Thursday, July 19, 2007
Gay Man Women-Haters' Club
A sensitive type like me goes into a film like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry expecting to find fault. I was prepared to find the type of gay stereotypes portrayed here by David Spade (mercifully briefly) and Nick Swardson. I was unsurprised when the gruff, macho, angry firefighter played by Ving Rhames turned into a Chaka Khan-singing, mincing exhibitionist after coming out of the closet. I was only a little bit surprised that Chuck (Adam Sandler) and Larry (Kevin James) never found themselves in a situation where it was necessary to demonstrate any physical affection for one another. I mean, that would be gross, right? I’m not exactly shocked that the film tries to have it both ways, mocking gays throughout and then preaching a message of tolerance at the end.
I was surprised by some things, though, and not pleasantly. I haven’t read anything about the crude way the film objectifies women, and there are even some critics who don’t see fit to mention the key role that Rob Schneider plays in the film. I think I’ve figured out the social hierarchy the film presents, so let me break it down for you.
-Straight men (except the ones who devote their lives to homophobia, as opposed to practicing it casually like our heroes, and except Steve Buscemi, for some reason)
-Gay men (ridiculous, but mostly in an amusing way. What can you do?)
-White women (The pretty ones are vapid sex objects. The unattractive ones (Rachel Dratch, Mary Pat Gleason) are ridiculous for wanting to be sex objects. Sometimes one is so damn hot that they transcend mere sex object status and become one’s primary sex object.)
-Asian women (sex objects)
-Asian men (of such low status that even Rob Schneider needs the addition of a funny wig and huge Coke bottle glasses to convey just how ludicrous they are)
Now, as critics, maybe we’re not paying attention. Maybe we’re scouring the film so conscientiously for signs of homophobia that we don’t notice the way women are portrayed. But in hindsight, the film is more repugnant in its treatment of women than in its (still somewhat troublesome) portrayal of gay men.
First off, we have the twins, Darla and Donna (portrayed by Rebecca and Jessica O’Donahue). Outer borough types, and easily duped by Chuck (apparently, despite the fact that he’s played by Adam Sandler, some kind of amazing lothario), who cheats on one with the other, and then uses their competitive nature to trick them into kissing each other for the amusement of his firefighter pals.
Then there are the Hooters girls. These women are apparently a stable of women that Chuck keeps around. For some reason, they are all Asian. They are giggling, squealing morons, not much smarter than household pets. Chuck shows Larry (Kevin James) how he can trick them all into bending over for his scopophilic pleasure.
Then there’s “Doctor Honey,” called such because when the hospitalized Chuck calls her “honey,” she corrects him, demanding to be addressed as “Doctor.” Finally, a woman with some self-esteem, who is not charmed by Chuck’s good looks (?) and his boorish manner. I did think to myself, I admit, that she looked more like a porn star than a doctor, and later realized that she is played by Chandra West, who actually plays a porn star on the HBO series, John from Cincinnati. So that may explain my confusion on that point. In any case, Dr. Honey stands up to Chuck’s piggishness in the hospital, and the next time we see her, she’s dressed up in fetish gear, in Chuck’s bedroom with the Hooters girls. So, haw haw, stupid women thinking that they will ever be respected or treated as equals when it’s guys like Chuck who really know how to treat them. I was less than amused. Was there a way to treat Dr. Honey’s apparent self-respect as something other than a cheap joke? I guess the important thing was to establish that Chuck is a pimp.
And then there’s Alex, the lawyer played by the smokin’ hot Jessica Biel. Biel is undeniably attractive and a likeable presence, but she hasn’t shown such great judgment to date in choosing her roles. Because Chuck is pretending to be gay when he meets Alex, she doesn’t get to experience the full impact of his charm. He surreptitiously ogles her; she mistakes him for a nice guy. Their relationship never really progresses much beyond that point. Even while pretending to be gay, Chuck’s masculine charm is apparently so overwhelming that she finds herself attracted to him. He adores her, but it’s never clear that this attraction is substantially different from that he feels for his twins and his Hooters girls. She’s just hotter than they are.
Meanwhile, that Rob Schneider character had me wondering what Guy Aoki is doing these days. (And if you haven’t seen Jesus is Magic, you should.) I mean, Mickey Rooney’s clownish “yellow-face’ performance as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is offensive, but at least the film’s many defenders can point out that it was made over forty years ago. Hasn’t our culture progressed past this type of thing yet? How does Rob Schneider get on his high horse about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism and then turn around and play a degrading role like this? It makes me wonder how firm he is in his commitment never to work for Gibson. Heh.
There are a few laughs in the film, and there are bit parts from people far too talented for this like the aforementioned Rhames, along with Rob Corddry and Robert Smigel, but in the end, it was more depressing than entertaining.
Edit: In surfing the internets during my "research" for this story, I found out that Rob Schneider's mother is actually Filipino, so maybe that makes his portrayal of a Japanese man less offensive somehow? Anyone?
Here are some photos of him, as a baby, as a Mexican, and as a hot chick. You decide.
One more thing I had to add here: Dan Ackroyd might, and Sandler might, but NYC firefighters, in general, do not love Rudy Giuliani, nor should they. Nor should anyone who actually lived or worked here during his mad reign. He's as venal and opportunistic and dishonest as they come, and he'd make a fine successor to GWB, but I thought we were sick of that crap.