Thursday, May 8, 2014

Missed opportunities

I've probably seen Ben Stiller's painfully silly Zoolander something like twenty times. I know for sure that I REALLY hated it the first two times I saw it (and I still adore Roger Ebert's scathing commentary about digitally deleting the WTC Towers from the finished film) but some time in the middle two thousands I started having fun while I was watching the movie. I like a lot of the silly jokes, I like how slapstick-stupid the film can be, I like all the ridiculous cameos from people (ahem, David Bowie) who should have had something better to do with their time, and I like the way the film represents the absurd spectacle that is the fashion industry. In my late teens and early twenties all of these things that I liked were good enough for me to sit down and let Zoolander run in the background while I was doing something else.

I guess at some point in the last five years that changed because I watched it yesterday and felt surprisingly stabby through a significant portion of the film.

Here's how I'm going to break it down: Zoolander had the opportunity to be both funny and meaningful, but chose to be only funny which actually made it less funny because the lack of meaning is distracting.

In the background of all of Derek Zoolander's stupid antics the film brings up fair wages for clothing manufacture, eating disorders triggered by the fashion industry, and whether there's more to life than being really ridiculously good-looking. None of these things except the last is discussed in any meaningful way, and then it's decided that Yes, there is more to life than being good-looking and it can be taught in an institute that trains young, poor models.

Here are just a couple of things the film easily could have done differently, better, or at all, and made the movie less of an object of contempt:

1 - Poke SERIOUS fun at fashion: the only way the fashion industry is mocked is through the stupidity of its models and designers, not for any of the serious problems that it has (contributing to the idea of a disposable world, considering a large number of consumers as sub-human, actually having a HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM with paying slave wages to third-world manufacturers - a real problem, not just a funny reason to train a model to assassinate a Prime Minister).

2 - Actually discuss eating disorders: when Matilda admits that she had been bulimic the two models she's talking to basically say "Yeah, everyone does that - so what?" and later in the movie Derek says "I'm sorry if fashion made you feel bad about yourself and made you make yourself puke." Let's pause for just a second. Absorb. *Sigh.* Eating disorders are the sort of thing that needs to be talked about soberly and thoroughly. If your only response to "fashion gave me an eating disorder" is "that's okay because everyone in fashion has an eating disorder" then you shouldn't bring up eating disorders at all. Because this isn't explored any further than the above, the apology that Derek gives Matilda comes off sounding like "I'm sorry you felt bad about yourself but I'm totally going to keep purging" because at no point is it explained to him (or to the audience) that eating disorders are bad. Instead you just see someone admitting to have an eating disorder and then being told "oh yeah, that's a great way to lose pounds quick for a shoot." WHAT THE FUCK?

3 - Maybe leave out the sexy/funny date rape; After Matilda is reassured that all models have eating disorders and has been lambasted for going a couple of years without sex, Hansel stays her arguments by saying "Shh, shut your mouth and let the tea do its work" which then segues into a gangbang featuring Matilda and a rota of Lapp dwarves, Sherpas, models, and people with facial tattoos. I'm not going to say that it's always date rape when someone has been using drugs or drinking  but I think the date-rapeyness quotient goes up when you're inviting people for a fuckromp with someone who is high. Just to clarify a little, Matilda drinks the tea and starts having sex with Hansel and Derek while she is still presumably sober and seems pretty into it, then at some point AFTER she is high she has sex with a whole bunch of people that we never saw her considering sex with while sober. Some people might say "eh, she was into it, who cares" and I say I care because impaired people are not capable of giving consent and so by throwing this silly little "how could we get this hot chick to have funny sex with little people" scene into the movie they're accidentally normalizing date rape and reinforcing the idea that "it's not rape if she's into it" - it absofuckingloutely can be rape if she's into it and she's drugged, fuckwads.

Anyway, I'm clearly too angry to write anything else about this movie. I may continue to enjoy clips of it in the future, and the mer-man commercial is pretty goddamn funny, but I think I'm finally totally over Zoolander.

     - Alli

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