Friday, 2 September 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 77 - Thelma & Louise

#24 - Thelma & Louise

I’d like to give you all something to think about – say Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon were all in competition to create the best feminist character. Which of them do you think would be out first and which do you think would win? Well Joss would be out straight away since he usually overdoes it with the positive discrimination and affirmative action. As much as I like him, I’d say Ridley wouldn’t win because after GI Jane his feminism got a little too preachy. Thankfully though this film in question, despite being branded as the ultimate chick flick and “anti-male” movie, doesn’t feel as preachy as some of his other projects. I present to you, a story about two women who made all the wrong choices.

Louise Elizabeth Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) is a middle-aged and slightly wild woman who waitresses in a diner and has an on-again-off-again relationship with her boyfriend Jimmy. Thelma Yvonne Dickinson (Geena Davis) is an unemployed housewife stuck in a bit of an unhappy marriage to her controlling husband Darryl. These two women happen to be best friends and they decide to take a weekend trip to a cabin in the mountains and let their hair down. They stop at a bar on the way just to have a little fun and Thelma has a little too much to drink and starts flirting with a guy named Harlan. When Thelma wises up and tells him she’s married, Harlan won’t take no for an answer and tries to rape her. Luckily Thelma packed a revolver her husband got her and Louise shows up just in the nick of time. Harlan makes a wise crack that seriously pisses Louise off and she shoots him dead. Louise reasons that they can’t prove she shot Harlan in self-defence and so the two of them take off in Louise’s car, hoping to head to Mexico. Meanwhile they are pursued by a sympathetic detective who wants to try and get them off lightly.

I guess I really should nip the main argument in the bud. People do love to label this film as “anti-male” despite being directed by a man and receiving large amounts of praise from male fans. I will admit that several of the men encountered in the film are bad characters such as the rapist, the robber, the pervert, the coward etc but that doesn’t change the fact that both Louise’s boyfriend Jimmy and the detective Hal act as good men who help the women out along the way. And if you really want to get technical, the two women in this film aren’t so great either. About half of the problems caused in the film are all Thelma’s fault like how she flirts and dances with a man she doesn’t even know all night, leaves their money in the motel room with a known robber and ends up robbing a gas station thus adding another crime to their list. And then there’s the fact that Louise shoots Harlan in cold blood instead of walking away and calling the police. People do seem to take this film the wrong way and assume Thelma and Louise are meant to be feminist role models and good examples of strong women when they made all the wrong choices and in the end they couldn’t escape their own fears and they had to suffer for their newfound “freedom”. I guess you could argue that there was no going back for either of them.

The two female leads really do wonders together in this film. Susan Sarandon is brilliant with her southern accent and her organised yet slightly wild personality. Louise does come across as a bit of a bitch a lot of the time but Sarandon plays her in a way that we do feel for her and we want her to be alright. Louise is a pretty interesting character to look at and I personally like the way the film seems to set up that her relationship with Jimmy is like Thelma’s marriage to Darryl, with the way she goes on about him. But then it turns out that Jimmy is a nice guy and Louise seems to be the problem partner, seeing him as someone who needs to be punished by disappearing for the weekend without telling him. Thelma on the other hand is quite different. Geena Davis is much better as Thelma than as Samantha/Charly and becomes a zany and goofy character that, despite her ditziness getting them in trouble half the time, we feel for her and sympathise with her as well. I don’t know why but I liked Thelma more than Louise. It is cool to see Thelma’s growth and how she becomes a lot stronger and more decisive when Louise starts to crack a little. Plus, Davis is pretty hot in this film as well.

The male co-stars include Harvey Keitel as Hal. It is refreshing to see a good cop in a film when so many of them get portrayed as assholes. It’s cool to see Hal be technically the antagonist, hunting the two women down, but also he is the one who is trying to help them and they would be better off if they do let him help them. Though looking at the gap between this and From Dusk Till Dawn which is only about five years, time was not very kind to him. Michael Madsen finally plays a nice guy in film, stepping outside his normal villainous roles to be Jimmy. He plays a nice guy pretty well and, besides Species, this is the only film I’ve seen him play a character we actually root for. Chris MacDonald is bust-a-gut hilarious as Darryl, the big butt monkey of the story. His reaction when he watches the security tape of Thelma robbing the gas station is priceless as well as his reaction when he finds out what Thelma’s been up to for the first time. Also the bit at the start where he slips and falls wasn’t meant to happen but he stayed in character anyway. And rounding this up, we have Brad Pitt in his first big role as JD a young student that Thelma takes a fancy to. This being Brad Pitt, he spends about half his scenes shirtless and has a pretty steamy sex scene with Thelma, which I didn’t expect. Apparently Davis refused to have a body double for those scenes and performed them herself.

This being a road movie, of course you’re in for a lot of visual treats. First of all the car is a 1966 Thunderbird Convertible in green and seems perfectly designed for speeding across the American countryside. I know I don’t talk about cars that much but it is a nice thing to look at. Speaking of what’s nice to look at, it’s cool to see British director Ridley Scott getting in plenty of great shots of the American landscape and managing to give this film an “all American” vibe, almost like a modern cowboy movie. I really do love the sweeping aerial shots we get of the car driving through the deserts and arid areas with the scenery on either side of them. We do get some nice stylish imagery of the Grand Canyon as well as lot of shots that have the dust flying around the car as they drive through dirt roads.

I have a few favourite scenes in this but probably Thelma robbing the gas station is one of the best. She does it so kindly saying “ladies and gentlemen, Simon says this is a robbery” and holds the gun up in the air. The policemen watching the tape are clearly entertained and the look on Darryl’s face is just pure gold. There’s another small scene that comes just before this where Louise sees two old women looking at her from inside a window. The meaning of this scene is open to interpretation but I always took it as the two older women being envious of Louise for being younger and free while she envies them for not being mixed up in all this trouble. And of course I’m a big fan of the now-iconic ending scene with the great cinematography and awesome music to go along with it.

I think this might be the first film on my list where nearly all the cast and crew have been some combination of the other films I’ve reviewed. I mean I reviewed Alien so that’s Ridley Scott, Susan Sarandon in Rocky Horror, Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight, Brad Pitt in...well everything really. I even got Harvey Keitel in From Dusk Till Dawn, Michael Madsen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Sin City and even Chris MacDonald from The Faculty. That’s just a nice little realisation to come to. And I guess I did clock yet another chick flick in there though I think guys would find this more appealing than the likes of Bridget Jones and Heartbreakers. Oh well, Bobby-verse, let’s not stop here. Let’s keep going and follow me on Twitter shall we?

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