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.
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.