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Amy Dunne, the heroine of the new Gillian Flynn/David Fincher thriller Gone Girl, is the latest in a long line of movie heroines.
Well, that’s not true. I don’t think the line is that long. It sort of vaguely dates from around the 1970’s.
It began somewhere around the mid of that decade with Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and continued on with Diana Christensen in Network; Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction; Annie Wilkes in Misery; Carolyn Burnham in American Beauty; Debbie in Knocked Up (and similar comedies); and many, many, many, many others. Many.
Yes, Amy Dunne comes from a long line of cinematic bitches. However, we may have now reached a new peak in Hollywoodland. Ms. Dunne has the dubious distinction of possibly being the Queen Bitch of all filmdom.
No, I’m going to correct that. Using the language of the movie, she is not the Queen Bitch of all Queen Bitches. She is the Queen Cunt of all Queen Bitches. She is one step up from bitch.
Now, by this, I’m not referring to roles like Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes; Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon; Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity; Kitty Collins in The Killers; Kathie in Out of the Past; or Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction, and others of their ilk. They are in a very different class of anti-heroines altogether.
What’s the difference I can hear you asking?
I’m so glad you did.
Whereas the leading ladies mentioned in the latter paragraph were not the most likable of people (to say the least), their goal was much the same as any man: money, power, autonomy.
But when it comes to Nurse Ratched, et al., and culminating with Ms. Dunne, these characters aren’t after money, per se (especially in Ms. Dunne’s case, since she has all the cash in the family already). They aren’t after power, per se. They are not even after autonomy, per se.
Their ultimate goal is the castration of men.
Now, the great femme fatales of film noir history definitely didn’t want to do that. I mean, if they did do that, then the men in their lives would be useless in bed and, let’s face it, for them, men do have their uses.
But in these other films, the females only reason for existence is to remove every vestige of masculinity from the males in their lives and to take their balls and throw them in a blender and turn it on high until they are nothing more than a tasty testes health drink.
Yet, strangely enough, this Lorena Bobbitt approach to relationships isn’t even what bothers me the most, believe it or not, about these films. I mean, one could make the argument that Sondra Locke’s character of Jennifer Spencer in Sudden Impact wanted to do that and it’s what Ellen Page’s Hayley Stark faked did in Hard Candy.
It’s why these women in these films want to do what they are doing that’s the tick.
And drum roll please:
They do it because…well, because they are women. And well, that’s just the way women are. They’re neurotic basket cases because, well, they’re not men. They are constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown because, well, that’s what happens to women who try to be men. They are harpic, Xantippe medusas because, well, that’s just what wives and girlfriends are.
I mean, it’s not like they can help it, poor things. It’s just the way they are born. It’s in their DNA and their natures and part of their evolutionary process and there’s simply nothing you can do about it, except, usually, maybe kill them. If you’re lucky.
At least that’s the way it’s been for the last forty or more years up there on the silver screen.
They are the ultimate fantasy of many males as to what happens when you give a woman an inch…they’ll take more and more of them until you have no inches left.
And it gets worse. Yes, for me, Gone Girl commits one even greater sin. Amy Dunne is not remotely interesting as a character. She’s fairly bland and boring, sitting around at home doing nothing all day, being miserable and unhappy and having no life of her own, while her husband works hard to bring home the bacon by running a bar and teaching writing at the local college.
And Rosamund Pike in the role just can’t make her come alive in any electric or vibrant way. In this role, she doesn’t seem to have the ability to bring something to a part that doesn’t have anything there in the first place.
As a result, we don’t even get to have the incredible performances (as well as the depth of characterization because, as awful a portrayal of women as these films might have been, the characterizations did have some depth to them) of a Louise Fletcher, Faye Dunaway, Glenn Close, etc., etc., etc.
So, okay, fine. I’m done screeding for the moment. I’m going to set aside this minor peccadillo and tell you how I really feel about the movie overall, all right?
Other than that, Gone Girl is…
…incredibly average and not particularly well written or directed. It’s quite possibly David Fincher’s weakest film to date.
Everything about it, the dialog, the acting, the plot, the “surprise” twists, are all too perfect, too glib, too well fixed. Everything is just so, calling attention to itself, a perfect example of a place for everything and everything in its place, a movie that could correspond to a mediocre coffee table book: sterile, unimaginative, lacking any edge or strong and unique vision.
Everything is far too perfect to ever be remotely believable.
And I put the word “surprise” in quotation marks because I was being ironic. I was never once staggered, stunned or stupefied.
When Amy’s husband Nick (Ben Affleck) claims to be a regular husband, I knew he was having an affair. Halfway, or sooner, though the dramatization of Amy’s diary, I said, oh, I get it, she’s alive and the diary is a fake and she’s setting her husband up.
And for those who think this part of the story is highly original, you can find earlier versions dating back to at least Sherlock Holmes and variations of it can be seen in such stories as And Then There Were None, Leave Her to Heaven and the original ending of Fatal Attraction before test audiences told them it wasn’t working.
The story does take an interesting new fork in the bumpy road about half way through when Amy gets a taste of her own medicine and she has to improvise. Enter Neil Patrick Harris’s Desi Collings, who rescues this deceptive damsel in distress. But of course, it quickly becomes apparent that even though he is as psychotic as Amy, he’s no match for her and he (and, metaphorically, his privates) are not long for this world.
But I found this through line to be preposterous and ridiculous. For me, it’s as full of holes as most city streets these days. So much of an San Andreas Fault, I don’t know where to begin.
The only aspect I will comment on when it comes to this topic is that I found it just a bit too awfully convenient for the filmmakers (but, then again, convenient is the operative word for everything that happens in the movie) that Collings has no family, no estate, no relatives, no friends who might come forward and question Amy’s version of the story and who wouldn’t, like the police here, shut up because of public perception.
As far as I’m concerned, the whole movie is of the “I’ve got the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge in my back pocket” variety, but this second half really takes the girder cake. And since I didn’t buy any of the film, the ending had no emotional impact on me since I didn’t find anything coming before it remotely realistic.
When it comes to Fincher, for me he never quite got a handle on the tone. It seemed to waver between dead seriousness and unintended humor. I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a straightforward neo noir or a satire of the media and modern romantic relationships.
Fincher has done some wonderful things with his earlier thrillers, especially Seven, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and, perhaps his greatest movie, Zodiac, as well as his non-thrillers like The Social Network.
But here I kept thinking of Orson Welles with Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai, a talented filmmaker stuck with material that just wasn’t worthy of him.
I found the same to be true for the acting. Every thespian seemed to be as glib and perfect in their performance as the dialog and directing. It often seemed a bit too forced, pushed a bit too far, with everything telegraphed ahead of time.
I will cop to two aspects of the films I did appreciate. I felt the structure was very clever and I was getting kind of a kick out of the way the plot unfolded, split as it was between the two characters as well as not being exactly told in a linear method.
And of all people, Tyler Perry is the one actor who nails his character, getting everything exactly right as Tanner Bolt, a lawyer who would be considered an ambulance chaser if he didn’t charge so much and his cases weren’t so high profile.
The ironic thing here, though, is that his character doesn’t really impact the story that strongly. In fact, the plot turn that takes everything in a different direction and on a direct road toward its resolution is when Nick absolutely refuses to take Bolt’s advice and goes Sarah Palin rogue.
But, in the end, and when it comes down to it, and all in all, for me, basically Gone Girl reaches new cinematic heights by reaching new cinematic lows.
With Carrie Coon as Nick’s sister Margo; Kim Dickens as the investigating police detective who thinks the case is too perfect for Nick to be assumed guilty (there’s always one, isn’t there); and Patrick Fugit, the teen reporter from Almost Famous, as Officer Jim Gilpin (in a hairstyle I pray is supposed to be ironic).
And with Scoot McNairy of Monsters, Argo, 12 Years a Slave and The Rover as a character named Tommy O’Hara. I cannot for the life of me remember who that character was and can’t remember McNairy in the movie. But I really just mention him because I love his name.