Sunday, November 28, 2010

Can you be prettier when you cry?

What the fuck, filmmakers?
Actually, it was the lack of acting she hated. "I remember when I was dying in Silver Surfer...The director was like, 'It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica.' He was like 'Don't do that thin with your face. Just make it flat. We can CGI the tears in.'" And I'm like, But there's no connection to a human being. And then it all got me thinking: Am I not good enough? Are my instincts and my emotions not good enough? Do people hate them so much that they don't want me to be a person? Am I not allowed to be a person in my work?
--Jessica Alba in Elle

So, I found this little nugget buried in my feeds, linked from Comic Alliance, through Moviefone, to and I can't help but notice not one of these websites commented on the importance of this quote. Moviefone acknowledged that it was a valid complaint, but was too busy making jokes at her expense.

And you know what, sure, Jessica Alba has never displayed a lot of acting talent. She's easy to take potshots at. But she is telling us exactly where that Fantastic Four sequel went wrong, and where Catwoman and Elektra and other incredibly shitty takes on superheroines went wrong. This is where supporting characters like Lois Lane in Superman Returns went wrong too. From the start, from the very point where they decide "Let's cast that girl based on her appearance--then make sure to change her hair and eye color", and the writing when they don't give them worthwhile parts, and the directing where they say "We need your pain to be attractive so just be flat because that's prettier" -- They don't treat female characters like people. The makers of these films aren't considering those the parts of people. Even when they DO hire an oscar winner, they don't write for her or direct her like they're writing for or directing a person. They're writing for and directing pinups. They think all they need someone who looks hot on the poster and a computer can do the rest. Then when it doesn't work, they say women don't work. After they made it not work.

When you figure all the lead woman in your film can be is window dressing, and you don't pick the best actress (and instead chose the sexpot who's natural looks you're going to cover with appearance and alter with CGI anyway), and you don't write a strong part for her (because you didn't pick a good actress who can carry it, or you'd rather write the men, or you don't feel comfortable with a heroic woman), and you don't encourage the actress to give her best in the role (because strong emotions aren't pretty, because you didn't pick a good actress to begin with so why bother), and you go as far to as to cut down on the humanity of a moment in order to make it more sexually palatable, then your movie sucks. This is why your movies suck, Hollywood. Not because your lead is female, not because your actress sucks (that's actually your fault because you morons hired the sucky actress and are actively trying to make her suck more), but because you've decided your lead isn't a human being. It's not female action heroes who suck, Hollywood, it's you.


(And by the way, if you comment anything to the effect of "Jessica Alba is just a bad actress trying to excuse her bad acting" that makes you an idiot who missed what I'm mad about. And an asshole too.)


  1. I first saw Jessica Alba on the Flipper remake (I think there were two remakes and I don't recall the title of the first one, but it starred Brian Wimmer as Bud.) and for a teen actress, she was pretty good. Then she did Dark Angel and I liked her in that. Then she started making movies and things seem to have gone downhill from there.

    I suppose the points you bring out might have something to do with her fairly erratic career post-Dark Angel. She's not being cast properly. She's not working with good directors who can bring out her best. She's not being cast in smaller, supporting roles with better known, better experienced actors she can learn from. And now, given the larger than life roles and the prominence of her roles in movies, I wonder if she'd be willing to backtrack and try to get roles where she could step back and learn.

    Hollywood helped create the mess her career has become. And that's sad, because I think she had potential.

  2. This sums up a lot of what's wrong with comics, too. I went on a rant--mostly on Twitter--a year and change ago about how much I hate the habit of twisting dead or severely injured women into pin-up poses, or at least making sure their tits and ass are as visible as possible. The reigning wisdom that women--real or fictional--are defined by attractiveness before all else definitely isn't confined to media featuring live (I balk at saying "real," for the reasons you beautifully enumerate above) women.

  3. Your take on that Alba piece - and the general commentary it brought - is just the same as mine. Thank you for writing it.

  4. I certainly agree that that's an outrageous bit of direction. I know there's a lot of talk about superheroines not selling movie tickets, and you're absolutely right that they're hobbling those heroines from the start and then saying they can't run. But was the line on Fantastic Four that the woman made it not work? I don't remember ANYTHING in the FF movies working, and I don't remember the male roles being any better than hers. It was all flash and preening and lack of substance. I was a little surprised when I saw Ioan Gruffudd later on in another movie that wasn't entirely dependent on how pretty he was.

  5. Brilliantly said. It's not just superhero movies, either.

  6. I agree, though I think in the case of "Elektra" it was more shitty marketing than anything. It had a really good female mentor/female student relationship (which is rare) and a good basic story with a whole lot of crap shoehorned in to look good in the previews and attract the teenage boy market. Then there were the "stare all you want" posters. This movie should have stuck to its central story - about a woman mentoring a magical girl - and gone for the female market.

  7. Julie Benz (Angel, Dexter) would have been a much better Sue than Alba. But if that's the directing she would have had to deal with, it wouldn't have been worth it.

    Based on the Green Lantern trailer, I can think of another case in point: Blake Lively as Carol Ferris. All us GL fans have our own ideas of what Carol Farris is like, but Lively in the trailer comes off more as someone who would be getting coffee for Carol Ferris rather than as Carol Ferris herself. "Gee, dye her hair, THAT'LL solve the problem." WRONG!

  8. Also, Malin Ackerman in "Watchmen". Laurie in the book was its heart and soul, but in the movie she was mostly a cipher.

  9. My impression of Blake Lively in the GL trailer was that they had not hired an actress, just someone able to read a teleprompter. The problem with Alba's Sue Storm wasn't Alba's lack of acting skills; it started with a script that went out of its way to do the "Sue's nekkid!" bit, and kept circling the toilet for two hours. I don't know that Alba could've saved the part if she put in an Oscar-worthy performance.

    -- Jack of Spades

  10. yes prettiness takes priority over performance - and then we wonder why a film with women leads does not do well... it does not help that most of these films are written by men - who most of the time do not know how women speak - so the lines of dialogue are soooo bad/stupid that even the best actor in the world cannot make them sound good.

  11. Great post. Nothing to add, just very true and very well put.


  12. I know I'm late to the party but I had to say it: And now, because Hollywood doesn't know how to treat women like people, we get a Wonder Woman TV series (which might be okay - I'm definitely watching my fave heroine for every episode)instead of a movie penned and directed by Joss Whedon, who might not be your favorite (he is mine - Firefly was the best show ever), but he has shown that he can treat women like people.