired the film for distribution.

Besties Naomi Watts & Nicole Kidman…and dead cultural icons

It’s unfair to pit two actresses against each other for the sake of a gendered contest.

In the case of Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, however, the challenge will be how to endure the barrage of questions from reporters to the tune of “how does it feel to be nominated against one of your closest friends?” this awards season.

Both actresses are all but sealed into the Lead Actress category for their respective roles in Diana and Grace of Monaco (Watts in the former, Kidman in the latter).

Naomi Watts’ talents have catapulted her far past the point of simply “deserving” an Oscar; she’s one of the most talented and, on the other side of the coin, underrepresented actresses in the industry. Her work in films like Mulholland Drive, Ellie Parker, and The Assasination of Richard Nixon represent just a handful of performances overlooked by the Academy in relatively quiet seasons. She’s gaining status as an underdog, however, as she squeaked into the Lead Actress race last year for her brilliant turn as Maria Bennett in The Impossible, a race within which she was actually being predicted as a potential spoiler after Entertainment Weekly’s annual Oscar issue saw her name mentioned by a majority of anonymous Oscar voters who’d been interviewed a short time before the Oscars.

The Academy favors Lead female performances attached to roles based on real women in positions of political and/or social power; think winners like Helen Mirren in The Queen, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, and nominees like Cate Blanchett and her turn as the namesake royal in Elizabeth (and its poorly-received sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age).

Judging from Diana‘s trailer, the film will focus on the softer side of her notorious public identity which, I’m assuming, gives Watts a chance to show off her emotional depth instead of the usual controlled, stoic coldness that generally comes with these types of roles (as a side note, she’s also got a juicy role coming up in this year’s Adore, also starring Robin Wright).

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Kidman, on the other side of the coin, is far from a being a stranger to the Academy Awards. She’s an Oscar winner and a multiple-time nominee. While she had a buzzy-ish film floating around the perimeter of last year’s awards season (she made it into the Globes categories with The Paperboy), the Weinsteins will make sure that she has a spot amongst this year’s nominees for her turn as Grace Kelly.

The Weinsteins have a great track record for getting their actors nominated in major categories (Jacki Weaver’s spot in the Supporting Actress category was surely bought for her through “campaigning,” as she had no other right to be there), so Kidman’s pre-established Oscar identity is coupled nicely here with a Weinstein push.

It’s also interesting that these two roles are seeing the light of day in 2013 what with the incessant talk about social media, quick-fix fame, celebrity (and personal) accessibility, etc.

Both Princess Diana and Grace Kelly are posterchildren for the obsession with fame and its various aspects of decay. Diana of course died a highly-publicized death after the car she was riding in (manned by a drunk driver) crashed after a cat-and-mouse with paparazzi; Grace would die of a stroke/car crash combo after leaving a life of Hollywood luxury behind to marry a royal from Monaco (thereby becoming a princess). After only six years in the film industry (with one Academy Award under her belt), Kelly became one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema. In an age of post-internet accessibility, the public is growing increasingly bored with the flash-and-gimmick celebrities of the contemporary industry; Diana and Grace represent the mainstay of stardom and the impact of talent, presence, and prominence which takes on new meaning in an age of meaningless objectification, Facebook, selfies, and events that would later go on to inspire films like The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers.

Look for Watts and Kidman to both be nominated in the Lead Actress category.

Documentaries

Sarah Polley in Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley in Stories We Tell

Not many people can go from playing dumbed-down roles in horror films like Splice to directing emotionally-charged documentaries quite like Sarah Polley.

She killed zombies in Dawn of the Dead (2004) and wrote/directed indie dramas like Take This Waltz, and now she’s taking a stab at a scripted-documentary hybrid with Stories We Tell, which chronicles her life as the product of an extramarital affair.

Polley weaves in staged footage recreating her early life with interviews with her family, piecing together her history funneled through a narrative perspective while maintaining the cinematic resonance of an objective documentary. The documentary is garnering the best reviews of Polley’s career, earning a spot on the Toronto International Film Festival’s Top 10 Canadian films list as well as making a few minor splashes at festivals around the world.

Other notable documentaries releasing in 2013 include the polarizing-yet-provocative We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and 20 Feet From Stardom.

The Coen Brothers

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On the heels of their True Grit remake, the Joel & Ethan Coen return with Inside Llewyn Davis, which took the Grand Prix Award at Cannes and continues to work the festival circuit until its release smack dab in the middle of Oscar season this December.

Earning rave reviews from critics, the Coens take a step back from some of their darker subject matter and instead draw on inspiration from the folk music scene in the 1960s. The film stars a slew of talented actors from John Goodman and Carey Mulligan to Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver.

The Academy generally loves the Coens, as many of their past films have been nominated for screenwriting. It takes a film like No Country For Old Men, however, for nominations and sentiment to lead to ultimate gold; it is, to date, their only picture to have won the top prize at the Oscars. Inside Llewyn Davis will be nominated in major categories ranging from Best Picture to Best Original Screenplay, not garnering enough momentum to match No Country‘s prestige yet scraping up a few more nominations than 2009’s A Serious Man or 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Art Films

Nebraska film still

Before Midnight is currently slaying critics and audiences alike. Nebraska and Only God Forgives are respectively setting festivals and trade papers abuzz with claims of epic quality of script and performance. No, this isn’t the early 90s, it’s 2013, and the art film scene is heating up the pre-awards season circuit already.

While Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are busy predicting the “implosion” of the film industry thanks to big-budget studio productions not just cornering a niche market, but backing the entire market into a corner it can’t escape from (funny Spielberg would say this as a criticism and then proceed to executive produce Transformers 4 set for a 2014 release), a select few art films seem poised for Oscar greatness this year.

Before Midnight seems likely to receive a nomination in the Adapted Screenplay category (Before Sunset received one nine years ago amidst the growing cult status for the series, now three entries in), and Nebraska could sneak into the Lead Actor category (Bruce Dern was named Best Actor at Cannes for this role) while Only God Forgives might afford Kristin Scott Thomas a nomination in the Supporting Actress category if her buzz runs consistent through the end of awards season.

Also circling the Oscars in the art film department is Frances Ha, written by actress Greta Gerwig and filmmaker Noah Baumbach and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.

2013 will also be good to:

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Anyone associated with The Past (Berenice Bejo, Asgard Farhadi)
Horror films (The Conjuring is getting early rave reviews as it screens at festivals, The Purge is one of the sleeper hits of the summer)
Matthew McConaughey (snubbed for Magic Mike, he’ll be rewarded with recognition for either Mud or The Wolf of Wall Street)

…and, of course, the Weinstein’s wallets.