Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Girly-Tough Ain't Enough

In 'Million Dollar Baby' the grizzled boxing trainer, Frankie Dunn, played by Clint Eastwood, tells the plucky wannabe Maggie, played by Hilary Swank, 'Girly-Tough ain't enough'. I always loved that line. Maggie has a searing desire to become a boxer but her drive is based on emotionality -- a need to become something and find value as a person -- not so much the desire to pound the crap out of the opponent in the ring. Frankie wants less emotionality and more brass tacks true grit.

It may not be good enough for female characters to be emotionally tough anymore. They may have to tough in a fight (with a man) even if that means levelling the playing field in any manner or with any technique they see fit.

Angelina Jolie's Evelyn Salt is tough in a way that's less touchy-feely and more baseline 'fuck with me and I'll burn your ass' and she proves it again and again at the drop of a hat. Most men would not want to tangle with her.

There is a similar vibe from Noomi Rapace in the 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' and possibly more so in 'The Girl Who Played with Fire'. The female protagonist in the 2010 remake of 'I Spit on Your Grave' is a far cry from 'girly-tough'.

These women don't hesitate to fight with a man. This could be the new standard for female action stars.

A couple quotes in Ann Hornaday's Washington Post write-up on the upcoming 'Salt' caught my eye, especially producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura's comparison of Angelina Jolie to Steve McQueen:

"I don't think a hero is male or female. I think it's actually non-gender-specific," says "Salt" producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "Every action beat [Jolie] takes, every critical decision she makes . . . a guy's going to do the same thing as she does. She's going to bring her own skill set the same way a guy would bring his own skill set.

But fundamentally the actions are the same. I think that's where the breakthrough is -- that we can stop saying 'female action' or 'male action,' we'll just say 'action star.' I think she's really, in a way, gone beyond gender."

Di Bonaventura compares Jolie to Steve McQueen in the way she combines her athleticism and acting ability:

"Steve McQueen wasn't a big guy. She's not a big girl. He wasn't pumped up. She's not pumped up. But you believed Steve McQueen was going to kick whoever's ass it was. And you believe she can kick whoever's ass it is. And that's attitude, not physicality."

I hadn't thought of that. It's true. McQueen wasn't a brawny guy at all but nobody would doubt he could hold his ground in a fight -- he's got that glare. And, Jolie has no problem convincing us she could bash your face in and best any man (she may have invented the glare for women).

I can't think of another female actor who has that kind of energy. I just don't see Linda Hamilton, buffed up though she may have been in 'Terminator', being believable winning an all out fistfight with a man. Sigourney Weaver's character in 'Alien' lost a fight with a man -- although 'he' was a machine. Neither Weaver or Hamilton (or any other female actor I can think of) portrayed an intimidating character then the way Angelina Jolie does now.

We've come a long way since the days when toughness in female characters was mainly reflected by their dialogue. A tough-talking Angie Dickinson comes to mind.

Here's another clip from Hornaday's piece:

When the writers made Salt a woman, Jolie explains, "the instinct would be . . . to make it softer, and instead we decided it had to be meaner. She had to fight dirty and darker because that's what you'd have to do to win against a man who's much bigger than you."

In one of the getaway sequences, Evelyn Salt is portrayed as driving a cop car by shocking the (unconscious) police officer in the driver's seat with a taser -- creating reflex actions that work the pedals, and steering wheel, etc. That kind of thing would be reprehensible for a male character -- definitely hitting below the belt -- but acceptable from Jolie's character for the reasons she cites. A woman would have to fight dirty to overcome the strength difference with a man.

So, Evelyn Salt is grittier both emotionally and physically than, say, Matt Damon's Jason Bourne or Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt.

For me, it's a welcome change. For me, in movies, girly-tough ain't nearly enough.

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