Friday was a wild day. In the morning, I participated in a passionate HuffPost Live conversation about race and the GOP, where I was the only white person who didn't say, "I have a black friend so I'm not racist." Seeking solace and camaraderie among my left-leaning brethren, I attended a Chicago screening of Sleepwalk With Me in the evening, a movie that is, um, how can I put this nicely, a modern woman's worst nightmare. When the media's finest -- Ira Glass and Chicago public radio station WBEZ among them -- produce a film like this, one that is so incredibly gender biased, I just have to ask: Has the world -- or at least our tiny corner of it -- gone totally batshit crazy?
The movie stars Mike Birbiglia as Matt, another lost and supposed-to-be-endearing guy who can't get his act together professionally or personally. And I mean "act" literally, as he's muddling his way through a career in stand-up comedy. Portions of the screenplay were adapted from Birbiglia's stand-up show, and it was co-written by the comedian's brother, Joe Birbiglia, Seth Barrish and Ira Glass, host of public radio's "This American Life," which had previously aired some of Birbiglia's own escapades with dating and sleepwalking.
Now I have to admit, when I read the description of the movie, I was concerned. Not another Awesome Girl Is Desperate To Get Married and Her Pathetic and Unworthy Boyfriend Is On The Proverbial Fence story. Please, no. My hubby, on the other hand, couldn't wait to see it, especially since Ira Glass would be on hand to field questions after the screening. Though I do not share hubby's love of all things public radio, I held on to the hope that I could reasonably expect to see at least a perfunctory challenge to tired old gender roles.
That was the hope. The reality was anything but. Sleepwalk With Me turned out to be clichéd, predictable and insulting to the women of the world who do not live for the possibility of landing a down-and-outer and siring his offspring.
I know, I sound harsh. Let me explain, since the source of my dismay is simple. Yet again, a group of dudes has created a movie that portrays women as a combination of saintly and beautiful morons waiting around for guys who don't deserve them. Birbiglia's girlfriend, Abby (played by Lauren Ambrose), is the next of the Apatow-esque prototype: beautiful, smart, kind, talented, fun, supportive and loving. In short, she's perfection topped off with absurdly juvenile hairdos reminiscent of the youngest daughter in The Sound of Music. She's only slightly less annoying than the other lead female character, Matt's mom (played by Carol Kane), who is one chirpy chirp away from the cuckoo's nest.
Oh, how I wish they had included a sassy best friend character for Abby to balance out the misogynist script, storyline, characters and hairstyles. Why don't we do that here? We'll call her... hmmm... how about Wendy. We'll make "Wendy" a mom who's still trying to take off the baby weight (from five years ago), still trying to figure out her career path, can't cook to save her life, gets grouchy sometimes for no reason at all and is happily married to a guy who treats her very well (a real stretch of the imagination here). Let's pretend that Abby is complaining to Wendy about her relationship. Actually, she's not complaining, because she's patient, accommodating and adoring. We'll say instead that she's musing about the fact that Matt treats her like shit.
Abby: "I think Matt's a little nervous about where our relationship is headed."
Wendy: "Why do you think that?"
Abby: "Well, he's having major sleep trouble, is on the road for weeks at a time, can't bear to talk about marriage or the future, and may or may not have cheated on me."
Wendy: "You need to get the f*ck out of this relationship, fast. You are beautiful, smart, kind, talented, fun, supportive and loving. Why are you letting yourself get totally jerked around by a guy who should be worshipping the ground you walk on? Here is the name of my therapist. Call him now so you can figure out why you are staying with a guy who will never fully commit to you, whether he walks down the aisle or not."
These slacker-striver romantic comedies, as David Denby of the New Yorker refers to them, follow roughly the same formula: diamond-way-too-far-in-the-rough guy need only do the bare minimum in life and love to attract the bright and successful woman. Kajillions of dollars have been made from these anemic plot lines, which depend on wonderful women degrading themselves for guys who are wayward losers. I wonder: Are Birbiglia, Apatow, Rogen and others creating the male version of fantasyland, or are they holding a mirror up to what's become women's reality?
I'll be honest with you. I was one of those women who accepted scraps from the men I dated. And scraps are exactly what I got until I finally realized that I wanted and deserved more. That's when I met the guy I decided to marry. That's right. I decided, right there along with him. And I didn't wait around for him to ask, I'll tell you that. It was a mutual decision based on respect and love, not him catching me TiVo-ing lame marriage and baby reality shows.
And that brings me back to the beginning. I expected a certain level of cluelessness when I joined a HuffPost Live chat with four Republican women who were unaware of the biases and stereotypes that undoubtedly exist in each and every one of us. But I expected more from Ira Glass, Mike Birbiglia, WBEZ and the people around me in the movie theater on Friday night who were eating up this sad and onerous tale.
Since I wrote in the best friend character, I might as well rewrite the ending here, too. Instead of a peaceful and enlightened Matt telling us how Abby graciously takes responsibility even years later for their failed relationship, here's what I recommend: She dumps his ass, lets him wallow in a hell of his own making and moves on to find a happiness she never knew existed. Now that, my dear friends, would be a dream come true.
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