Tag Archives: The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Role of Gender in Film Role Switcheroos

I was a little skeptical about Salt when I first saw the preview.  Angelina Jolie in another action flick?

In reading this NPR article on the new film, I stumbled across these fascinating factoids about gender in film casting.  Why do you ask?  Because Jolie’s part in Salt was originally written for a man – a man whose name begins with “T” and ends with “om Cruise.”

According to Alyssa Rosenberg, pop culture writer for The Atlantic, this trend, usually replacing women with men, is all too common in the film industry.

“You can be really tough, or you can be really funny,” says Rosenberg. “If you’re one of those two things, you can occupy a man’s slot in a plot.  I do think women are allowed to have their backs to the wall, but not to go out and conquer things. With men, you’re allowed to be expansionary.”

“Interestingly enough, when you’re dealing with a male protagonist — and now I’m talking about mainstream studio movies — there’s a certain iconography you can use,” Director Robert Schwentke says on the DVD of Flight Plan. “When this was a male character , he was walking down the lonely boulevards at night in Berlin and his coat was sort of blowing and you look at it and think, ‘Yeah, that’s a stand-in for loneliness.” But when you put a woman in that exact same shot, Schwentke says, “You just wonder, ‘What is she doing at 3 o’clock in the morning all by herself on the street?”

NPR’s article provided a neat package of selected famous film roles in which women replaced men.  This text is taken from the NPR article linked above.

That distinction may belong to Sigourney Weaver, who in 1979’s Alien proved women can be tougher than men when it comes to fighting extraterrestrials with acid for blood. Alien’s producers intentionally made Ripley a woman to subvert science-fiction conventions – though the 1986 sequel backtracked by setting up a mechanized catfight between Ripley and the alien queen. When women do replace men, their heroic acts are often confined to small spaces.

As in the case with Flight Plan which was set in an airplane. When women get roles in movies, it’s often because (as with Ripley in the Aliens sequel) the plot requires them to protect someone. In Flight Plan, Jodie Foster gets to sabotage and blow up a plane while remaining sympathetic – because she’s rescuing her abducted daughter.

Giving a woman a man’s role isn’t always empowering. In the 1973 film The Wicker Man, Lord Summerisle leads a pagan society that practices human sacrifice, but the movie ends with a Christian appeal and a foreshadowing of Summerisle’s downfall. In the 2006 remake, the Lord has become a Sister (Ellen Burstyn), and the women she leads seduce men and lead them to their deaths.

Gender switches can sometimes make for production messes, too. Jodie Foster ended up at the center of one in 1996, when she sued PolyGram for replacing her in The Game, a movie about a businessman (Michael Douglas), who gets caught up in a dangerous adventure that may or may not be fictional. Foster’s role was originally written for a man, but she and Douglas disagreed over whether she should play Douglas’s daughter (Foster’s preference) or Douglas’s sister (Douglas’s choice). Sean Penn ended up playing Douglas’s brother in the movie.

Fortunately, gender-switching in the movies doesn’t always have to be a deadly serious business. Funnywoman Jane Lynch took a part originally intended for a man in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and transformed the character from just another bro into an insightful mentor with lascivious intentions – who helps Steve Carell’s protagonist find himself professionally as well as sexually.

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The End of Men – The Atlantic

Men in ancient Greece tied off their left testicle in an effort to produce male heirs; women have killed themselves (or been killed) for failing to bear sons.

That’s messed up, right?

In this article, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin states that gender inequality is changing at rapid speeds in America (this tune would sound a lot differently in China): Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. More than ever before parents want girls.  Is the modern postindustrial economy simply more congenial to women?

Over the course of this incredibly wonderful, long-ass, thought-provoking article, Rosin shows, through the workforce, economy, and education, how the virile macho man is becoming obsolete.  Here is the final portion of her essay, on how this shift is being reflected in pop culture, although I encourage you to take 20 minutes and absorb the entire piece.  Do it.  It’s fascinating.


“The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin,  The Atlantic

American pop culture keeps producing endless variations on the omega male, who ranks even below the beta in the wolf pack. This often-unemployed, romantically challenged loser can show up as a perpetual adolescent (in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin), or a charmless misanthrope (in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg), or a happy couch potato (in a Bud Light commercial). He can be sweet, bitter, nostalgic, or cynical, but he cannot figure out how to be a man. “We call each other ‘man,’” says Ben Stiller’s character in Greenberg, “but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people.” The American male novelist, meanwhile, has lost his mojo and entirely given up on sex as a way for his characters to assert macho dominance, Katie Roiphe explains in her essay “The Naked and the Conflicted.” Instead, she writes, “the current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex.”

At the same time, a new kind of alpha female has appeared, stirring up anxiety and, occasionally, fear. The cougar trope started out as a joke about desperate older women. Now it’s gone mainstream, even in Hollywood, home to the 50-something producer with a starlet on his arm. Susan Sarandon and Demi Moore have boy toys, and Aaron Johnson, the 19-year-old star of Kick-Ass, is a proud boy toy for a woman 24 years his senior. The New York Times columnist Gail Collins recently wrote that the cougar phenomenon is beginning to look like it’s not about desperate women at all but about “desperate young American men who are latching on to an older woman who’s a good earner.” Up in the Air, a movie set against the backdrop of recession-era layoffs, hammers home its point about the shattered ego of the American man. A character played by George Clooney is called too old to be attractive by his younger female colleague and is later rejected by an older woman whom he falls in love with after she sleeps with him—and who turns out to be married. George Clooney! If the sexiest man alive can get twice rejected (and sexually played) in a movie, what hope is there for anyone else? The message to American men is summarized by the title of a recent offering from the romantic-comedy mill: She’s Out of My League.

In fact, the more women dominate, the more they behave, fittingly, like the dominant sex. Rates of violence committed by middle-aged women have skyrocketed since the 1980s, and no one knows why. High-profile female killers have been showing up regularly in the news: Amy Bishop, the homicidal Alabama professor; Jihad Jane and her sidekick, Jihad Jamie; the latest generation of Black Widows, responsible for suicide bombings in Russia. In Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, the traditional political wife is rewritten as a cold-blooded killer at the heart of an evil conspiracy. In her recent video Telephone, Lady Gaga, with her infallible radar for the cultural edge, rewrites Thelma and Louise as a story not about elusive female empowerment but about sheer, ruthless power. Instead of killing themselves, she and her girlfriend (played by Beyoncé) kill a bad boyfriend and random others in a homicidal spree and then escape in their yellow pickup truck, Gaga bragging, “We did it, Honey B.”

The Marlboro Man, meanwhile, master of wild beast and wild country, seems too far-fetched and preposterous even for advertising. His modern equivalents are the stunted men in the Dodge Charger ad that ran during this year’s Super Bowl in February. Of all the days in the year, one might think, Super Bowl Sunday should be the one most dedicated to the cinematic celebration of macho. The men in Super Bowl ads should be throwing balls and racing motorcycles and doing whatever it is men imagine they could do all day if only women were not around to restrain them.

Instead, four men stare into the camera, unsmiling, not moving except for tiny blinks and sways. They look like they’ve been tranquilized, like they can barely hold themselves up against the breeze. Their lips do not move, but a voice-over explains their predicament—how they’ve been beaten silent by the demands of tedious employers and enviro-fascists and women. Especially women. “I will put the seat down, I will separate the recycling, I will carry your lip balm.” This last one—lip balm—is expressed with the mildest spit of emotion, the only hint of the suppressed rage against the dominatrix. Then the commercial abruptly cuts to the fantasy, a Dodge Charger vrooming toward the camera punctuated by bold all caps: MAN’S LAST STAND. But the motto is unconvincing. After that display of muteness and passivity, you can only imagine a woman—one with shiny lips—steering the beast.


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