A modest proposal for action films

Can we PLEASE stop killing off women close to the hero and calling it character development?

Specific Skyfall spoilers ahead …

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Putting on my Joss Whedon flak jacket

Whedon’s written some good women characters, but for someone who calls himself a feminist, he’s wildly inconsistent. Yes, he gave us the powerful blonde cheerleader vampire slayer, but he also gave us the rape fantasy of Dollhouse, not to mention the regular slut-shaming of Firefly.

I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer early — thank you, Starlog magazine! — and introduced all of my high school friends to it. But while most of them fell into longterm relationships with “Joss,” I soon grew antsy. This Movieline post was the culmination of lots of frustrations with Joss Whedon television shows that I really wanted to like, and arguments with true-believer friends, and yes, quite a bit of onetime fannishness for Buffy and other Whedon shows. Call me a woman scorned … or at least not a convert to the wondrous miracle of Firefly.

Old Faithful: 6 Joss Whedon Stand-Bys Revived For Cabin in the Woods (Movieline)

Manic pixie dream girls and the miserable ending of Once

I saw the Broadway musical version of Once this week, which I mostly enjoyed, and which offered a couple of fascinating peeks into the nuts and bolts of putting on a musical adapted from a beloved indie movie. The set revolves around a working bar that, pre-show and during intermission, sells $13 Sam Adams in leaky plastic cups to the audience. And yes, it is really cool to buy beer on the stage of a Broadway theater, to turn around in center-stage and look out into the audience, seeing the rows of seats fade into the darkness and the balcony barely visible. I never really had any theater ambitions beyond sixth grade, but it was a thrilling moment.

I was disappointed that female lead Cristin Milioti didn’t show up for a Thursday night performance so soon after the show had opened, apparently due to having performed that day on the David Letterman show. But it was fascinating to watch her understudy, Andrea Goss, step in for what I suspect was the very first time. (Giveaways: flubbed timing in her first scene, roses from her co-star at the end.) Goss really sold me on the role — except for every time she had to sing, unfortunately. Her voice wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t confident, and the weird jukebox-nature of this musical adaptation of the film and its Oscar-winning songs meant that every time she sang, she had to compete with the memory of the last time I heard Marketa Irglova on my iPod. The male lead, Steve Kazee, did a very convincing Glen Hansard impression, and I wonder if Milioti is just better at imitating Irglova’s voice or if she’s able to put her own spin on the songs. 

But most of all, the musical reminded me of how much I hated the film’s ending. I know, I know, it’s a bittersweet, unconventional, indie love story that doesn’t tie up all the loose threads for a Hollywood happy ending, which is supposed to be admirable. I just wish it had found a better way to do it.

Once gives its hero a happy, promising future at the expense of the heroine who’s been cheering him on for the entire story, telling him to get out of his rut and make something of his life. He has to leave his family and fight for his future while she — well, she has a duty and an obligation to remain with her family, turn her back on her dreams, and stay in a dead-end city with a dead-end job and a dead-end marriage. She spends the entire story telling him to fight for what he wants, but heaven forbid she take some of her own advice. It’s the worst combination of two tired tropes for women in fiction and film: the woman in the refrigerator, who suffers in order to spur the male hero into action, and the manic pixie dream girl, who suddenly appears in the hero’s life to be wacky and cute and to inspire in him a renewed zest for life without any apparent interest in her own hopes and dreams.

But hey, at least the heroine of Once gets a piano out of the deal. So that’ll help her feed her family, raise her daughter, and reconcile with her husband.