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Daily Reads: ‘Trainwreck’s Anti-Postfeminism, How ‘Ant-Man’ Highlights The Sad State of Marvel Female Characters, and More

Daily Reads: 'Trainwreck's Anti-Postfeminism, How 'Ant-Man' Highlights The Sad State of Marvel Female Characters, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Amy Schumer Calls Bullshit on Postfeminism in “Trainwreck”. 
“Trainwreck” has garnered accolades for its star, its comedy, and its heart, but many are criticizing it for conforming too neatly into the Apatow rom-com formula, and for subtly promoting a conservative domestic ideology. However, some feel that it actually promotes a progressive ideology. Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Peterson argues that “Trainwreck” is Schumer’s subtle screed against the insidious dangers of postfeminism.

What distinguishes “Trainwreck” from other postfeminist dystopias, then, is the way that it offers Amy a narrative path away from it. That path does involve a man, but it mostly involves seeing herself as a person worthy of love, respect, and devotion — without necessarily disavowing her past or the unruliness that makes her character (and the film) so transgressive. She’s still, as fellow unruly woman Ilana Glazer of “Broad City” would put it, “a boss bitch” — she just doesn’t have to feel shitty all the time…Amy’s romance with sports surgeon Aaron (Bill Hader) begins by treating him, and herself, the way she’s treated every previous relationship. She’s sexually aggressive, emotionally dismissive, and rebuffs his attempts at a second date. But Aaron — who, we learn, hasn’t had a date in six years — doesn’t realize his role in the postfeminist game. Amy may be profiling him for “Snuff Magazine” — which endeavors to “teach the strong-willed man how to dress, drink, and fuck” — but there’s zero evidence that he’s the type of man who’d read it. Which isn’t to suggest he’s a manic pixie dream guy. Instead, he’s just a deeply decent man who values and practices straightforward communication. Instead of maintaining a chill hookup situation, for example, Aaron tells Amy, point blank, that “I think we like each other and should start dating.” She’s stunned by it: not because he likes her, but because he’s sincere without shame. Sincerity — and frankness, and kindness, and intimacy — freak Amy out. That’s why she’s repulsed by her sister’s (totally decent and devoted and loving) husband, and even more confused by his tween son, who’s earnest about his love for the solar system, “Minecraft,” and his family. When she and Aaron fall in love, she’s even grossed out by that, making fun of the way they kiss on subways like two people who genuinely care about one another. When her sister (Brie Larson) tells her she’s pregnant, she responds with “ew.” And then there are cheerleaders, whom she hates in large part because they lack the sense of irony and detachment that shape Amy’s running life philosophy, in which it’s OK to degrade yourself so long as you know that you’re doing it.

2. “BoJack Horseman” Is the Best Replacement for “Mad Men”. 
Netflix released the second season of its original series “BoJack Horseman” on Friday. Over the course of its first and second season, “BoJack Horseman,” a series featuring a washed-up anthropomorphic horse actor who suffers from clinical depression, has garnered critical acclaim for its comedy and drama. Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff positively compares “BoJack” to “Mad Men,” especially their exploration of existential loneliness, their examination of gender norms, and its visual acuity. 

Both shows are kind of about the same thing: Don Draper was an advertising man who wanted to sell the world a version of the happiness he couldn’t feel. He was motivated by visions of the life he’d never quite led, failing to realize that attaining the perfect surface wasn’t the solution he sought. The depths of his unhappiness were rooted in himself. In his own way, BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) confronts the same problems. He’s a rich and famous actor, the star of a 1980s and ’90s sitcom called “Horsin’ Around.”…BoJack’s work has brought happiness to other people, but he doesn’t feel happy. In fact, he probably suffers from crippling, chronic depression (though the show never puts it exactly that way), something that haunts him and prevents him from feeling fulfilled. And just as Don Draper had a tendency to tear down the world around him when something tiny didn’t go his way, BoJack will destroy himself and others for the pettiest of reasons. He’s not a very good man (or horse, I suppose, as BoJack lives in a world where bipedal animals live and work alongside humans), driven by bitterness and resentment and anomie, but he is intensely relatable, just as Don was. He’s all of the worst things we fear about ourselves, in the form of a TV character. And, crucially, he experiences occasional flashes of insight, moments when he understands the problem in his life is him, not the place he lives in or the company he keeps. He just lacks the wherewithal to actually confront his demons. Indeed, when it comes time to do so, he usually runs away from them. Sounds a lot like an ad man we used to know.

3. Rational Man: In Praise of Late-Period Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s 46th film “Irrational Man” entered theaters on Friday to a middling reception, with some claiming it to be Allen’s laziest film to date. However, many critics have come out of the woodwork to defend Woody’s later career, and to suggest that it holds deeper riches than people believe. Over at The Concourse, Tim Grierson praises late-period Woody Allen.

For much of Allen’s later career, he’s been seen as the once-funny guy who was a big deal way back in the 1970s and ‘80s, but who eventually turned to more serious movies and stopped making the kind of silly films of his earlier career — and, then, eventually just became irrelevant as an artist as he continued to mine the same Upper West Side/white privilege milieu until he vanished into his own navel and whatever European country would give him the best deals to make movies overseas. That’s the cultural impression of Allen, and it’s hard for staunch fans to argue most people out of that belief — especially when he hasn’t helped us out by making a movie as great as “Annie Hall” or “Manhattan” in quite a while. But time has a way of changing impressions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Allen’s legacy gets a reevaluation, probably sometime after he dies. (He turns 80 in December.) Even assuming that the tabloid-attracting aspects of his personal life will attach to him permanently — and, I can only hope, the sexual-abuse charges are untrue, which is not to diminish the clear anguish they still cause Dylan and other members of Farrow’s family — I think that Allen’s later filmography will, in retrospect, be judged more favorably, or at least with a little more curiosity, than it does now. The culture has wanted Allen to stay the deft, wistful romantic who saw New York in widescreen black-and-white. But movies like “Irrational Man” are so compelling because Allen has been more and more interested in the gray areas. It’s not just that Woody views the world as bleak and unfeeling, entirely dependent on such vagaries as chance and luck: It’s that he’s not sure why we aren’t all driven mad by that knowledge.

4. The Dissolve and the Value of Experiments. 
The Dissolve closed its doors two weeks ago, and it’s still hard to see the silver lining of their departure from the critical community. But some people find a way to see the upside during such a calamity. NOW Toronto’s Norman Wilner believes in the value of experiments and praises The Dissolve for staying true to itself to the bitter end.

In a world of listicles and hot takes, The Dissolve was distinguished by its relative sobriety and general thoughtfulness. The site prized good writing over clickbait agitation, and devoted as much space to a teeny VOD-only release as it did to a studio blockbuster. Tobias and Phipps had faith in their audience’s desire to read, and think, and in the discursive, stimulating comment sections, you could sense a community of readers and thinkers responding to the material, enjoying the chance to chat with one another. (The AV Club’s comment sections are similarly cordial and engaged, if slightly more prone to joke accounts.) And, yeah, aiming directly at an intelligent, informed readership almost certainly doomed The Dissolve to niche status; reading and thinking isn’t what most people want from movie sites in the age of Five Things The Goonies Remake Can’t Do Without and Which Of These Baby-Faced Actors Will Be The New Spider-Man? But as Tobias and Phipps told Indiewire’s Sam Adams shortly after The Dissolve was shuttered, at least it went out on its own terms. They built the movie site of their dreams, hired good writers and delivered coverage of which anyone would be proud. And if the death of the site makes it seem like things are grim for comprehensive online film criticism…well, projects like The Dissolve spring up out of love. No one writes about film to make a fortune; we do it because we can’t help ourselves. Someone else will try again, and soon.

5. How “Ant-Man” Highlights the Sad State of Marvel’s Female Characters. 
Marvel’s new “Ant-Man” grossed over $112 million over the weekend, signaling another rousing success for the Marvel Industrial Complex, I mean, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In light of the release, Screencrush’s Matt Singer illustrates how “Ant-Man” highlights the sad state of Marvel’s female characters, especially its post-credits scene.

In conversation with fans of “Ant-Man,” I’ve heard these scenes described as clever satire; Marvel poking fun at its middling track record with female characters. It’s easy to imagine how, in a funnier and sharper film, these sequences could play that way, with Scott Lang, the bumbling hero, contrasted with Hope, the wildly overqualified benchwarmer. Maybe Edgar Wright’s original vision of the film would have mined that contrast for truly subversive laughs. But Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man” is way too invested in the Marvel movie formula to seriously critique it; hence Scott is less of a genuine screwup than a Robin Hood-type with a heart of gold (and abs of steel), and he quickly masters the Ant-Man suit and powers. So Hank Pym basically was correct; he picked the right guy for the job, and he didn’t need Hope to do much after all. Whenever the subject of Marvel’s underwhelming female characters comes up in interviews, studio president Kevin Feige hews closely to a standard set of talking points. The company can, should, and will do better, but they’ve also always “gone for the powerful women over damsels in distress,” citing examples like Natalie Portman in “Thor” and Gwyneth Paltrow in “Iron Man.” To a certain extent, he’s correct; Portman’s Jane Foster and Paltrow’s Pepper Potts are dynamic, appealing, intelligent characters. Each has stolen many scenes from their super-powered co-stars. But whether or not you want to call them “damsels in distress” they do spend an awful lot of their time getting rescued (Jane in “Thor: The Dark World” and Pepper in “Iron Man” 1, 2, and 3).

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