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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Beauty or brawn? The dilemma of today’s leading lady

In today’s USA Today, film critic Michael Medved laments today’s female roles, which he says have gravitated toward a “if you can’t beat `em, join `em” strategy of facing off against macho rivals. He cites the Kill Bill movies starring a lithe and hell-bent Uma Thurman, the recent bomb (pun intended) Stealth, starring Jessica Biel as a Navy pilot, and even Red Eye in which “fragile, innocent” Rachel McAdams bests a highly trained terrorist in hand-to-hand combat.

Mr. Medved misses the days of cinematic yore when actresses presented those “traditional female advantages of smarts, sex appeal, emotional resilience and intuitive understanding.” According to the nostalgia-yearning critic, these are the qualities associated with “the natural superiority of women” and are also the qualities he surmises that the movie-going audiences seek in their leading ladies. Thus, the lack of said qualities explains the flops of Halle Berry’s Catwoman, Jennifer Garner’s Elektra and Jennifer Lopez’s Enough and Gigli (could it not be that these just weren’t good or good enough movies?)

And now with the retirement of Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, where, oh where will the audience find their beacon of femininity? Well, look no further than Ms. Reese Witherspoon, who knows how to keep it real, she of the “hot pink accessories” who knows how to play the “ultimate girlie-girl.” (Note, all the quotes are Mr. Medved’s.)

Well, one can maybe agree that female stars might not pack the audience-drawing punch (again, pun intended) of those more glamorous but quite dead stars, Mae West, Claudette Colbert, Jean Harlow and Norma Shearer, whom he noted vaulted over their male counterparts in status (unfortunately this hasn’t been the case in a long while). But again I question whether it’s the audience’s reluctance to entertain the thought of ass-kicking mamas (remember how Blaxploitation star Pam Grier pulled them in, both black and white; but then again, maybe it’s expected that black women appear less feminine than white actresses – just a thought). Medved cites Jolie in the Lara Croft movies and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but I seem to remember these did quite well at the box office.

And if we move to the smaller screen, how to explain the phenomena that was Xena, Buffy and Sydney (Alias)? But Mr. Medved proposes that political correctness aside, “most of us continue to harbor a visceral preference for brawny male cops or firefighters to come to our rescue in emergencies.” He may be right - if the “us” (as I suspect) consist of mostly American males.

Mr. Medved seems to think that there are no instances where a normal sized woman could overcome a male of comparable size, even the pretty Mr. Brad Pitt. I would think there are instances where he would be proven wrong. Even if he were the combatant in these cases. Maybe, especially if he were the combatant in these cases.

So, maybe we can reach a compromise here. Let’s keep the buff, karate-kicking mamas up on the screen. Let’s just make sure they’re wearing pearls and high-heels and that they show intuitive understanding as they kick ass.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 9/21/2005 11:55:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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