Sunday, May 18, 2014

Chick Flick Deconstruction: How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days (Introduction)




Benjamin Barry is an advertising executive and ladies' man who, to win a big campaign, bets that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. Andie Anderson covers the "How To" beat for "Composure" magazine and is assigned to write an article on "How to Lose a Guy in 10 days." They meet in a bar shortly after the bet is made.


I kind of made a deal with myself when I started these chick flick deconstructions, and indeed this blog. I wanted to be positive, highlight movies that are sold as dippy crap but have a real core of worthwhile messages and characters underneath. I wanted to shine a light on the fact that just because a movie is for women doesn't mean it's vapid and toxic.

But this movie keeps coming up in all the lists of Top However Many Chick Flicks Of All Time, and it certainly does fit my three criteria, down to the unofficial fourth rule that its another one of those movies that critics hate but people love. So I decided to give it a go, hoping to be pleasantly surprised, as I often am when it comes to these movies. I ended up regretting every single solitary second of it. This thing is vile. It is actively malicious. It is hateful. As I watched it, thick black poison oozing from the DVD drive, I became keenly aware of the minutes and brain cells burned from my life like warts from my ass, and it was no less painful. This movie is so socially backwards I suspect it is secretly a magic incantation to bend time and kill Susan B. Anthony. It is so anti-feminist I went to the kitchen and made a sandwich. So why am I deconstructing it on my happy blog of butterflies and unicorn farts? Because I had to watch it. I suffered. And I'm taking you all down with me.

Gender Essentialism: the Movie. It's about how women are like this and men are like that and what about them airline peanuts? Coincidentally it is also the exact combination of sequential images and noises evil scientists implanted in my subconscious to trigger my secret superpower as a hulking rage-beast. I had to watch the entire thing in five minute chunks, because I saved up a lot of money to buy a nice laptop and punching it would be financially irresponsible. It didn't help, because even when it wasn't playing I could hear the movie mocking me from the confines of the disk.

"You like shoes," it whispered. "You love them more than pink ribbons and shiny things and boys. You shameful cow."


Let's go.

(Content note: everything. Just... everything. But mostly gender essentialism, fat-shaming, internalized misogyny in women, gendered slurs, swearing, shoddy journalism, Pussy Golem.)

Before I can even begin the scene-by-scene rundown, I have to say that I have no idea who this movie is for. This kind of movie is usually marketed to what you could call, in two words, the non-existent "Cosmo Girl," if you would like to be reductive about such things. Only it can't be, because both the filmmakers and the main character hate those women just so very much and don't miss any chance to shove our faces in the fact that women who like traditionally feminine things are vapid and stupid and shallow and possibly evil, just saying. It can't be for women who, like the main character, look down their nose at the Cosmo Girl and would rather talk about sports and politics, because every joke in the movie relies on the viewer agreeing that haha, girls are different (and also stupid). It can't be for women who enjoy a good romance, because the entire plot of the movie is two loathsome people making each other miserable but then they kiss at the end. It can't be for men, because nooooooope. So I guess I'm going to have to stamp this thing "not fit for human consumption."

Can that be the entire deconstruction? No? I should stop stalling and get on with it? Alright.

The opening scenes introduce us to our leading lady Andie. She works for Cosmopoli- I mean Composure magazine as the "How To" columnist and straight off the bat, we know she doesn't want to. Because Andie, you see, wants to write about politics. Don't worry if you don't catch that the first time, she'll only remind us every ten seconds of screentime. She's very good at real journalism though. Even her friend says she's brilliant. Which is weird to me, because she apparently copy-pasted her article about peace in Tajikistan from, makes no suggestions on how to achieve peace in Tajikistan, then caps it off smugly proclaiming that her non-solution is the solution that has been eluding diplomats, journalists and politicians for ages.

"Oh, human rights and an economy! That's what we were missing! Boy, is there egg on my face!"

I wonder what she thought would happen when she took a job as a columnist at Cosm- sorry, Composure.

"Holy moley, you're right," chirps the editor-in-chief, fake eyelashes fluttering in womanly bafflement. "Our beauty and fashion glossy should devote itself to covering ongoing political conflict in former Soviet satellite nations! Gee golly!"

I really think this is what Andie thought would happen, because she never fails to roll her eyes and sigh in disgust when her editor asks her to do her goddamn job. And I may have been misinformed, but columnist jobs at nationally distributed magazines don't fall into your lap the second you graduate from journalism school. I know this was the blessed year 2003 and we still lived in the magical unicorn land where people could do such wonderful things like get jobs and get paid a living wage to do them and whatnot, but come on. That's the kind of job you work towards and make compromises to get. This is not an entry level job you take to get ahead in the company. It's like making a movie about someone who wants to be president but has to take a job as a lowly senator just to pay her rent. I have a hard time believing Cosmoposure didn't take one look at Andie rolling her eyes at their silly little rag and kicked her smug ass all the way to the nearest unemployment line.

Oh, she also puts on a Valley Girl accent to mock the women who read her column, in case you still liked her at this point.

It's okay for Andie to be smug and unprofessional though, because unlike all the other vapid little things that populate the offices, she likes sports. Oh, you know it's a zany comedy now, folks! Sports, of all things! A girl! Oh, what a magical tapestry of whimsy they weave!

Look, I'm sorry. I'd dial it back if I could. It's like this movie stuck its greasy finger right up the sarcasm center of my brain and just keeps right on poking.

We're also introduced to Andie's friend and co-worker Michelle, who opens the door like this:

Take a guess here. Michelle is upset and crying about:

  1. The looming economic depression that will put smug yuppies who turn up their nose at being columnists for national magazines out of a job
  2. A man
  3. The tense situation in Tajikistan

Trick question, it's all three. Or at least that's what I tell myself while she keeps wailing to comedy music about how a guy she dated for a week dumped her. If you feel I'm being cruel to Michelle for being sad about this, I agree, it is cruel. But nowhere near as cruel as Andie and the director of this film are.

I really should have introduced Michelle as this movie's punchline to every joke about how stupid women who aren't Andie are, because that's how the movie treats her. Michelle's thing is that she keeps pushing guys away by doing all the wrong things that silly women do and men hate. Her big crime, in this case, was becoming so emotional during sex with this guy that she cried and said she loved him, and that's why she is hopeless and weird and stupid. This, no joke, is the entire set-up for the movie. Because at an editorial meeting, Andie realizes that she can exploit her friend's pain by writing a column about How To Lose a Guy In Ten Days. Oh hey, that's the title of the movie!

Here's how it plays out in the movie:

Michelle: Lana, I can't use my personal life for a story. 
Lana: I understand completely. Who will use Michelle's personal life for a story?
Lori: I'll do it!
Michelle: Lana, with all due respect, Lori has no business mucking around in my personal life, and I can't... I can't let her.
Andie: l'll do it.
Michelle: What?
Andie: I'll sort of do it. lt's... You will be my inspiration.
Lana: For? 
Andie: Look at Michelle. She is a great girl, right? An amazing woman. But she has a problem hanging onto relationships, and doesn't really know what she's doing wrong, which is like a lot of our readers. So, l was thinking that l could start by dating a guy, and then drive him away, but only using the classic mistakes most women, like Michelle, make... all the time. l'll keep a diary of it, and it will be sort of a... What not to do.

Here's how it plays out in the movie that lives in my head:

Andie: Look at Michelle. She is a great girl, right? An amazing woman. But she has a problem hanging onto relationships, and doesn't really know what she's doing wrong, which is like a lot of our readers. So, l was thinking that l could start by dating a guy, and then drive him away, but only using the classic mistakes most women, like Michelle, make... all the time. l'll keep a diary of it, and it will be sort of a... What not to do.
Michelle: Wow, that is the most condescending thing I have ever heard. Not only do you trample all over my clearly stated wish to not have my personal pain exploited, you're going to do it in such a way that makes me out to be an idiot to all my colleagues, superiors and loved ones, and propose this in front of my editor so I can't object. 
Andie: But it's cute and twee!
Michelle: No, it's demeaning and cruel.
Lana: I agree. For someone who hates us all so very much, you sure are eager to throw your friends under the bus and torture some innocent guy with gender stereotypes to crank out this column you don't give two shits about. 
Lori: I think we should all ignore Andie until she apologized to Michelle for being so horrible.
Lana: Yes, that sounds wise and decent. I also propose we do not interact with her until she stops belittling all of us for doing our jobs.
All: Agreed.
[Andie goes home, has a good long think and decides not to be horrible anymore. She apologizes to Michelle and learns to be thankful for the job she has while putting out resumes to publications she would actually enjoy writing for. The end.]

Now that I think about it, Michelle's problem isn't that she gets overexcited in relationships. Her problem is that she has shitty friends who tear down her self-esteem at every possible turn and constantly chide her for doing relationships "wrong." Don't be yourself, Michelle! That won't work! You are awful! Instead, be exactly like our magazine tells you to be! That'll help you get that most coveted of all things: a man.

At this point it's worth pointing out that I have little to no respect for magazines like Cosmo who's only job it is to tell women that they're useless if they're not in a hetero-normative relationship, and even if they are, they're so shitty and frumpy and fat they're probably going to lost that relationship anyway. In fact I take great pleasure in seeing that sort of thing torn right the fuck down. But if I were somehow forced to make a movie about that sort of thing, ostensibly meant for people who read and agree with that sort of thing, I don't think I would splatter my personal distaste all over the screen like so much wasted moisturizer. This movie is like a layer cake of cultural indoctrination: be the Cosmo Girl despite what you might want from life, but also know that people rightfully look down on the Cosmo Girl, so add a layer of quirkiness like sports and not liking Cosmo Girls to the mix. Top it off with the rotten cherry of low self esteem and you're the perfect and deeply unhappy 21st century woman! You're welcome.

Anyway, everyone thinks this is a great idea, and Andie sets out to find herself a victim. I mean date. Why she can't pull this awful column out of her ass and preserve her dignity and some poor guy's feelings is beyond me, but go with it.

So Andie is a hardcore misogynist. There's no two ways about that, and the movie doesn't seem to realize it. She looks down on her friends for being feminine, she hates the women's magazine she works for and will continue to reaffirm in almost every scene she's in that she loathes and disrespects women as much as the designated "ladies' man" (code: sexist jerk) does. Like any misogynist, she has created a slapdash mental golem of stereotypes and cliches that represents "all women" and the rest of the movie is mostly her trying to imitate the Pussy Golem.

And since internalized misogyny in women is a tricky subject, at this point I want to make it clear that I am talking about Andie as a fictional character. The writers and creators of this movie are so unimaginably unaware of what misogyny is that they have not created a compelling representation of a real misogynist woman, just some loathsome fetch we are supposed to mistake for the real thing. Keep that in mind as the deconstruction continues, because it's very important. Andie isn't a real woman doing what she does by choice. She's a character being yanked around by what I can only assume are confused little aliens piloting the hollowed out corpses of the cast of Mad Men.

With all that established, the movie introduces us to Benjamin, who is a boy. I know that because his office is full of boy things.

Also, in the middle of this scene, he takes off his shirt for no other reason than he is being played by Matthew McConaughey. I am dead serious. While having a conversation with his co-workers, he just takes off his shirt. Like you do. It's not meant to be funny. It's meant to be pandering. But I laughed anyway. Get your yuks in now, because this is the only funny thing that happens in this comedy.

Anyway, Ben's thing is that he's an advertising... person (copywriter I think, but who the hell knows, definitely not an executive like the back of the box claims) who for reasons that will remain his own wants to write copy for a diamond peddler. But that job has been given to two female colleagues. They end up discussing this with their boss in a bar, where Andie is coincidentally hunting for her victim-date. It's a little convoluted, but the women claim that Benjamin isn't right for the job, because he doesn't understand the complicated and sacred relationship between women and diamonds. His baffling counterpoint is nuh-uh, he does too, and he can make any straight woman fall in love with him in ten days, because that will prove... diamonds... Yeah.

This conversation between Ben, his two colleagues and their boss requires some serious deconstruction. There is something offensive and downright wrong in every single line here, and you bet your ass I'm going to go over them one by freaking one.

Ben’s boss : Hello, Ben. What are you doing here?
Ben : Phil, I'm here for the meeting.
Green : But you weren't invited.
Ben : Yeah, but I should have been. 

Ben is a likable guy who respects professional boundaries and is definitely not going to get fired.

Ben : Now, to date, the diamond industry has always targeted men, sending the message that the woman needs the man to buy her the rock. All right, they say, "A diamond is forever." We say, "A diamond is for everyone."
Ben’s boss : I like that.
Spears : We don't. "A diamond is for everyone" sends the message that diamonds are everywhere, which means they're not rare, and if they're not rare, they lose their status. Status is the reason to buy them in the first place, which Benjamin would know if he understood women, which you don't.

Okay, diamonds are not rare. I, woman though I am, understand that, because I have absorbed facts with my brain. I'm only pointing this out because according to this movie, I am the only woman in the world to have successfully done so. 

Green : Selling a diamond to a woman is like making her fall in love. She has to feel giddy, desirous, adventurous, and desperate.

I think this movie has confused women with magpies.

Spears : I'm not talking about lust. A woman in lust wants chocolate. A woman in love wants diamonds.

Interesting facts, star traveler! On my planet, a woman in lust wants to fuck. A woman in love wants to be in an emotionally satisfying relationship. Please, tell me more about your strange space customs!

Ben : Look, I love women. I do. 

This is definitely not the battle cry of all misogynists everywhere.

Ben: Whether they're four, 40, or my 88-year-old grandmother, I respect women, all right? And I also listen to women, and that's why I can sell myself to any woman, anywhere, anytime.

Keep this statement in mind for, oh, about another twenty seconds.

Spears: Do you think you could make a woman fall in love with you by then?
Ben: Any single, available, straight woman--yes.
Ben: So, who's the lucky girl?
Green: Okay...Let's see here. Ooh, there's that blonde babe in the leopard print.
Ben’s boss: Whoa, ho, ho!
[They all laugh]

You want to know why everyone's laughing here, before they move on to the next woman? I mean victim?

Because she's a big ol' fatty! You see, Ben respects all women, within reason. He loves sexy young white skinny women, sexy older skinny white women... No, actually, that's about it. But can you blame the poor guy? He wants to win a bet to make a woman fall in love, and everyone knows fat women can't fall in love, or indeed have any feelings at all. And the longer I stare at this screenshot trying to figure out what the hell is so obscenely, comically wrong with this woman that it has our lovable protagonist in stitches, the less I see it. Because that big 'ol fatty is in the way! I'm so giddy I might poop!

Fat women aren't human.

Again I have to question who this movie is for. I mean, most of its intended audience is women, and most women aren't Hollywood-perfect, nor do they have any obligation to be. Do the writers of this movie know that? Do they know there's going to be women in the audience that look like the woman they're so viciously mocking? Are they just banking on the idea that all women have internalized their misogynist loathing so completely that they'll laugh and agree that yes, oh my, we are such unlovable cows.

I detest you, movie. I loathe and despise you. I would have to spend a lifetime studying the darkest and most unholy of D&D magic to adequately conjure up the hatred I so desperately want to project at you.

Anyway, after this bit of lighthearted silliness, they of course settle on Andie. IT's probably worth noting here that the two women making the bet know that Andie is writing her column and are setting Ben up to fail. It's also worth noting that these two women behave like Captain Planet villains for no adequately explained reason. I think the only direction the actresses were given on set was "Snidely Whiplash." There's absolutely no point to it. Except one thing that I can see. We've already established that Andie is horrible, so I think the only way the writers knew to make her look a little less loathsome is to make all other women either stupid or evil, like a live action romcom of Pinky and the Brain.

Ben accepts the bet and immediately gets all up in Andie's personal space and backs her up against a wall. Just cuts her right off without so much as a how-do-you-do and forces her to stop walking and pay attention to him. This guy goes from zero to supercreep in literally three seconds flat. It turns out Andie doesn't mind, but holy shit, can you imagine if she had?

Literally the first three seconds of their meet-cute and there's nowhere for her to run.

Both having sunk their venomous claws into what they believe to be an unsuspecting and innocent victim, they leave the bar to begin their courtship. Their awful, sexist, abusive courtship.

So there's your setup, conflict and cause of your ulcer all rolled into one. Andie wants to trick a guy into dumping her by acting out her idea of what these stupid women who aren't her do wrong to write a column she doesn't give two shits about. He wants to win a bet with two equally awful women to make her fall in love with him to get some sort of advertising contract. Basically both of our protagonists are loathsome turds, but keep in mind that neither of them knows this. Andie thinks Ben is just some guy looking for a date. Ben thinks the same of Andie. As far as they know, these are just innocent strangers looking to meet someone. And they're dead set on abusing the other's trust in order to humiliate them in national print and win a bet, respectively.

Who the hell am I rooting for here? Besides for the director to pull a George Lucas and try to erase this horrible movie from existence I mean.

I've decided I'm rooting for Michelle. Go Michelle!

With all this fuckery established, next time I can get into the many ways in which Andie imagines women are awful and hopefully use it as a teachable moment, try and extract some How Not To Be gems of truth from this pile of shit. This movie comes in a handy day-by-day format for ease of use, and I'm going to go over every single solitary awful moment day by day. Because trust me, it's not getting any better than this.

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