This goddamn year…
Back in February, I made the claim live on radio during an episode of Screen 1 – the weekly film review show that I do with my friend Lucy Meer and which you should all listen to – that I would not see a worse comedy than The Wedding Ringer this year. That The Wedding Ringer was so incompetent, so offensive, so incapable of creating a single guffaw of any level, yet so capable of making talented comedic actors and actresses look hopelessly and embarrassingly desperate, that the year was incapable of sinking any lower. I think I even called it “a lost early-to-mid-2000s Eddie Murphy vehicle, just with Murphy swapped out for Kevin Hart” in an example of myself tempting fate so greatly that I undoubtedly brought the rest of this year on myself.
This year, folks. This goddamn godforsaken year. This has, without a doubt, been one of the absolute worst years for comedy films in a near-literal age. In these past 8 months, we have had Spy and Pitch Perfect 2. That’s it. Now, that’s not to discredit Spy or Pitch Perfect 2, which are both great and very funny films, but those are literally the only two good pure comedies so far this year. That’s it. Everything else has been barrel-scraping of the highest order, with everybody seemingly in competition with everybody else to create the biggest steaming turd. FIVE TIMES in the last FIVE MONTHS my statement from February has been proven wrong, and this goddamn year still has another five months to go.
Now, admittedly, it’s not like this is much different from any other year. Every year has maybe two or three comedies that are great, then a number that are alright, and then a steaming pile of crap. But because this year’s crap has been scraping the bottom of the underside of the fungus-covered barrel, it’s only highlighted even more how dire the state that the feature-length comedy is in, right now. A race straight to the bottom, completely lacking in effort and frequently lacking in anything even resembling an actual gag, farted out in the hopes that the masses will give it their money and a passing grade because we are all apparently members of Idiocracy, willing to give anything a thumbs up as long as it passes away some time, regardless of how insulting it is.
Into this hellish landscape, that I continue to inflict upon myself for reasons that escape me, enters Hot Pursuit.
Here is the plot of Hot Pursuit: Officer Rose Cooper (Reese Witherspoon), the daughter of the finest cop who ever lived and whom she idolises like mad, is partnered with a US Deputy Marshall and assigned to protect the wife of a drug baron who is willing to testify against the head of a Mexican drug cartel, Vincente Cortez (Joaquín Cosio). However, when it comes time to pick up Daniella (Sofía Vergara) and the husband, masked (and unmasked) assailants shoot and kill the husband and Cooper’s partner, forcing her to go on the run with Daniella in a frantic attempt to make it to the courthouse in Dallas the next morning to deliver that testimony. Will Daniella overcome her hatred and distrust of cops, will Cooper stop being so anally by-the-book and redeem herself in the eyes of her fellow officers after a past embarrassing accident, and will these two women slowly learn to bond with one another? The answers to those questions and more will be obvious to anyone who has ever seen a movie before, but that’s not the problem here.
Now, here are the jokes featured in Hot Pursuit: women love shoes! Women be emotional! Career women are unnecessarily intense! Women have periods! And that’s yucky! Women have boobs! Shoes again! Women be incompetent at man jobs until they suddenly aren’t! Reese Witherspoon is short! Sofía Vergara is older than 35! Lesbianism! Men find lesbians kissing hot, the perverts! Naked people are funny, and other people seeing naked people is hysterical! Again with the shoes! Women trying to talk sexy is weird! Now Reese Witherspoon is hopped up on cocaine and talking super-fast! And now a cat fight is going on! Old people be old and that’s funny! YET AGAIN WITH THE SHOES!
That’s Hot Pursuit, 87 minutes of every single sexist “Women be…” ‘gag’ trotted out one after the other, broken up intermittently by easy jokes against Witherspoon (height) and Vergara (age and voice) and the occasional sequence that I honestly have absolutely no clue what the gag is supposed to be (a segment with a deer costume). That’s it. For 87 minutes. Sexist stereotype gags in quick succession, provided by two men who presumably think that the crap that they’ve written is somehow acceptable because it’s coming out the mouths of two talented women in a female-targeted comedy directed by a woman (Anne Fletcher who also did Step Up and 27 Dresses). But there’s no subversive intent, here. It’s just the same sexist jokes – and situations designed to make our protagonists look like complete incompetent morons – that would be correctly shouted down if these were coming out of a man’s mouth and a male director’s lens.
Look, just because I’m a feminist, that doesn’t mean that I believe that every female-fronted film should be a feminist screed against the patriarchy or what have you, and I don’t believe that women should just be the above-it-all straight-woman because that’s boring and (arguably) just as regressive – one of the major reasons why I loved Bad Neighbours last year was because that film was willing to let Rose Byrne sink to Seth Rogen’s level. Hell, if anything, I welcome more non-feminist movies about silly women; god knows we get enough male-versions of that every year. The problem is that you need to be careful about who you are aiming your jokes at, because doing it wrong or lazily runs the risk of just being sexist.
And that’s where Hot Pursuit falls apart. Because it is so lazy in its joke construction, and its targets are just its two leads for pretty much all of the film’s runtime, then it falls into being a prolonged joke at the expense of women. What is probably meant to be a gender-flipped 48 Hours dynamic between Cooper and Daniella, thanks to such awful writing, instead becomes a mean-spirited “two women act super-bitchy towards each other when forced together as is how all ladies are” ‘gag’. It’s telling that the shoved-in-at-the-last-minute love interest for Cooper (Robert Kazinsky), despite being a convicted felon on parole, is the kind-hearted straight man who is just such a nice guy. Cooper and Daniella are not supposed to be likeable or particularly sympathetic; they’re the characters you feel superior to because “ha, women!”
So I spent the entirety of Hot Pursuit sighing, face-palming, and quietly wishing that Reese Witherspoon would find enough self-respect to just walk off the film at any point and have the rest of it involve interns cleaning up the various sets. It’s a regressive, mean-spirited film that announces those intentions within the first 2 minutes with a gag where a young Cooper mistakes a transsexual for a woman and you’re supposed to laugh because, “EW!! A WOMAN DRESSED AS A MAN!” This is the anti-Spy, and if this film has managed to do anything good it is make me appreciate Spy even more than I already did.
Except here’s the twist. I may not have spent any length of time laughing at Hot Pursuit… but the women in my screening did. Granted, there were maybe 20 of us in the screening and only half of them were women, but that still doesn’t change the fact that they found all of this hilarious. Every slut-shaming gag thrown Daniella’s way, every judgemental gag about how Cooper is a terrible cop because she’s a woman, every “SHOES!!” gag, every extended description about icky periods, all of it. They found this hilarious.
Now, normally I wouldn’t give this a second thought because I typically just chalk this up to viewers having lower standards with regards to their humour – seriously, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, if you laughed at Pixels, you are admitting that you have absolutely zero standards for comedy – but this one caused me to take pause. Because Hot Pursuit is very much focussed at and made for women. As a guy, even as someone who considers himself a feminist ally, this movie isn’t for me. And since I have no right to tell women what they should find funny or order them to have some self-respect and drive sh*t like this away with pitchforks and torches, that begs the question:
Is this really what women want?
No, for real, is this what women want for their comedies? Films that demean them, films that find them useless, catty bitches who are the butt of every single joke for daring to be women? Where your every facet of womanhood is just so inherently hilarious by its mere existence? Is this what women find funny? Is it OK to laugh at this stuff, even though it has no subversive value or intent and the sole joke and reason behind the joke is unironic 1950s sexism, because “hey, at least they’re not talking about me”? Or, worse, because “THAT’S SO TRUE! We are like that!” Does this mean that more progressive female comedies that treat its cast with sympathy and respect, which use those stereotypes as a deconstructionist punchline – like Spy, like The Heat (which you’re much better off watching), like Pitch Perfect 2 to a lesser degree – are more male-targeted and focussed, or are women just missing the subversion and laughing at the stereotype?
Ladies – and I know that this was based on just a small sampling, but I need to ask anyway – is this what you really want? If so, then I accept, it is not my place to judge. It’s just… I don’t know, I always thought you held yourselves in higher esteem than this shit.