Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Movie Dweebs, Then and Now

For all the complaining about the unreality of the typical Seth Rogan or Kevin James movie scenario, wherein a dumpy no-hoper wins the heart of the princess, we should admit that these story lines have emerged only in the last few years.

Oh, yeah, there's Ducky.

Thing is, though, that Jon Cryer's character in Pretty in Pink, like Anthony Michael Hall's character in Sixteen Candles, were comic relief. The audience was never supposed to identify with them as romantic protagonists, and the females whose attentions they won, while certainly beautiful, were frankly ridiculous. So while it's certainly kind of Judd Apatow to pay tribute to John Hughes' work, Apatow and his contemporaries are doing something truly unprecedented.

In contrast, The Ugly Duckly/Cinderella scenario, wherein nerd girl undergoes a metamorphosis, has a long pedigree, from Molly Ringwald all the way to the present:

Obviously, Hollywood cheats the sh!t out of this storyline, too. The only actress that was ever remotely plausible in the ugly duckling role was Rosanna Arquette, and then only just. Few other actresses came close: it was obvious from the beginning that they were beautiful, and their efforts to appear otherwise, pre-metamorphosis, were as convincing as . . . well, as Taylor Swift's.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm not especially interested in complaints about how it's encouraging unrealistic expectations in men (although I will deal with this in the next post). I'm much more interested in explanations as to why this cultural phenomenom is emerging now. Whiskey addressed this question obliquely in two posts last year.


Anonymous said...

Even Ugly Betty, a show in which the main character's unattractiveness is the basic theme, cheats its way out of the storyline. Of course the producers weren't going to cast a plain young woman in the title role. Instead, they go with America Ferrera - at least an 8, perhaps even a 9 - and make her up to look "ugly."

Of course, I'm sure Seth Rogan and Kevin James are not at all nerdy in real life.


Burke said...

Peter: I can't speak to Kevin James' case, but after seeing Jimmy Kimmel's interview with Seth Rogan, I decided that Rogan has some mannerisms of the recovering nerd.

Burke said...

Consider these lyrics:

If you could see that I'm the one who understands you.
Been here all along, so why can't you see?
You, you belong with me, you belong with me.

Can you imagine Sheila's mockery if a guy wrote this?

Justin said...

Taylor Swift can look great when highly made up, but if you look carefully at her non-stock photos, I think you can see that she really is a bit of an ugly duckling. From her own recounting of her lifestory, she was an outsider growing up, not part of the pretty/popular crowd. Many of her songs reflect that "typical girl" teenager angst.

I get a real kick out of that particular song. It is Exhibit A on why you can never trust your flame with an opposite-sex "friend"; the song is all about her trying to rip her guy friend away from the hotter competition. And about how guys will put up with bad-attitudes and high-maintenance just to be with a hot girl. The lyrics are so sweet and sincere, but the relationship dynamics it references are cold blooded feminine warfare.

Burke said...

Justin: I guess I've never seen any non-stock photos. The worse thing I could say about her is that at some angles and lighting, she looks like she has a slight overbite.

YouTube put out a tour video that portrayed her with some nerd-girl mannerisms. Of course, that only increased her appeal, so I assumed that it was contrived. (Which kind of pissed me off. We in the nerd club have our unattractiveness standards, and we don't like being gamed.)

Taylor the songwriter is well known for her emotional range, but I'm prepared to be skeptical of her stories of teen angst. Where has she recounted her life story?

Good point on the relationship dynamics.

trumwill said...

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm not especially interested in complaints about how it's encouraging unrealistic expectations in men (although I will deal with this in the next post).

My complaints are as much geared towards the disservice it does towards guys than girls. Guys with elevated expectations are the first victims. Women who are their equals who are getting shafted because guys have these elevated expectations are secondary (I would probably consider this group to be primary if I were female). Women who have to shoot them down are tertiary.

The main reason why the Ugly Duckling plots cheat is that Hollywood quite simply does not have patience for women that are not beautiful. There are exceptions, but they're much more conspicuous than unattractive men.

As to why this plot has emerged in recent years (with the guy as the protagonist and not the comedy relief), I think that part of it is the stultification of male development. Or at least the perception among guys that growing up is not something that they have to do. Not something they want to do. So romantic comedies are easier to sell to guys when the protagonist embodies this ideal.

trumwill said...

Oh, I should note that I haven't actually seen the Kevin James movie. I was thinking more of slacker male movies like Knocked Up or Failure to Launch. But a movie starring someone like Kevin James sells a similar sort of message wherein the guy does not have to actually improve himself or make himself more desirable to win the love of the woman. That's an easy message for guys to sign on to. Particularly in our culture where male achievement is not particularly valued amongst men in the demographics most likely to blow their money on movies.

Justin said...

"I'm prepared to be skeptical of her stories of teen angst. Where has she recounted her life story"

I read it in a magazine! ha It was one that my wife subscribes to, Womans Day or something. She grew up in PA, a bit of an outsider, especially because of her love for country music. She recounted being made fun of and excluded quite a bit when she was young, and she seemed to take great pleasure in proving her detractors wrong. Although an overused plot line, it seemed heartfelt in her case when I read it. She taught herself to play guitar, started writing music, and her parents moved her to Nashville when she was in her early teen years.