Surprise! A Guy Comedy Without Balls!

The trailer for She’s Out of My League made it look like a by-men-for-men comedy, filled with as many gender stereotypes as last year’s The Hangover. A “nobody” meets a woman who’s clearly “out of his league” and they start dating, but his friends repeatedly point out how he’s weak, effeminate and unworthy of her. When her jock ex-boyfriend shows up, a pissing contest in masculinity ensues.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcQ49gh7sTg

The marketing campaign doesn’t help. On the official website, you can upload your own picture to get a rating of your attractiveness. This arbitrary system, based on illogical, heteronormative beauty standards, suggests that the movie will be a standard guyfest.

But She’s Out of My League, while it’s no more than a mediocre comic romp, turns out to be at least better than its marketing.

First there is the portrayal of male friendship. Male bonding in movies usually only occurs when men do an activity together–play racquetball, watch sports, etc. But in She’s Out of My League, the male friends sit around and talk about relationships just like the women in Sex and the City. The parallels to the latter are so overt that I imagine they must have been deliberate: There’s the sensitive guy who references romantic Disney movies, the “slut” and the slightly bitter but caring friend. And, of course, there’s the weak protagonist, Kirk, who’s in relationship with successful and beautiful Molly.

The Kirk-and-Molly dynamic scores feminist points for being a role reversal: She has all the power, earns more than him and clearly has “the balls” in the relationship. Far from being an alpha male, Kirk  could be seen as representing a kind of masculinity whose main characteristic is not strength and superiority but kindness and respect.

But Kirk’s fear of not being man enough for Molly could also be an analogy for post-recession America. Far more men than women have been laid off during the last year-and-a-half, with women now composing a majority of the workforce. When Kirk, who works as an airport security guard and never graduated college, lands the insanely attractive and well-educated Molly, men may be assured that they can maintain a successful relationship with a woman despite being in a less prestigious profession.

Reading the narrative in these ways turns the movie into a rather refreshing piece of pop culture, carrying the message that strong women can continue to be strong rather than weakening themselves to fit traditional gender roles. On the other hand, have we not seen enough big-screen male losers being desired by perfect women by now? The chances for the roles to be reversed–the “loser” being a woman who nabs the successful guy–are slim to none (unless, of course, she’s a prostitute!).

She’s Out Of My League is not as bad as it could have been. If you’re interested in modern depictions of masculinity, it’s worth spending 104 minutes with this one.

Comments

  1. Wow! There’s a lot to this analysis, I’m really impressed! I have been shaking my head at the billboards advertising this movie for weeks now, I didn’t expect it to be so complex. It sounds interesting from a cultural-observer’s pov. To be honest, though, one thing I cannot stand is the whole hot, smart, successful woman with the lazy, fat, stupid, insecure, loser guy thing I always see (unless it’s homer and marge, which is fine.) Because that’s everywhere and it’s very tricky. It seems like a portraying women as awesome is great, and it could be, but why do so many those great women we see on tv and in films marry totally gross idiots? Sitcoms have survived for years using that model and I hate it. However, it seems like that dynamic is evolving and I’m interested to see what it will become, so maybe I’ll check this one out!

  2. Thank you for posting the analysis. I was very excited to see the film, if only for the role reversal in the main character couple. The last few advertising campaigns, specifically on TV, that I’ve seen — the “so-and-so’s a 6, what’s your number?” bit, assigning a number based on looks, I suppose — turned me off. But now, I’m definitely going to have to drop $10.50 on a show to see it. Thanks again!

  3. Wait, what? Why are you using phrases like “the slut” and clearly has “the balls” in the relationship? Putting scare quotes around these phrases does not take the sting out of the inherent sexism of them. Why can’t you say “the sexually active one” and “clearly holds more of the power in the relationship?”

  4. Silly Goose says:

    This film seems like another excuse for stereotypical ‘geeky’ guys to live vicariously and drool over women who society deems ‘hot.’ There are tons of movies where the ‘geeky’ guy gets the girl, and vice versa, like it’s a triumph that they can attract people who are ‘out of their league.’ They assume that everyone adheres to the same ‘hotness scale’ (see the She’s Out of my League posters). I think this scale undervalues other traits and reinforces the white, blonde, skinny, institutionally educated ideal of woman.

  5. I definitely agree that the geeky guy-hot girl dynamic is old and extremely tiring, before watching the movie I expected it to be just a new version of that with a lot of bad sexist puns. I had these expectations especially because the marketing campaign is based around this arbitrary rating system that, as Silly Goose pointed out, “undervalues other traits and reinforces the white, blonde, skinny, institutionally educated ideal of woman” with the pretense that it’s totally outrageous to date someone with a different rating then yourself. What’s interesting with “She’s Out Of My League” is that the morale of the story ends up contradicting this rating system – Kirk’s friends keep telling him how crazy it is that he’s dating Molly, which gives Kirk bad self-esteem and weird behavior that makes Molly dump him. In the end she takes him back because he’s realized that the rating system isn’t important because it assumes that there’s only one way to be attractive, when in reality everybody are ’10s’ in someone’s eyes.
    The film does contain sexism, but not as much as others in the same genre…

  6. Hey very nice blog!! Man .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…

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