Thursday, December 09, 2004

On Movies.

I have a problem. I can't watch movies anymore. I seriously can't. I have thoughts running through my head the entire time, critiquing the messages being sent out by the movie, constantly realizing the ways in which whatever movie I am watching is perpetuating stereotypes/ideologies/acceptance of inequality/whatever. The script in my head won't let me just enjoy the script being played out on the screen.

Tonight, for example, I went to go see Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. It was a cute movie. And I wanted to like it. But at the same time, I felt guilty for wanting to like it. And, I couldn't like it. I couldn't enjoy it for what it was, a fluffy chick-flick, because my mind would not shut up. Every time I started to be drawn in, thinking, "ohh! he's cute!" or "he's going to kiss her now... *sigh*" I would catch myself. That's good. But it's also really bad.

For those of you who have not seen this movie, here's the basic plot: it can generall be considered a "feminist-ish" movie, I'd say. Mia, as you know if you've seen the first movie, is Princess of Genovia, and her grandmother, Queen Clarice, is thinking of stepping down from the throne whenever Mia turns 21, giving Mia the chance to rule. However, Duke Something-or-other will have none of this; his nephew ought to be king! So, he finds an archaic rule in the Genovian constitution requiring all Queens to be married before they can accept the throne. (Fear not, those who believe I read too much into things, this is not why I didn't like the movie... this could've made for a great plot by itself.)

So, the Duke and his (exceptionally handsome!) nephew come to stay at the castle, meanwhile Mia decides that her first duty is to her country and agrees to an arranged marriage. She picks some (cute-in-a-dorky-kinda-way) Englishman, and they become engaged. So, Uncle Duke tells Cute Nephew that he has to try to split up Mia and Dorky English Guy so she won't get married, can't accept the throne, and Next-in-Line-Nephew becomes King.

And thus the Problems begin.

See, he does all this pursuing of the Princess, the whole "I know you say no but you really want me" type of thing. This is common in movies and it is Bad. Especially when it turns out in the context of the movie that she really does want the guy, and he should just keep pushing until she gives in. I could go into a whole list of reasons why this is really bad, but I daresay you can figure them out.

The Soon-to-Be-Bride holds a bridal shower/slumber party with other royal princesses from all over the world, where they do girly things and slide down stairs on matresses and have a grand old time. Nothing wrong with this, but would we see a future King (over the age of, say, 15) in any sort of movie (comedy, drama, romance, name your genre) doing anything of the sort? What does this say about the nature of feminine power? The Queen joins in. How many Kings do we see doing this in all literature/filmdom?

So, anyway, Mia decides to get married to English Guy (instead of challenging the law, which, really, would be any rational person's first thought. Well, I guess there would be no plot there.). Meanwhile Nephew decides he's really in love with Mia (he sees her being nice to children and doing lovely feminine things), and decides to stop trying to break her and her fiance up. At one or two points they kiss, both times I believe initiated by him, rejected initially by her, but she eventually gives in, and we all go, "aww... how romantic."

So, anyway, a few days before her wedding they sneak out and, lo and behold, they get caught the next morning by a reporter; she assumes it was him (in fact it was the Uncle), and she decides to go through with her marriage.

And so she does. Wedding morning, she's all ready, being encouraged by her mother and grandmother to enter into this arranged and admittedly love-less marriage. She is seriously planning on fulfilling the letter of the law. Then someone tells her that Nephew was not the one who sent the reporters to spy, 'twas Uncle. Oh no! Panic! She runs out on wedding--then gives great feminist-y speech. A speech which I cannot seem to get into.

Here's the thing. She says to Parlaiment, "Think of your daughters, think of your sisters," etc. Would you want them to have to get married just to rule? And, parlaiment, of course, votes to overturn the law. Yay for Women!

Except, umm, no. Mia was going to follow the law to the letter... until... what? Until she realizes that she's in love with someone else. Her self-realization, the movie's climax, is dependent on a man. She is not self-empowered. She was ready to live by the rules of a patriarchal society until, umm, another man comes along who she liked better. This is like movies about women who learn to "have it all" and in the end realize that they are most fulfilled when they finally get their guy. Queen Clarice can only realize the dreams of her, and I quote, "womanly heart" (by marrying her head of security) when she steps down from the seat of power.

Before the Parlaiment vote, Handsome Nephew shows up and gives a little speech on why Mia should indeed be allowed to be Queen without requisite husband. He talks about how kind she is, how caring, how good with children, but, especially, how good she would look on the Genovian postage stamp.

This reminds me of the first movie, which I tried to watch and enjoy the other day but honestly could not make through. How many movies about Princes focus so much on the physical appearance of the main character? What message did this movie send? Well, Mia was Unpopular (we are told this via the fact that she has bushy hair and eyebrows), but as soon as Paulo (who appraised her looks like one would a horse, evaluating its quality) worked his magic, straightening her hair, plucking her eyebrows, and giving her better clothes, she was fit to be Princess and fit to be our Heroine.

There were points in this movie where I really wanted to like it. Especially the parts that I find worst of all--the romantic moments had by the (very good-looking) nephew and Mia; I found myself dreaming about myself in a similar situation--wishing I could be Princess of a country, with a cute guy in love with me, as pretty as could be. It's interesting that the thing that Queen Clarice knew would make Mia happy was a massive walk-in closet and a nice selection of jewelry. This is what powerful rulers love the most? Or just the female ones?

Lily, the friend, played by Heather Matarazzo, everyone's favorite ugly girl (not saying she's ugly at all, but she's cast in parts where she is not supposed to be attractive, but, rather, a dorky sidekick), is, tellingly, going to graduate school. That's for the un-cool, non-pretty girls, all that education stuff. Being Queen and getting married is for the pretty ones.

So many times in this movie, I really wanted to like it. It's not particularly egregious or bad, especially when it comes to most movies' portrayals of women. It had a pro-feminist message, I'd say. But it's careful not to offend. And, think, sends the wrong message. It says women can be independent, but the plot doesn't play out like that. It requires the love of a man before Mia is able to challenge the system. If that's the case, isn't the system reinforced? It's a step forward. In previous generations, the law might've been accepted as reasonable, and the plot focused on changing marriage partners from Dorky-but-Disinterested English guy to Cute-and-attractive Nephew. So, this isn't bad. But it's not that good.

The movie was funny, romantic, touching. I cried, I think, twice. But, through most of it, I couldn't shut off the voice in my head, telling me why I shouldn't be enjoying it.

I can't figure out whether this is good or bad. But right now it's annoying. Rather like having a conscience pop up at undesirable times.

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