Ben Affleck directed and starred in The Town, the number-one movie in the country this weekend. The guys in the fast-paced, bank-heist thriller were complex, well- written characters. The women? According to one reader who emailed us: Not so much.
Writes our tipster:
I saw The Town this weekend, with fairly high hopes because I was a fan of Ben Affleck's directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone. I was stimulated throughout The Town and even on the edge of my seat for a few scenes. But once I got out of the theater and had time to reflect, I applied the Bechdel Test. The only two named female characters (Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively) never share screen time and therefore never have the chance to talk to each other. Honestly, with a film like this, I think this outcome is to be expected, not that I particularly agree with it. But this realization got me thinking about the dichotomy between the ONLY females represented in this film and it quickly became clear that not only are they complete opposites, but they perfectly embody the narrow Hollywood belief that women are either a whore or a virgin.
Hall's Claire is the innocent hostage in a bank robbery, a naturally beautiful avid gardener and volunteer with under privileged children (how saintly). Lively's Krista is a trashy drug addicted single mother who wears too much make-up and tight clothing. She is no doubt a bad mother, a skank who actually doesn't know who the father of her child is. Both women, of course, vie for the attention of Ben Affleck's character, who not surprisingly chooses Claire in an attempt to better himself, despite the fact that he is a has-been hockey star who makes his living robbing banks. But Claire is underwritten and kind of a wet blanket. Her biggest character betrayal occurs when she agrees to get a drink with Ben Affleck after he approaches her in the laundromat, days after being held hostage by a bunch of men who interestingly enough sound a lot like Ben Affleck...This is either a huge character oversight or only serves to make her look stupid and needy. If she were to be a real fleshed out character, this woman would have been completely untrusting of any strangers, particularly well-built men like Affleck. She would have said thanks, but no thanks. That doesn't mean he couldn't continue to pursue her and the story could unfold the way it was written. It just means, give her a backbone and the conclusion will be that more shattering. But this is Hollywood, and female characters come second to males. Nevermind the fact that her character has the most potential to be conflicted.
One could argue that the obvious distinction between these women represents the struggle of Affleck's character against the gritty life he was dealt and the upstanding person he strives to be. But neither of these women exist for any reason except to inspire that conflict in Affleck. We never see either woman in a scene by themselves until after the climax, where Claire finds a bag of money and a note from Ben, but even then it's hard to know how this affects her. This could have been a disaster with less capable actors, but Hall, and even Lively who rises to the occasion maybe a little too eagerly but still well enough, manage to give their characters at least the smallest illusion of depth.
One could argue, it's a heist film, it's a male-oriented movie, what does it matter? But of course it matters: Pop culture is a barometer and a record of the times we live in. We can look back at old movies and pinpoint what was racist, what was racy and what was groundbreaking. So if, in 2010, women are still poorly written limp archetypes in an otherwise pretty great film, it matters. (Also, the fact that The Town beat Easy A at the box office matters, because Easy A was a better film. Yeah, I said it!)