Saturday, January 15, 2011

We need more "Salt" in our entertainment diet

Apropos of nothing: I sat down with my Fella the other night to watch Salt, the action/thriller starring Angelina Jolie released last year to very mixed reviews. It has a ridiculous plot, she wears one of the most ham-handed outfits I've ever seen in a film (and I've seen a lot of ridiculous in my day), and is not what you'd call a great movie overall.

I loved it.

Why? Because the titular role, Evelyn Salt, is a complete and utter bad-ass. And not the done-to-death hot lady/big boobs/seducin' men/witty comebacks bad-ass but non-threatening female lead that even Jolie has been guilty of playing, either. She's mean. Jolie's portrayal is ovaries-to-the-wall hardcore (she did many of the stunts herself, and to the productions' credit, they used a refreshingly small amount of CG to get it done). The fights are gnarly and believable. It's fun to watch, plain and simple, and the sad fact is that we so rarely get to see a female lead - or even supporting character - like this in movies or television. I could probably list them all on both hands, with room to spare.

And you know why? Because the part of Salt was originally written for a man. When the original lead actor dropped out, Jolie asked to be given the part instead - and since you don't turn down Angelina Fucking Jolie they did just that, simply tweaking the script a little to reflect the different gender pronoun.

It works. It works so, so well. I wish the rest of the plot hadn't been quite so ludicrous because otherwise it's just an incredibly entertaining female-fronted flick with excellently choreographed fights and action sequences,. This is how you do it, folks. Having a strong female lead changes certain aspects of how you write a character and plot, yes, but not nearly as much as I think most of Hollywood has led itself to believe.

This goes for the Schluppy Normal Guy's Life Crisis movies, too. What about women? We're schluppy and layered and flawed and lovable, too, but you wouldn't know it from how we're represented in popular entertainment.

The Bechdel Test should be required reading for all screenwriters:
  1. It has to have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man
Now there's an idea.

Yes, ultimately a big part of Salt's motivation has to do with a man (her husband) - but she doesn't talk about it the entire time, she's morally ambiguous through most of the movie, and when she fights she fights mean. And, for better or worse, that makes Salt a ground-breaking movie. It shouldn't be, of course - letting women be human beings in movies ought not be such a novel concept.


Jesse said...

I'm proud to report that all of the Resident Evil films pass the Bechdel Test.

Emily said...

Hah, awesome. Movies don't need to be high quality to pass the test - and, frankly, they shouldn't have to be, either. Fair's fair.

MIKE said...

The Social Network fails that test. Badly. The women in that film were sadly lacking in substance and seemed to be there solely for the sake of the men in it. Anya lamented the second class status of women in this movie and she has hit the nail upon the head.
We will have to check out Salt for a different female presentation.

The Lost Albatross