Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hollywood Interlude: SUCKER PUNCH

My sister and I went to see Sucker Punch last night. I enjoyed it thoroughly but expecting a repeat of our Jennifer’s Body viewing experience, as we were walking out of the theater, I tentatively asked her, “How much did you hate it?”

“You hated it?” she asked me back, sounding disappointed.

“No, I liked it but I was afraid you wouldn’t,” I said, relieved. We had spent the extra money to see the IMAX version and I would have felt guilty if she hated it.

“This may sound stupid,” she replied, “but I liked that it was
girls doing all the fighting.” She pauses. “It wouldn’t have killed them to put in more quipping, though…”

None of us watches films in a vacuum. The culture we consume colors our impressions of the film we see. Reading reviews of
Sucker Punch is like hearing the responses to a particularly vexing Rorschach Test. (Mostly male) movie geeks trashed it as confusing; square newspaper critics thought it was too outré for anybody but those (mostly male) movie geeks.

I would like to step up and claim my right to be the audience for
Sucker Punch - well, my sister and me.

This isn’t a film about scantily-clad women fighting monsters for the pleasure of (mostly male) movie geeks; it’s a film about
women fighting monsters for their own survival, with a healthy dose of subtext about how poisonous the whole performance of “sexy” is. It was no more confusing than Inception - except if you were confused about where the male protagonist was supposed to be.

(Spoiler: Baby Doll will cut you if you ask her where the main character boy hero and her love interest is.)

Curtains open on a stage, revealing our heroine – Baby Doll (Emily Browning). In the opening few minutes of the film, Baby Doll is orphaned and her stepfather sends her to a mental institution to cover up his crimes. I don’t think it’s any accident that the mental institution is located in Shirley Jackson’s oppressive, moldy, gothic Vermont. (Think
We Have Always Lived in the Castle.) Sucker Punch is firmly rooted in the Jackson's female-centric horror novels.

At the request of her stepfather, Baby Doll will receive a
lobotomy, which will sever her prefrontal cortex from the rest of her mind. As the needle is about to be inserted through her eye and into her brain, we change perspective and flashback to Baby Doll’s arrival to the institution, transformed in her imagination to a brothel.

Baby Doll meets her fellow inmates – Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens,
High School Musical), Rocket (Jena Malone, Pride and Prejudice), Amber (Jamie Chung, who has played token Asian girl on numerous shows – including Greek), and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, Bright Star).

(Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie, smashing Gabriella Montez to bits.)

(Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea, kicking Fanny Brace and her corset to the curb.)

(Jena Malone as Rocket, trading Lydia Bennet's bonnet for a machine gun.)

(Jamie Chung, crushing Sorority Row with her mecha suit.)

(Emily Browning can't hold a baby and a sword. She picks sword.

In other words, these girls were NOT cast for T&A but for acting ability.)

The girls band together under her leadership to execute a plan of escape. They need four tokens to complete the quest - four tokens that must be stolen from the men in charge of the institution. It is the scenes where the girls steal the tokens that descend further into fantasy, taking the girls from the institution and dropping them into epic battle sequences.

And that’s the set-up of the film in a nutshell – a group of girls learns to work together and battles their way out of some fantastic fantasy sequences. I sat at the end with tears in my eyes as the teenage guys behind me guffawed at the voiceover tag ending:
Who is it that chooses our steps in the dance, who drives us mad, lashes us with whips and crowns us with victory when we survive the impossible. Who is it that does all these things? You have all the weapons you need. Now fight.

The teenage boys weren't listening to the message. They have thousands of films giving them the weapons and telling to fight the power - Harry Potter, anyone? Spiderman? Every comic book movie ever? Is it only ridiculous when the message is aimed at women?

As cheezy as this sounds, it was really cool to see a group of actresses known for soppy romances and period films really kick some butt. Gabriella Montez exploding Nazi zombies? Yes, please. Fanny Brawne beheading evil robots? Give me a ticket right now! That’s Lydia Bennett providing cover with her machine gun while Violet Baudelaire tackles a dragon.

Director Zack Snyder isn’t giving the audience
Transformers-style titillation as much as he’s giving the audience catharsis: Revenge of the Jane Austen Heroines. Outfits are formfitting but don’t reveal much more flesh than one might see on ABC Family’s Make It Or Break It and the actresses aren’t much more sexualized than on ABC Family’s Make It Or Break It, either. They are athletic and powerful – Snyder doesn’t linger on heaving bosoms or sweaty cleavage but on eyes and faces and weapons. And the PG-13 rating ensures that all the worst violence happens off-screen.

And unlike the other visual barf that Michael Bay served up in
Transformers, the action sequences in Sucker Punch are beautiful and easy to follow.

(Jena and Abbie, passing the Bechdel Test)

Sucker Punch is a fable about talented actresses breaking out of the “women’s film” ghetto and making a place for themselves in Michael Bay’s world. Is this the greatest movie ever made? No, of course not but those leaving their brains at home will be sorely disappointed.

If, however, you want to see Gabriella Montez gleefully knife Troy Bolton in the face, come on in.

1 comment:

Shell said...

Thank you for clearing up where I had seen Emily Browning before. It was REALLY bugging me.

I wondered about this movie. I wasn't a huge fan of 300, so I was apprehensive about seeing this, despite the obvious "girl power" which I am always for. I'm sure hubz will rent this when it comes out, and now I can tell him that I will watch with him.

Also, it's nice to see Vanessa Hudgens break out of her HSM persona.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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