Thursday, May 22, 2014

Chick Flick Deconstruction: How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days (Day One and Two)

Before I start part two (part one being right here) I'm going to start by repeating two very, very important things to remember throughout:

  1. Neither of the leads has any idea that the other is horrible. As far as they know, they are emotionally manipulating and abusing an innocent person.
  2. Andie is not just being generically horrible to get Ben to dump her. She is writing a piece about common mistakes women make that drive men away.

I'm going to be banging that particular drum a whole lot, and it will get old soon enough, but I'm going to do it anyway. Because it's so very important to remember how loathsome these people are and how hollow, creepy and downright depressing this comedy is. Off we go. How do we lose a guy in ten days, Andie?

Change Your Mind About Consenting to Sex


Holy shit, movie.

Ho. Ly. Shit.

(Content note: slut-shaming, brief mention of rape and consent issues, Ben and Andie are loathsome.)

Okay, let's back up a little. Ben takes Andie to a restaurant that same evening so they can get to know each other better. He wants her to like him and eventually fall in love with him. He does this by making fun of her job, spouting sexist remarks at a rate of two per sentence and chewing with his mouth open.

Andie for her part, well...

No, Andie. That is not how it works. You work for Cosmoposure. They are a glossy magazine. They will always be a glossy magazine. You boss has shown no particular like or dislike towards you. And she has told you to do your job. No promises of getting to do "whatever you want" were made at any point. The reward for doing your job is that you get to keep your job. Does Andie throw a hissy fit when she realizes this way later than she should have? Yes. Yes she does. Spoilers I guess.

I'm sick of this already. Let's take another peek at the movie that lives in my head.

Ben: Okay, now that we're out of there... Hear me out, because this is going to sound crazy, but I promise you its true. See, my coworkers and boss suckered me into this stupid bet that I could make you fall in love with me.
Andie: Wow, that's horrible. They are horrible.
Ben: They sure are. I'll totally understand if you walk out of here right now, I realize this is really strange and awkward. I'll never contact you again as long as I live if you say the word, but if you could play along that would be really great.
Andie: This is such a funny coincidence. My boss is making me write a column and she wants me to emotionally abuse some poor guy!
Ben: Wow, that is even more horrible and convoluted than my horrible convoluted thing.
Andie: It sure is. But see, if we both pretend to date for a while we can both get that thing we want without being loathsome to innocent people.
Ben: You show up at this party and tell my boss you love me!
Andie: And I pull this column out of my ass like I was going to do anyway!
Ben: That'll show those sexist jerks!
Andie: Totally! Hey, I've got tickets for that game we both want to see. Let's go together on a date and fall in love why not!
[They do. The end.]

I would totally watch a movie in which Andie and Ben mess with their horrible, horrible co-workers in comedic fashion. But no, that's not the movie we signed up to watch, is it? We want to see two people emotionally abuse each other, don't we? Yes we do. So let's do that next.

Andie goes with Ben to his apartment and slips into the bathroom to call Michelle, to whom she reveals the first of the horrible things she plans to do, one of those things women do that drives men away: pretend she wants to have sex, then pretend to change her mind.

She doesn't answer "sex. Sex is the bait." Not that that would be any better, but it would be more truthful. Instead she pointedly says that she is the bait. This is either a look inside the mind of Andie or that of the writers, because that is definitely something said by a woman who has internalized the message that her entire worth is tied to her willingness to have sex at just the right time. I should mention in that context this lovely little exchange that occurs just a few seconds earlier:

Michelle: You are, aren't you? The first night. I can't believe you!
Andie: Michelle, I'm not going to sleep with him.
Michelle: Oh, you are such a hussy.
Andie: No, no, because I can practice some self-control, unlike some people I know.

This thing just will not die, will it? I can't believe this is still something that needs to be said, but if you want to sleep with a guy, freaking do it. If he's a jerk afterwards, fine, you had sex, and you probably didn't want to hang out with a jerk anyway. If he's up for more, also fine, plus you had sex, and maybe after that more sex. Enough with this backwards The Rules bullshit about what the objectively correct sexing schedule is. Scheduling sex by someone else's arbitrary rules is creepy and limiting. Having sex when you feel like having sex is sexy and neat.

Or slut-shame your friends. That works too. 

I am officially no longer rooting for Michelle.

But okay, this is the plan now. Be horrible to Ben by turning him on, then changing your mind. It plays exactly as creepy and uncomfortable and sad as you think it does. And it's such a shameless and hateful way to treat something as serious as consent. I don't think the writers of this movie know that they live in a world where a woman's consent, once given, is interpreted by some men as an all-access pass to her body. They don't seem to know or care that they have put their main character in a situation they think is funny, but that for many real women leads to rape. And the fact that they strongly imply that this is one of the ways women turn men off is just maddening. Because the message then, to the women in the audience, is that to successfully keep a partner, they can't ever change their mind about consenting to sex. Because that is something horrible women do. It's just... I can't even rage-joke about this. It's too sad.

It's also a telling glimpse into the mind of Ben, who doesn't exactly cover himself in glory either. The reason he pretends not to want sex is because is his mind, men who respect women don't have sex right away. Because again, only bad, slutty people have sex on a first date. And to have sex with a woman is equal to disrespecting her. He doesn't stop when she pretends to change her mind. He stops because it would be disrespectful to go on (as opposed to, you know, rape.)


Andie leaves, and Ben waves goodbye from the balcony. Then they both mumble to nobody in particular.

I'm just pissing myself with glee here.

Moving on to day two, in which Andie illustrates the second way women are commonly nasty to men.

Asking for untimely favors 

A while ago a very interesting post appeared on Captain Awkward. It talks about Ask vs. Guess culture. I really recommend you read that post and the links to get the idea, but in a nutshell, it's posited that when it comes to asking and granting favors, there's two types of people: Ask people who simply ask for whatever they want, expect "no" to be one of the possible answers and are totally okay with that "no." They tend to assume the same of others. When they are asked a favor, they are comfortable saying no. Guess people avoid asking for anything until they are fairly certain the answer will be "yes" and also expect the same of others. When they are asked a favor, they feel strong internal pressure to say yes. As you can intuit from that, Ask and Guess people have some distance to close when it comes to personal interaction. Neither position is right or wrong, but they can be incompatible.

I'm going to ask you to keep this in mind for later. But first, creepiness.

As it turns out Andie has intentionally "forgotten" her purse in Ben's apartment. This allows the menfolk at his office to gather around this sacred artifact of womanhood and prod and poke it like Indiana Jones trying to swipe an ancient treasure, only no boulder falls on them, which I think is a missed opportunity. This is barely hyperbole on my part:

Yeah, there's that. Or maybe it's her secret source of stuff that nobody at all should paw through for reasons of privacy. But let's not acknowledge that, it would spoil the funny observation that men and women are different you guys! They may as well be from different planets! Like, say Mars and Venus!

This movie's premise was dated literally eleven years before it came out, and I know what the word literally means.

So no rocks fall, nobody dies. Instead they paw at the purse until its contents spill on the floor by total accident and they can marvel at the weird lady things inside. Including the Knicks tickets Andie has, because she is a-typical in that she is a women who enjoys sports and I'm just marveling at what a swanky rebel she is, hanging with the boys like that.

Before anyone accuses me of being a humorless nag and deliberately ignoring that this is a joke, (not that this happens often on feminist blogs, but just to be sure) I know this is a joke. The premise of the joke is that men and women sure are different, huh? This was a bad joke a century ago and it's a bad joke now.

Oh hey, speaking of movies that were made nearly a goddamn century ago, and keeping with my personal mantra that on the graph of history, social progress is not exactly a straight line upward, have a gander at this:

Isn't that just a nice splash of lemony freshness straight to the eyeballs?

Moving on.

So the ape people who we're supposed to confuse for human men find the tickets for the basketball game that Andie was going to with a friend, and Ben calls up Andie at the office. Andie, in the meantime, has received a hundred roses at her workplace from the guy she met the evening before. It's here where I'm starting to see why it is that Ben is such a desirable ladies' man, because that is totally not creepy and invasive.

Anyway, he calls her up. Again, I need to quote the entire conversation for you to properly appreciate how bad this gets:

Andie: Andie Anderson.
Ben: Hey, hey, pretty girl.
[He puts her on speaker]
Andie: Guess what? I got a really embarrassing display of white roses.
Ben: Well, you are welcome. Listen, l had a wonderful time last night. I have your bag.
Andie: Ah, l know. I can't believe l left it there.
Ben: Yeah, well, you must need it back, what with all the cash, credit cards, and... those Knicks tickets for tonight's game.
Andie: Sounds like you've been peeking through my bag, Ben.
Ben: Oh, absolutely not. Tony, my Art Director, he's an oaf, and he accidentally knocked it over.
Tony: Right! Yeah, I'm a clumsy man.
Andie: All right, I'm sorry, though. I'm going to the game with somebody else.
Ben: Not anymore. Besides, what? You think you left your purse at my place by accident? No. Subconsciously, you are dying to take me to that game. Denying your subconscious desires is extremely dangerous to your health, young lady.
Andie: Does that psycho-babble really work on anybody?
Ben: You tell me.
Andie: All right, meet me at the 7th Avenue entrance. Don't be late.
Ben: You got it. Bye-bye.
Andie: Bye.
[They hang up]
Ben: And that's how it's done.
Andie: And that's how it's done.

This is not how it's done!

Every line here is just wrong, but if you did it right, you've been reading this as a very strained and contentious conversation. The movie does not agree with you on that. On Ben's end, we get sexy sax, like a softcore porn movie is about to break out. On Andie's end, we get giggly comedy music. This is supposed to be funny and smooth and not horrifying. So I feel the overwhelming need to point out why the movie is wrong about that.

First, he puts her on speaker. Do not do that. Always ask people if it's okay to put them on speaker, or at least tell them you're doing it, and tell them who is in the room with you. Yes, I'm going Miss Manners here. Because considering the stuff that comes after, this bugs the hell out of me.

Ben calls a grown woman he has no intimate relationship with "girl" and "young lady." Your mileage may vary, but I find that paternalistic and condescending as fuck.

Andie mentions the roses and uses the word "embarrassing." We the audience can see her smile as she says this. Ben cannot. For all he knows, he really did embarrass her in front of her co-workers and superiors and might even get in trouble for it. Instead of acknowledging this, he breezes straight past it with and attitude so smug and, again, condescending that I literally punched my own leg when this happened.

Ben absolutely went through her purse (and blames Tony, who was an accomplice at best) and throws out the lamest excuse ever, doesn't apologize and instead confronts her about the contents. It's pretty funny to me that this is actually what Andie planned for. She expected this to happen, that's why she left her purse in the first place, and nobody at all sees anything wrong or unusual about this.

She tells him the tickets, which he isn't supposed to even know about, are for her and friend. He simply tells her no. Just... nope. This is twice now that he's done this in the three scenes he's been in. First he invites himself to a meeting he is flat out told he isn't invited to, then he invites himself to Andie's game without leaving any room for protest. This is supposed to show that Ben is confident, but it just comes off as pushy and creepy. Your plans and wishes are irrelevant to Ben, whom I must stress is a legendary ladies' man who deeply respects women, and listens to them, and that's why women love him. Remember when he said that in all earnestness? I'm calling it: that's the second actually funny joke in this movie. Moo with me.

He flat out tells Andie what she was thinking, doing, and what she wanted when she left her purse. He's right, but he couldn't possibly have known that. This is just how Ben operates. Just straight up tells her. Again, I want you to imagine that Andie is just a nice girl with no ulterior motive. Isn't that just creepy as fuck? Wouldn't you worry for her safety and well-being even if he didn't have his own stupid plot going on and was just trying to date her? I worry about the women Ben has been with, I really do.

I had a brief glimmer of hope that this movie knew how horrible this is when Andie uses the word "psycho-babble." For a fraction of a second, before I remembered what movie I was watching, my brain shat itself and shouted "yes! You're absolutely right, Andie! This guy does sound like a psychopath! Your instincts are spot on and you should trust them!" Then reality hit and I realized she didn't mean psychopath, she meant psychologist.

Pro tip: if your psychologist ever talk to you like that, hold your keys between your knuckles and run as fast as you can.

If I were Michelle or the other friend, listening in on this conversation, I think I'd pull Andie aside and just tell her that I worry for her. Just once. I'd tell her that I don't think it's ethical to fuck with this dude, that I worry when she goes home with men who have an attitude like that and that I'm sensing a lot of red flags from this guy. I just don't think this column is worth it, Andie. I won't bring it up again, and I'm not trying to police your decisions, but I need you to know I love you and I worry about your well-being, and I just think this dude is bad news. 

I certainly wouldn't giggle and high-five this fuckery and stand in open-mouthed amazement of how clever and bad Andie is. But that's just me.

And speaking of the protagonists' friends, I'm insulted on behalf of all the men whom the movie implies are mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging shitheads who are totally cool with their buddy messing with this poor woman. Actually, no, let me just be insulted on my own behalf, no middle man needed.

So that's a lot of analysis for one minute of screen time, and remember that I'm only going over the most egregious stuff here. I could pick this movie apart line by line and find something horrible in every single one of them, and that's barely even hyperbole. Now obviously the movie banks on us knowing that both of them have ulterior motives. This is supposed to get us all lubed up and giddy for the shenanigans that are sure to follow. But I personally cannot divorce this entire premise from the fact that in-universe, both of them think they are fucking about with unaware victims. It's just too gross and prominent a plot point to sail past it like we are expected to. 

So my guess (and the best I can do here is guess) is that the movie wants us to see all this in one of two ways: either it wants us to acknowledge that they are both horrible and not care if anything bad happens to them, because they have it coming, or it wants us to just not think about it and enjoy the shenanigans. I am incapable and unwilling to do either. 

Cut to the basketball game, where Andie finally reveals her next ploy: to ask for a drink during a tense moment in the game. He really doesn't want to go get a drink for her, but doesn't say anything, she keeps asking, and he finally caves.

Remember when I brought up the Ask vs. Guess culture? This is where it comes into play. Because in the movie that lives in my head, and what a wonderful movie that is, here's how that goes:

Andie: Ben, could you get me drink? 
Ben: I'd love to, but I really want to see this sports thing that I understand is fairly tense. 
Andie: But I'm really thirsty. 
Ben: Tell you what, if this tense basketball situation here doesn't work out, I'll go get one straight away when it's not so tense. If it does work out, the game is over anyway and I'll get you whatever you want then. Either way you'll have a drink in less than five minutes. 
Andie: That is reasonable. Thank you. 
Ben: You are a nice person and I would like to date you some more.  
Andie: Neat, I feel the same. 
[The basketball thing resolves itself and Andie gets a drink. How wonderful.]

This is the only ploy Andie comes up with that I actually find plausible as a mistake people make in relationships. The movie of course frames this as women being naggy and unreasonable always (moo with me!) while I see it more as a mild conflict of ask vs. guess, a thing that actually happens between humans in all sorts of relationships regardless of perceived gender. But lest we forget, Andie is just doing what she thinks normal women commonly do to drive a man away. And Ben is trying to woo Andie, and here we see very clearly for the first time what his idea of wooing a woman is: just do whatever she says. I get he wants her to fall in love with him to win his bet, but I'm insulted and annoyed that this is how the writers make him go about doing it. That's basically his pattern for all of the comedy bits. Whatever insane request Andie throws at him in her quest to be the most annoying person on earth, his strategy is to do as she says always and quietly resent the hell out of her.

So let me be clear here. If your elevator pitch for afresh and zany comedy about relationships includes the word "pussy-whipped," you are not a person I would care to know, sir.

Comedic hi-jinks ensue, I suppose, when Andie predictably makes Ben miss the tense basketball situation resolution. (It may seem a little hypocritical of me to tear the movie a new one for treating women who enjoy sports as adorable little aliens while I can barely tell a soccer ball from a quarterback, but hush. I know exactly what I'm doing.) Zany comedy music plays us out as we end day two of this hilarious relationship, and I'm going to go and have a little cry.

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