THE BLOG
12/29/2011 05:16 pm ET | Updated Feb 28, 2012

FACE IT: Hollywood's 'End of Men' Backlash

For a generation or so, we have been about empowering girls, whether on the ball field, in the math and science classrooms, or in heightening their political aspirations. So is it any wonder that boys should be making a comeback?

One place they are doing it this year is at the movies. No, I am not talking about the Judd Apatow variety of men who can't stop behaving like boys. I mean the young male variety who, if anything, are efficient and clever enough to behave like men.

Think about it: we had the final installment of the "Harry Potter" series in which the boy wizard out-wizzared them all and made a killing at the box office. Now we have "Hugo," an aspiring inventor-kid who secretly calls a railroad station his home. Then there is the weirdly brainy boy at the center of the just released "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." He is on a journey to make sense of his father's death on "the worst day," otherwise known as 9/11. Even the current release "My Week With Marilyn" may have the legendary screen star in the title and a talented Michelle WIlliams as Marilyn, but hers is a supporting role in the story of a very young man's experience.

There are two new films from Steven Spielberg who, now in his 60s, remains the perennial boy wonder. Albert, in "War Horse," grows up during his World War One adventure, but never loses his attachment to his equine friend, Joey. The director, amazingly, also has just released "The Adventures of Tin Tin," the computer-animated version of the boy adventurer made famous in a European comic book series. On the animation front, as well, is "Arthur Christmas" about well, a youth named Arthur.

Yes, occasionally these young heroes have a young girl as companion in their stories -- some claim Hermione has always been the brains behind the Potter stories -- but the boys are clearly the driving forces. That so many should erupt at one time seems oddly coincidental. I submit it is less the result of the usual paucity of female roles in Hollywood -- and even the oft-stated fact that young women will watch men more than young men will watch women -- and more about all that pent-up testosterone.

... At least in real (if not reel) life. Women's studies are now part of most curriculums, young women have fought their way through formerly all-male bastions, and they even watched one of their own run for President. For awhile there, Disney and other animators even occasionally switched their leading characters to girls: from Ariel of "The Little Mermaid" to "Pocahontas" to "Beauty and the Beast" (emphasis there on the pro-active Beauty). So much attention has been focused on bringing girls up to equality that the other gender has stood by patiently. Apparently, long enough.

I have no objections to watching so many young males on screen -- even Albert's horse is a guy -- but what has been somewhat disturbing is that women have at the same time been unusually, well, neurotic. Surely, these make for the most interesting and demanding roles for actresses, but still! Kisten Dunst is catatonically depressed in "Melancholia"; Keira Knightly eventually becomes a serious medic in "A Dangerous Method," but she goes through a lot of hysteria and debasing sexual treatment to get there.

Claire Danes is terrific in Showtime's "Homeland" but it wasn't enough to make her a superb agent. She had to be a bipolar one. (Just as Edie Falco can't just be a complex and talented nurse, she has to be a pill-popping one) Charlize Theron is terrific in "Young Adult" but she's also a delusional bitch. Again, a great role and beautifully played and one can accurately argue that it's the kind of role men have been allowed to play for years. Just as "Bridesmaids" proved women can be funny and potty-mouthed and bring in audiences too.

In the end, maybe things are evening out on and off screen. If any character combines both the male and female it is not Glenn Close's acclaimed performance as Albert Nobbs in the film of the same name, a movie about a woman who had to dress as a man to be accepted in society. No, that would be Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo. She manages to be capable while being both sexual victim and initiator, pierced and vulnerable.

So there are joys -- as well as boys -- to celebrate this holiday season.