Where Have All the Cary Grants Gone?

5 minute read
Belinda Luscombe

Pity poor Uma Thurman. In My Super Ex-Girlfriend, her new movie, she plays a superhero who falls for Luke Wilson, a not very successful architect. He does not reciprocate, a less than shrewd response to a woman who, with one glance, can set you alight–and I don’t mean with desire. In her last romantic comedy, Prime, she played a high-powered fashion consultant who’s dating a man who worked as a kitchen hand and moved into her apartment and played a lot of video games. Those are the men Uma Thurman gets. Or doesn’t.

But she’s not alone. In this summer’s The Break-Up, Jennifer Aniston lives with an overweight and slobby tour guide, while in Failure to Launch, Sarah Jessica Parker woos a man who dwells with his parents. Those guys would have bonded well with the lads from last year’s Wedding Crashers, who sneak into other people’s nuptials because they have no life, or with that 40 Year-Old Virgin fella. Or, for that matter, the gentlemen from Hitch or Fever Pitch or Along Came Polly or almost any other recent movie in the opening scenes of which boy and girl meet cute. They are, all of them, spectacular weenies.

The shift in power between the sexes has nowhere been greater than in romantic comedies. The men are about as useful as a pitcher of spit, while the women have careers and well-furnished apartments and vast freighters of wisdom. In Julianne Moore’s next movie, Trust the Man, she plays a successful actress, while her husband has no remunerative employment. How does her real-life husband feel about being portrayed that way? You can ask him. He wrote the movie.

What’s with the rash of wussy love interests? Why all the “unsuccessful architects” (movie shorthand for men who cannot, so to speak, get things up)? Is this the great revolution wrought by the ascent of women to the heads of studios? Is it because guys with real jobs and some sense of purpose, let alone captains of industry, simply aren’t funny? (“Ladies and gentlemen, the adorable antics of Ben Bernanke!”) Is it just another attack from liberal Hollywood, constantly harping about the buffoon who keeps messing things up and his smart, attractive Right-Hand Woman who has to set it to rights?

Most of the men in these movies are under 40. Could it be that a generation raised by women who worked at paying jobs before pulling a second shift as homemakers simply find any situation in which women are not heroically gifted and energetic to be too much of a suspension of disbelief?

We know what the schlub love interests are not. They are not a female fantasy. Given Uma-like superpowers or even Condi-like earthly powers, women would not, surely, choose to waste them on bringing numskulls who look like Ben Stiller up to I’m-prepared-to-be-seen-out-with-you standard. Women need their superpowers for more important stuff like fighting illiteracy and deflecting people’s attention away from the fact they’ve gone maybe one day too long without shaving their legs.

You don’t have to talk to smart single women for long before the subject moves on to the difficulty of finding even a standard-issue male. The more powerful the woman, the more elusive the match. Nor are married women above a little Y-chromosome deflation. “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage” was one of the most e-mailed stories from the New York Times archive in recent weeks. It’s a woman’s account of using taming techniques on her spouse that she picked up from animal trainers. Apparently, if it works on a cricket, it works on a husband.

But who, settling into the center of the fifth row on a Friday night, Junior Mints and large diet soda in hand, wants to be reminded of real men? Why do we have to keep seeing in movies the people we sneaked out of the house to get away from?

It’s clear we can’t return to the days of Gigi and Daddy Long Legs and Funny Girl, when gawky young women were transformed into Givenchy-wearing lovelies by suave, much older men who danced well. Steve Martin tried that last year with shopgirl. In the scene where he puts his hand on Claire Danes’ naked back, audience members around me practically reached for their cell phones to dial child services. Meanwhile, the vicissitudes of show biz have done in the witty Spencer Tracy–Katharine Hepburn bickerfests, because they require people to actually pay attention. And let’s face it, we have all drunk at the Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan soda-pop stand once too often. So, yes, our romantic-comedy appetites are limited.

But would it be too much to ask to have women occasionally be the losers? Why is it that when stranded men are rescued by women it’s comedy but when women are rescued by men it’s an action film? Females have exactly the same rights to louse up and slack off and be really immature and dysfunctional as men do. If you put a banana peel in front of us, do we not slip? Enough is enough. The time has come to rise up, my sisters! Let’s fight for our right to be in the wrong.

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