I don't drink or smoke, so when I want to wind down after a long day, feel-good films are my vice: Lifetime movies, anything by Tyler Perry and anything with J Lo. Naturally, when I found out that she was co-producing and starring in a new flick, I looked forward to it. Lopez's roles are usually light-hearted and fun if not taken too seriously, and since the screenplay was written by a woman, and Lopez is unafraid to publicly identify as a feminist, I was interested in seeing what she would produce. But rather than feeling relaxed, or even just grateful that my life is monumentally easier than the protagonist's -- the way I usually feel after watching similar movies -- I was left feeling disturbed, uncomfortable and frankly, a little irritated.
I'd like to start off by stressing that I'm not delusional; as an enjoyer of light, fluffy plot lines, nonsensical rom-coms, hilarious horror and dramatically over-the-top Lifetime flicks, I was ready to overlook a lot because I knew what I was signing up for. Our anti-hero has a painfully obvious Oedipus complex? Love it. The main character's a "classics" teacher who's newest yet oldest student just gave her a "first edition" of The Iliad? LOL. She teaches juniors, yet the new kid is pushing 20 (and looks more like 30)? No problem. She never bothers to alert the police even though she's "not scared" because "who are they going to believe?" Weird, but OK!
What I couldn't reconcile was the film's depiction of Kristin Chenoweth's character, who plays Lopez's confidante, BFF and superior. Throughout, the audience is sent clear signals about the vast differences between Vicky (played by Kristin) and Claire (J Lo). Vicky is a "bad girl" -- she's authoritative, she doesn't take shit,and she makes the inexcusable mistake of "trying" to be sexy. In fact, she shamelessly asserts her sexuality. She's a femme fatale, and she must be severely punished for her transgressions. By contrast, Claire is "good": she dresses modestly, she wears spectacles and reads "classics," she wants to forgive her philandering husband and she initially tries to resist the forceful come-ons of the man/boy she's branded as some sort of buff Byronic hero. "Nice" or "good girls," with their sexually submissive attitudes and eternal fountain of forgiveness for their male counterparts (who can't be held responsible for their lusty desires, after all) can in turn, be absolved for their sins. "Bad girls," on the other hand, must pay.
Claire is presented to the audience as more desirable than Vicky. When the Homer-quoting Heathcliff wannabe named Noah comments on Claire's shoes, she confesses that they're actually Vicky's. He announces his approval. The shoes are for women who trying to be sexy (how awful!), and Claire doesn't need to try. Because her marriage is on the rocks, Claire is more flattered than put off by this chauvinistic remark.
Then, when Claire comes over a few days later, he practically forces himself on her, as she says "no" what seems like hundreds of times. But she gives in; after all, how could she resist his manly charms? Although the sex looks more stilted than steamy, apparently Noah was satisfied because the next morning, he acts creepily delusional. The whole scene was confusing to me because I wasn't sure who would be turned on by watching it. As a woman, I felt uneasy with how Noah refused to take "no" for an answer and again brushed off Claire's misgivings in the morning. If I was male, I'd be rolling my eyes at all the close-ups on our hunky Heathcliff's torso, while Lopez coyly used her blanket to avoid full-frontal. So far, the movie has sent a pretty clear message to viewers that men are by nature sexual and aggressive, and women should relent, know their place and not "try too hard."
But no, the movie isn't done beating its point into the ground, literally. Due to his inability to comprehend rejection, Noah's behaviour becomes increasingly troubling. He tampers with the brakes in Claire's husband's car. He almost kills a skater boy for taunting Claire's son (although he doesn't appear to particularly care for her son -- sleeping with his hardware-store hottie love interest, trying to off his father and later on trying to kill him -- so Noah's motive for this is unclear). He threatens to expose Claire for bedding a student. The film tries to sell Noah to us as a "tortured soul," depicting him as the pinnacle of masculinity. Sure, he gets his comeuppance, but not in the way that Vicky does.
Vicky, the only woman who openly stands up to Noah, is humiliated by him. She tries to defend skater boy, but Noah throws her to the ground with a flick of the wrist. It's only when a male teacher interferes that Noah is able to be restrained. Later on in Vicky's office, Noah calls her a "dried-up dirty fucking cunt," and the movie doesn't even let her slap him in retaliation. Vicky plots with Claire to help her recover and destroy what I'm sure would've been the world's most awkward sex tape, but Noah is on to her, sneaking into her house and tying her up, finally taming the temptress. The audience doesn't see Vicky again until Claire discovers her as nothing more than a bound, bloodied corpse.
Really? Really, The Boy Next Door? Did this character deserve to die for daring to be unwed in her 40s, walking around in high heels and trying to take down psychopaths? Did she have to be presented as inferior to Noah in every way, being overpowered and outsmarted by him?
The messages that this movie sends to both its male and female viewers are problematic and dangerous. I usually enjoy these types of films because they at least attempt to make an uplifting point towards the end, even that message isn't much more than "be glad you aren't them!" But I can't think of anything good that this movie is promoting.