"The whole process is desperately sexist. But there it is."
That quote, from director Mark Mylod, comes near the end of Tad Friend's profile of Anna Faris in The New Yorker this week. Or at least, it's packaged as a profile. But it's actually a ten-page dossier on the existence of very misogynistic or very cynical (or both) people who are paid a lot of money to produce a lot of misogynistic, cynical fare. It is laden with people in Hollywood admitting, sometimes on the record, that this is the case. And that's a beautiful thing.
Anna Faris is the hapless, mostly-self-aware ingenue burbling through this world, straddling pragmatism (compromise, or the movie won't get made) and idealism (The House Bunny is empowering!). The Times magazine already recognized this conundrum when they profiled her, more briefly, in 2006 — the two pieces even use the same Six Feet Under audition anecdote — but that's not the point.
The point is that in hundreds of thousands of words written about Women In Hollywood, or Women In Comedy, rarely do you see this much candor in one place. A few examples from the piece (which is behind a paywall, which you should read in full):
- "In my experience, girls' revealing themselves as candid and raunchy doesn't appeal to guys at all," Stacey Snider, a partner in and the C.E.O. of DreamWorks Studios, says. "And girls aren't that into it, either."
- Another thing no one is into: A successful woman. We knew that, and yet this is devastating nonetheless: "To make a woman adorable, one successful female screenwriter says, "you have to defeat her at the beginning. It's a conscious thing I do—abuse and break her, strip her of her dignity, and then she gets to live out our fantasies and have fun. It's as simple as making the girl cry, fifteen minutes into the movie."
- But everyone likes a hot girl, if she's not too successful or intimidating. Of Faris, a "leading agent" says, "What Anna has going for her, to be crass, is that guys want to nail her."
- As we know, that is necessary but insufficient. She has to be sexy, but not have sex. Faris's new film with Mylod, What's Your Number, is about a woman who learns from a ladymag that if she sleeps with one more man than the twenty she already has, she'll never get married. The studio executive debate over the number is instructive, as they wring their hands over how many would make the character an unrelated slut. (You have to wonder how many women these studio executives have themselves fucked, and how they might mentally reward themselves for each notch over twenty.)
No worries, because one executive concludes that "there's an innocent quality to Anna's sexuality, and an inherent kindness to her, that makes it possible to make a movie about sex and have it feel like she's still a sweetheart." Good thing she has big eyes and bottle-blonde hair — otherwise she'd just be a nasty slut.
- Faris knows this herself: "Our answer to ‘Wedding Crashers' was ‘Gold Diggers,' " she says of an upcoming movie with Kate Hudson. "But the big hitch was, nobody's going to like those girls if they seem like sluts... We realized we can't make an actual female ‘Wedding Crashers,' because then it would be ‘Call Girls.' "
- The step-by-step dissection of why things suck so hard for women in comedy requires rare moments of self-awareness by men in comedy: Seth Rogen thinks Faris is hilarious, is honest about himself: "If ‘Pineapple Express' "—a druggy comedy he starred in with James Franco—"had been about two girls, they wouldn't have made it. And if I were a woman I wouldn't have a career." (We're rooting for Best Buds in this regard.) And here's Airplane director David Zucker on why the classic comedy formula of a fat guy and a thin guy doesn't work with women: "Maybe women have a built-in dignity, and if a woman slips on a banana peel . . ." After a moment, he concluded, "You know, maybe it's just that I've never tried it." Maybe!
We could go on and on — the piece goes on and on, and that's important. Some of us didn't need a gentleman writer (a very nice one!) to tell us sexism exists in Hollywood, but there is still plenty of general denial that this is a problem that even exists. (Even Tina Fey is conflicted about acknowledging it.) And to see it given prominent, thorough placement in The New Yorker, with the open admissions of the key players — who are far more likely to speak frankly to him for a host of reasons — is perversely gratifying.
Funny Like A Guy [TNY]