Daphne Merkin's profile of director Nancy Meyers in the forthcoming New York Times Magazine skillfully captures the conflicted feelings many of us have about the work of this successful, yet ultimately limited, filmmaker.
Merkin notes that Meyers has achieved her almost unequaled commercial success as a woman in Hollywood by making funny, appealing movies with the message that strong-willed women can find "a man who has been brought to his senses in time to appreciate you—a woman who arouses, but even more important, understands him."
This message, argues Merkin, addresses "a previously unsatisfied hunger, composed of two parts daydream and one part hope, that is finally being addressed" among middle-aged women, among others. Like many Hollywood movies, this involves an element of fantasy.
"[Meyers] rescues the middle-aged and manless woman from her lonely plight. She has taken this sorry creature, who is bombarded with reminders of her vanished youthfulness everywhere she turns, and placed her in an alternate universe, where she is not only visible but desirable just the way she is."
While all this is leaps and bounds better than what most romantic comedies have to offer, its emphasis can sometimes come at the expense of the movie itself. Diane Keaton was certainly winning in Something's Gotta Give, but the Keanu Reeves character was one-dimensionally saintly and appreciative, and half the film seemed devoted to telling Keaton's character how fabulous and attractive she was while she bashfully denied it.
There's another nagging problem with the fantasy world of Nancy Meyers. Merkin draws attention to it by focusing on Meyers' well-documented interior design obsession — that beautiful Hamptons house that took up the other half of Something's Gotta Give — which "renders [the films] more glossy and insular than they need be, even for a genre that is inherently fizzy." Like the Sex And The City movie, exquisite consumption is equated with personal fulfillment.
And then there are the people who are imagined to live in those houses. Just look at the photo that ran with the story online, of Meyers and her cast on set.
It reminded me of this:
Both photos (besides making me wonder if all of these women have the same pricey colorist) underscore how just because Hollywood brings in a female director, writer, or actress outside the usual mold, doesn't mean all that much has changed. (When I asked the ladies of WoWoWow about the crew's homogeneity last year, Liz Smith did say, "We'd like to have some hot Spanish dancers. And some black women.")
I'm all for women being given a chance to tell their stories and wield some power on the mainstream stage, including wealthy, white, boomer-and-onward women with a fondness for highlights. I just hope they won't always be (almost) the only ones.
Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women? [New York Times Magazine]
Related: Boldface In Cyberspace: It's A Woman's Domain [New York Times]