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In one episode of Daria, the MTV animated series about a loner misfit at a new high school, the title character goes out with her best friend’s brother (someone she has a crush on) to buy her friend a birthday present, and ends up getting her belly button pierced. All because of said crush on said brother.
When she shows her friends, they all tell her it’s neat, as long as she didn’t do it for some guy. At first she doth protest too much, but then realizes, very embarrassed and ashamed, that she did indeed do it for some guy. SOME GUY.
I thought of that episode while watching Maleficent, the new post modern cinematic take with an attempt at modern sensibilities on the old Charles Perrault fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty.
The story is told from the POV of the fairy Maleficent, mighty queen of kingdom neighboring on one run by humans. The humans are paranoid about the fairy kingdom and all its varied inhabitants; terrified, though there is absolutely no reason shown for them to be, that that kingdom will one day conquer theirs. This leads to a battle where the king and his army are easily defeated, but with the king left on his death bed.
As a young girl, Maleficent fell in love with Stefan, a human, who trespassed on her kingdom. But as Maleficent became queen, Stefan became ambitious. When the king offers his daughter’s hand to anyone who can render powerless the fairy kingdom, Stefan returns to Maleficent and clips her wings.
Of course, this doesn’t remotely render her powerless and she could have gotten the wings back almost immediately and taught Stefan and the dying king a good lesson. But then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we?
Time goes on and Stefan and his queen have a child, Aurora, who Maleficent curses with the prophecy that on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel and fall into a deep sleep until she is awoken by love’s true kiss.
Okay, got all that?
But see what is going on here? Maleficent is a might fairy queen, beloved ruler of her land, and it flourishes under her. Until she is betrayed by a man and then she does what powerful women so often do in stories like this—she emotionally unravels until she becomes a vengeful harpy, turning her kingdom into a dark shadow of what it once was.
So instead of a story about a woman who rises to power and becomes Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria or Catherine the Great, it’s actually a story about a woman who lets some guy, SOME GUY, turn her into a “hell hath no fury” bitter ex-girlfriend.
No, that’s what the story is really about. You can dress it up and paint it with all the FX you want, but this is not a story about a woman who finds empowerment and her own worth; it’s a tale that tells the same old tale—when a woman tries to do a man’s job, she just doesn’t have the emotional stability to handle it.
And she loses it because of some guy. SOME GUY.
And this isn’t the only movie of recent note that does this. This is also true of such successes as Frozen and Oz the Great and Powerful. They’re about powerful women who are thrown off their game by some guy…SOME GUY.
And all these movies are doing well at the box office.
And I don’t get it.
Sure on the one hand I appreciate the fact that writers and directors and filmmakers are trying to bring a more feminist look at these stories by delving into the psychology of what makes these characters act the way they do.
But I’m not sure that taking characters that are vain and egotistical and are villains just because they are villains and turning them into women who are the way they are because their man done them wrong is an improvement.
And on top of that, get this: instead of the powerful woman realizing that she needs to become her own person and have her own achievements , her salvation comes about in the only other really socially acceptable job for a woman—becoming a mother (well, a stepmother, but here, it’s basically the same thing).
This last is especially unfortunate since this twist is about the only really original aspect of the screenplay.
But I’m not jerking your chain here. The moral of the story is that if you are jerked around by some guy, SOME GUY, become a mother in order to become your authentic self.
(Movies like Frozen and even Brave don’t quite fit in here since the characters aren’t evil, but they do, in their way, have the same issue. In Frozen, a young woman is to become queen without ever being taught or raised to be one and at her first party, falls gaga over heels with the first good looking guy she sees—and she’s to become ruler of her land.
Brave is about a warrior princess whose main conflict is not a danger to her land, but her mother wanting her to get married.
In both cases, stories about powerful woman are turned into stories about…some guy…SOME GUY.)
And I’m getting just a little more than tired of it.
And I wish other people would too.
Okay, fine. So beyond that, and getting to the subject as to just how good a movie it is on its own terms, well, Maleficent is a film where you’ll leave humming its CGI.
I suppose this isn’t surprising seeing as it’s directed by visual effects and production designer wunderkind Robert Stromberg (of such films as Alice in Wonderland and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Life of Pi).
And though he certainly does an excellent job of making the movie look great (and yes, it certainly does look great), and though he certainly gets the story told clearly enough (unlike the recent Godzilla), he does little more than make things look great and tell the story clearly enough.
The screenplay is by Linda Woolverton (with a few other names thrown in). She also manages to keep the story clear, but there are some odd oddities along the way. Like three flying fairies (played by Juno Temple and two refugees from Mike Leigh films, Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton).
First I must say that they are cute and fun with their pixiesh voices and their slapstick infested humor. And they probably would have stolen the movie if they had been given more screen time and attention.
At the same time, I had a real issue with these three characters going to an enemy country without permission of their government and becoming appeasers. I mean, the whole set up just seemed a little off to me.
(And, second, I have to be honest. Once Stefan has everyone gather up the spinning wheels to be destroyed, all I thought was, how are they going to make clothes and sheets and curtains and such now?)
Other roles are played by such actors as Sharlto (District 9) Copley as the louse of a boyfriend; Sam (Control) Riley as a raven turned into a human; and Elle (Super 8 and sister of Dakota) Fanning as Aurora. All have been more interesting in other roles, but none of them have a lot to work with here and are often overwhelmed by the special effects. They do the best they can, I suppose. But you can’t get blood from a turnip.
Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent and sure, you wouldn’t want to meet her alone in a dark alley. She has a way with putting a Cruella De Vil snap on every line (though the inconsistent style of the dialog in this middle section from the rest of the movie is another of the oddities of the screenplay).
I’m not quite as impressed as others are, but not because of Jolie. Like the rest of the performers, she’s also stuck with little to work with character wise while being overwhelmed by the CGI. But she is the main reason to see this thing.
But if you really want to see a fantasy story about women who don’t come undone every time a man enters their life or betrays them in some way, watch Game of Thrones.
In fact, I wish every writer of movies like this would watch Game of Thrones.