June 24, 2012

Cheapskate Film Festival: KINSEY/IN THE COMPANY OF MEN

(Please note - parts of this post may be NSFW)

To be completely honest, I had a hard time writing this post. Part of it was that originally, I had conceived of it as an "Open Letter to the Geek Community"; it actually began as a discussion in a Facebook group. There was a meme going around comparing sexism in popular culture vs. "geek" culture; needless to say, it forced me to confront my own attitudes in a positive way, to look at my own assumptions.

So today's entries in the festival are a pair of films - one which shows male behavior at its worst; the other a film that suggests that perhaps frank talk about sexuality and sexual roles can be simultaneously constricting and liberating.

In all honesty, In the Company of Men is a film that I have a hard time viewing....yet it's one of my favorite movies. It's simultaneously enjoyable - and difficult - because despite it being labelled a "black comedy", it's also one of the most unflinching looks at male "douchebag" behavior.  (Think of this as Aaron Eckhart doing a less obviously-satirical take on his character in Thank You For Smoking). The setup is relatively simple: two guys at an office decide to find a completely vulnerable deaf woman, build her up, and then break her heart....just because they can.

(This is, of course, from the same creative mind that not only remade a classic British horror film, but felt that it needed to include a scene where Nicholas Cage punches a woman while wearing a bear suit. I wish I didn't type that last line). 

But what's fascinating about In the Company of Men is that it is unapologetic in showing the two male leads in an unsympathetic light - there's no nod to the audience that "yes, these guys are lovable" (although one comes out slightly more sympathetic than the other. It's almost as if most male geeks/nerds/what have you saw this movie as a how-to guide for dealing with the other sex.

Which is a shame, because Kinsey, directed by Robert Condon (who also did Gods and Monsters) is a great antidote - yes, it's a biopic of Albert Kinsey, and in many ways, it hits several of the same story beats as any film about a "pioneer". However, one of the truly remarkable things about this film is its frankness - not only in its depictions of sexuality and sexual matters, but about the need for open and honest communication between genders....let's face it, open and honest communication between human beings.

Kinsey is also notable in that it features Liam Neesen - the current tough guy du jour - as, well, a bit of an awkward geek. He starts off with an interest in insects, and yet somehow manages to become the driving force behind exploring sexual behavior. There's a solidness to his performance, despite the fact that he's playing a man who ends up being known for all the wrong reasons. And the ending....well, without spoiling, it suggests that possibly, it is easy to find true connection despite any external activity.

So, geek/nerd contingent, here's your challenge - try watching these two films with others of different genders and orientations. Then have an open and honest talk.

Because that might be a good next step in moving away from geek stereotypes - that "kickass" women are the only alternative to "pretty" women; that bad behavior in men is OK, and the ultimate stereotype: that somehow, geeks and nerds lack basic social skills.

Because we all gotta start somewhere, so why not here?

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