Switching Gender in the Movies: 50/50Posted: March 25, 2012
I’ll start this off by saying that I really enjoyed 50/50. It can’t be easy to write a comedy about cancer that also makes people cry, and this movie pulls it off really well. One of the only things I disliked about the movie, and it’s not even real dislike, was the fact that it made me think of how few similar movies exist about women. Actually, this movie may have been the one that inspired me to start writing about gender flipping in movies. (I’m not sure why I wrote As Good As It Gets first, but I did.) Like before, I’m not giving a plot summary but there will probably be some spoilers.
Very little in 50/50 would change if the gender identities of all the characters were flipped. The central plot, of two friends dealing with the fact that one of them has cancer, would stay exactly the same. The way the Adam and Kyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen’s characters) interact with each other wouldn’t need to change much, although the joke about shaving your head with your friend’s testicle trimmers might not work quite as well. I can think of several easy modifications, though, so I don’t see that as much of a problem. Adam’s mother is almost a stock character (although Angelica Houston does amazing things with it), but it might be fun to see how the overbearing parent trope plays out in a father-daughter relationship as opposed to mother-son. It would also be nice to see a man be overprotective of his daughter for something not related to sex.
I would really enjoy seeing Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Rachael, played as a man. For some reason I think that a man cheating on his cancer-having girlfriend comes across as less bitchy and vindictive than Rachael character did in this movie. (I would like it even more if straight women could do shitty things to their romantic partners in movies without those shitty things being somehow connected to their womanhood, but this isn’t the time for that discussion.) Gender stereotypes are so strongly ingrained pop culture that it’s impossible to talk about straight romantic relationships without running into them. When Rachael cheats on Adam, she’s not just being an asshole to him, but she’s also failing in her womanly duties to care for him. Even if you (like me) absolutely do not believe that women have any kind of inherent nurturing tendencies, you might still find her behaviour jarring because it so strongly goes against the way women are portrayed. A man doing the same thing doesn’t buck any stereotypes, but it takes away that gendered dimension. Also, I really love the idea of a woman shouting Kyle’s line, “I’ve hated you for months, and now I have fuckin’ evidence that you suck as a person!” to her best friend’s boyfriend.
Adam’s interactions with the other chemo patients would show some really nice intergenerational conversations among women. Mitch and Alan’s skepticism about Rachael’s behaviour might be played as more meddlesome and nagging when expressed by women, but it would be quite refreshing to see three women talk about life and death and also get high.
Then, of course, we have Anna Kendrick as Katherine, Adam’s therapist. Her role and her relationship with Adam are written in such a way that neither character comes across as creepy or desperate, although giving a client your cell number is probably not a good idea for any therapist. The only thing that might not be as believable with the genders flipped is how bad Katherine is at her job. I feel like people are more accepting of an incompetent woman in a caregiving role than they are of an incompetent dude, maybe because we see more women than men in caregiving roles in general, and maybe because we see more women than men in movies screw up at their jobs because they’re emotional and don’t know how to handle the stress. Or something. In any case, I would be interested to see if a man in Katherine’s role could still come across as worth hanging out with.
I don’t watch a lot of movies, so it’s possible that something like 50/50 except starring women exists, but I feel like I probably would have heard about that on teh feminist blogz, so I highly doubt it. The closest ones I can think of are Now and Then, which came out in 1995, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, from 2005. I don’t remember much about the publicity for or public reaction to Now and Then, but I do remember that The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was marketed to teenage girls and generally perceived as a movie for girls. I knew many people (mostly guys, I think) who didn’t see it because they thought it looked stupid, and a lot of them didn’t believe me when I told them that it was actually a really great movie. They had no interest in seeing a movie about girl problems. Maybe they thought it would be all about tampons and hair braiding?
People have made this point before, but it’s still true so I’m going to say it again: Movies about girls are always movies about girls, and movies about boys are usually movies about people. I would actually really like to see a movie almost identical to 50/50, but about women, not men. If I were in the movimaking business, I might try making it myself, but apparently I’d be told that no one would want to see it. It would be so refreshing, though, to see a friendship between two women explored with such depth and nuance in a serious, non satirical way.