Iliza Schlesinger certainly proves her comedic talents in her recent Netflix stand-up specials including Confirmed Kills (2016), Elder Millennial (2018), and Unveiled (2019). In those she is witty and vocally versatile. Most brilliant is her observant and honest presentation of gender politics and generational differences, and her transformative take on the brutal reality of dating culture. It is hard to believe that in Schlesinger’s first film production as lead actress, writer, and producer she does not take advantage of her recognised merits in comedy, and the product can be such a failure in structure and taste.
With such a derivative beginning, you would hope for a creative and shocking plot twist, yet almost from beginning to end the plot and even the dialogue are painfully predictable
The film starts with many typical rom-com tropes, with a semi-autobiographical twist to the life of a stand-up comedian. Schlesinger plays protagonist Andrea, an underdog comedy performer in her thirties whose life is stuck in mediocrity; Margaret Cho plays Margot, a sassy and feisty yet uncharacteristic friend as her sidekick; and Rebecca Rittenhouse plays Serrena, a successful female nemesis envied by Schlesinger’s character. With such a derivative beginning, you would hope for a creative and shocking plot twist, yet almost from beginning to end the plot and even the dialogue are painfully predictable.
The basic cliché of a show business rivalry between Andrea and Serrena does not satirise or transform the stereotype that women should fight each other for opportunities and male attention under patriarchy. Instead, it exacerbates this ideology by creating tensions and comparing the women’s achievements through the majority of the film. After Andrea’s disillusion with her love interest it should have explored a strengthened female bond and sisterhood.
The male lead Denny Kelly is played by Ryan Hansen, who presents himself as a successful and well-educated hedge fund investor. During the middle of the film, montages suggest his supportiveness and nicety in Andrea’s life, but later he is revealed to be a fraud and gaslighter in the relationship.
A secretly misogynistic and begrudging con artist as the love interest in a Hollywood rom-com is nothing new. Schlesinger simply satirises the long-existing ‘nice-guy’ trope, that if a guy is nice enough they can win any girl regardless of their personality and virtues, or lack thereof. Yet even the twist itself is clichéd. As commented by Jack Halberstam in Gaga Feminism (2010), the height of this trope was in 2000s and 2010s mumblecore films, in which mediocre or lazy men try to assert their masculinity through being with high achieving women. Schlesinger’s depiction of Denny seemingly reverses this power dynamic, but through the twist the film reveals that manipulation, grudges, and misogyny can be hidden under the ‘nice-guy’ surface – Denny’s kindness is exposed as calculated tokenism for female company.
The one-dimensionality of Denny is the faulty stroke in the film as a rom-com parody
Furthermore, the character of Denny does not properly explore the subtlety of toxic masculinity today. Either a critical or empathetic lens should have been used to explore the structural context of his motivations for conning women, instead he is reduced to a plot device with binary immorality. This superficial characterization is in no way bold if Schlesinger intends to be credited for feminist innovation in cinematic entertainment. The one-dimensionality of Denny is the faulty stroke in the film as a rom-com parody. It only satisfies the long-suppressed female voices in the Hollywood hierarchy at face value, tokenistic even. If anything, Schlesinger wastes a good opportunity to dig deeper into rom-com tropes when so many platforms are finally starting to explore non-traditional plots and on-screen representations.
In-article images courtesy of @goodonpapernetflix via instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.
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