Is the new wave of female body comedy feminist or just gross?
A year ago, a monumental cinematic event happened and was overlooked, couched as it was in a somewhat obscure comedy sequel called Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising.
In the film, which despite mediocre ratings is a consistently smart slapstick (is that a paradox?) I urge you to watch, a group of sorority girls wages a prank war on their neighbours, and one of their tactics involves flinging used tampons at their windows.
If I had been watching half-heartedly before, I sure as hell sat up then. There they were – red, swollen tampons, hitting the windows of dad Seth Rogen and mom Rose Byrne’s suburban house.
“That was way over the line,” Zac Efron, who stars as a former frat boy who aids the sorority in their war, comments afterwards.
“Whoa. That’s, like, supersexist. It was really f***n’ funny,” says Chloë Grace Moretz, who stars as the sorority’s feisty, stoner leader. “You would have been like *imitating frat boy laughter* ‘hahaha it’s so funny’ if it was, like, a bag of dicks.”
Efron pauses for a moment, then smiles. “A bag of dicks,” he chuckles, before moving off.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen tampons in movies before, but to have them in a big-budget, mainstream Hollywood comedy, and used as a slapstick gag on top of it, was something else.
In fact, women swearing, drinking and chasing men have a certain shock value to it that’s lucrative enough to prompt studios to remake male-lead comedy franchises, except with an entirely female cast. It’s led to mixed results (see review here).
More and more, directors are giving body comedy scenes to women.
Take Bridesmaids, which saw maid of honour Kristen Wiig take the bride and her party to a restaurant for some Brazilian food. They end up getting food poisoning, and it crescendos in an infamous scene at a wedding dress fitting where bride Maya Rudolph pretty much poops her pristine white dress.
Maybe there’s a degree of empowerment to this new wave of comedy, with women playing roles that don’t fall into the typical sexy or prudish dichotomy. I know quite a few people would say we owe it to Broad City, the left-field series that saw BFFs Ilana and Abbi embrace their primitive functions; including hiding one of Abbi’s turds after her date arrives at the same time she realises she has a blocked toilet.
But is it really feminist?
And if it is, is this what we fought so hard for? For women to throw tampons and shit themselves on screen?
It makes me think of a colleague, who recently lamented how much vomiting there was in movies: “I’m so tired of people puking themselves in movies! It’s too much!”
Is body comedy for women not, in fact, film makers’ last grab at the gross-out factor? After all, they’ve done just about everything gross you can do in a mainstream movie. Exploited every bodily function there is – female grossness is that last untouched vestige. The last unexploited comedy shtick.
There’s a part of me that sees it that way, but then there’s another part. The puerile part, the part that grins with glee when I see women being gross, being unsexy, being just like men are always allowed to be.
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