The Wall Street Journal recently did a story on Anna Faris and her new movie “What’s Your Number?”
Produced by New Regency for $25 million and distributed by 20th Century Fox, the movie centers on the sexual exploits of Ally Darling (Ms. Faris), a hard-partying young woman who resolves to track down all of her exes—with the help of a hunky amateur sleuth, played by Mr. Evans—in an attempt to avoid sleeping with more than 20 men in her lifetime.
Still, the idea of such a promiscuous lead character was enough to give some studio executives pause. “We had conversations like, ‘Is 19 better than 20?’ ” says Ms. Smith. Ms. Faris wanted to go in the other direction, suggesting to screenwriters Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden that the number of past sexual partners be raised to 50. “They were like, ‘No, 20’s fine,'” she says.
A slew of new movies centering on women behaving badly have been released or are in the works. Hollywood is aiming them straight at female audiences, and they reflect a redefinition of female sexuality.
Some of these movies have been failures. Crazy, Stupid Love has made only $78 million domestically, as of this writing, and only $21 million in foreign revenues, according to Box Office Mojo. The movie cost $50 million to make and another $30 million or so to market, so the movie is likely a net loss, but not one that is a terrible drag (studios always get considerably less than gross revenues, taking around 75% of the first week end revenue and around 50% of the revenue thereafter domestically, and often selling foreign rights at a fixed fee in concert/bundling with other films). The movies are cheap to make, and Hollywood facing huge drops in DVD revenue, no rescue in 3-D, and no great rescues in streaming, is looking to cut costs and find a formula for making cheap movies they can sell and make profits on, even with reduced margins.
In addition, many studio execs are now courting female audiences, an easy transition from the female orientation of TV, from which many mid-level execs have made their transition. While Network heads and production studio heads in TV remain mostly male, the execs under them are often women, which makes sense given that most people watching television are in fact, women. Male-oriented films are a risk. They can hit big, like the Batman films under Christopher Nolan, 300, Taken, the Transformer movies, and some of the Marvel films. Or they can fail spectacularly, like Green Lantern, or Green Hornet, or Cowboys and Aliens. When the movies fail, they do so at a great cost — the movies require expensive action sequences, often pricey CGI, and represent considerable downside risk. Since most execs don’t share in the upside, they tend to want to hedge their downside. This as much as anything accounts for the desire to make a lot more chick-flicks, just raunchy ones.
What is interesting is that the films are redefining sexuality among women, particularly in acceptable behavior, but that there are still limits. Faris wanted the “number” to be 49 sexual partners, and the lead want to avoid sleeping with 50 not 20 men. The screen writers took a more conservative tack, wanting only 19 partners for the lead, not 49. But the limits are being pushed outward, not inward. This reflects in my view a fundamental unhappiness that modern Western women have with their men. Women in the West have moved to far greater heights, than compared to women in any other time and culture. But they remain unhappy, they want “more” from their men. If they live lives richer and more fulfilled in many ways than Cleopatra, they want Caesar or Marc Antony. Not boring old Beta Male Bill in the cubicle next door.
“Crazy, Stupid Love” falls into this category. The plotline concerns the lead character, played by Steve Carrell, who is having dinner with his wife, played by Julianne Moore. She tells him she’s unhappy, is having an affair with a co-worker (played by Kevin Bacon), and wants a divorce. They had married as high-school sweethearts and Moore is the only woman Carrell’s character had slept with. The rest of the movie concerns Carrell working with a younger, Pickup Artist mentor (Ryan Gosling), to become attractive to women, and gently rebuffing the 17 year old babysitter who has a crush on him to his 13 year old son’s dismay. All so he can “win back” his ex-wife who Carrell’s character admits to, “was responsible” for the break-up of their marriage by … not being sexy enough and desired by other women.
The largely failed, because of course it wasn’t attractive to men, and women don’t want to go back to a guy who failed initially at being sexy. If a man fails in that regard, women want to trade up. This is the appeal of George Clooney, or Brad Pitt. They ARE already sexy, and therefore are the goal to which female protagonists largely aspire in their movies. Besides, most women would prefer Kevin Bacon to Steve Carrell, fantasy wise. But it is interesting in how Hollywood perceives women’s interests, and so far as women are generally unhappy with the state of men today in the West (not sexy enough) that is relatively accurate.
TV is even getting into the act, with Are You There Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea based on the memoir by Chelsea Handler and starring Laura Prepon (“That 70’s Show”) as Chelsea. The lead character is wildly promiscuous, and often drunk. Set to debut mid-season on NBC, the show like Sex and the City is unapologetic about serial sexual behavior by the attractive female lead. Hollywood in both movies and TV is betting that women are comfortable with portraying lots of sexual partners for women as something not to be ashamed of, at least as long it is below a magic number. That’s pretty revolutionary, in terms of what women themselves have defined in the West as acceptable sexuality.
Underlying the promiscuity, in both Sex and the City, and the Handler book and TV series (as well as the Faris movie) are the unhappiness the female leads encounter with the men in their lives. It was Tiger Woods who cheated on Swedish supermodel Elin Nordgren, not the other way around. It is George Clooney who dumps his girlfriends, not the other way around. It is Leonardo Di Caprio, who dumps his girlfriends, not the other way around. Women in the West are desperately searching for a dominant, Alpha A-hole they can keep, and since the price these men extract is casual sex, that is what drives an ever expanding sexual partner count for modern Western Women. As I noted back in 2010,, author Julie Klausner’s “I Don’t Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Faux Sensitive Hipsters, Felons and Others” details her tawdry sexual encounters searching for that elusive, dominant Alpha A-hole male:
Like most of us, she spent her twenties ricocheting from douchebag to douchebag, and she reveals every crappy moment in her dating memoir I Don’t Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Faux Sensitive Hipsters, Felons and Others. As expected, there are tons of laugh-out-loud lines delivered from Klaunser’s sharp-wit pen. More surprisingly is how cringeworthy tales of blow jobs with goths and bedbug-infested one-night stands are followed with sage observations. For instance, she points out the stark difference between guys and men. (As she writes, if Mad Men was called Mad Guys, it’d star Joe Pesci and not Jon Hamm.)
Historically, leading men, at least in comedy, have featured either the feckless or the boorish: the Fred Flintstones and Bullwinkles and then useless beta males. In my book, I say date guys like Rowlf and Fozzi and not Kermit. Let me think about it.
It’s the teenage boys I’m worried about. They’re not going to college in numbers. They’re going to be angry — depending on who’s coming back from the war. There are charities for girls and I’m all for that, but ultimately, the real problem is the epidemic of inferior men – which is basically what my book is about.
Women have been trying to tell men in the West what is wrong. They just are not sexy enough, dammit! Useless, inferior, beta males. That’s why they sleep with hipsters, trustafarians, indie rockers, and felons. Ricocheting as the reviewer (herself a young woman) from douchebag to douchebag. Hollywood is dialed into that complaint, itself being populated in middle and near upper level management, by women. Who share the same complaint. Its one thing if say, your husband is Robert Downey Jr. He’s a big time movie star. He’s Iron Man, or Sherlock Holmes! It is quite another if your husband or boyfriend is some corporate drone, who does not excite respect or more importantly, desire among your girlfriends. If your girlfriend does not want to sleep with him, he’s a useless, inferior, beta male.
This is why Hollywood is worth examining. Hollywood tends to respond poorly, like GM before it, to demands by its customers, but it does respond. How it operates, and what it produces, tells you at least what elite women are thinking, and the men around them as well, in terms of how society functions and how they think it ought to function. So far at least, Hollywood (and publishing) recognize that the large amounts of sexual partners their attractive leading ladies (Klausner is not bad looking, Handler quite attractive in her twenties, Prepon a classic leading lady, Faris quite attractive, Moore still turns heads at age 52) end up with in films/stories is a result of there being too few Alpha A-hole men that are willing to commit. To be that reformed bad boy (like Downey Jr.) that has both domesticity, but not too much, an edge like a fighting dog that is well trained.
That this is not a realistic expectation, for the 99.99% of women who lack the supermodel beauty of say, Giselle Bundchen needed to attract a Tom Brady in the first place, has not yet penetrated. But clearly women are not happy with all these partners, preferring in the main to have one great, sexy, dominant, super-guy. And complaining when they don’t get one.
The male part of the equation is of course ignored, but Hollywood being a gay-female ghetto that is to be expected.