The Gen X Male-Only Midlife Crisis: Hot Tub v. SATC

A few weeks ago, New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott recognized the new canon of Gen X midlife-crisis films, or what he should have called Gen X male midlife-crisis films. The two flicks that he said comprise that  canon are Hot Tub Time Machine and Greenberg. He judged both films on their own terms, even acknowledging the most clearly and happily low-brow of the two, Hot Tub, as an intentionally over-the-top fantasy romp. He says he related to Hot Tub so much that it was “the story of my life.”

But like other critics, his sense of humor fizzled with his scathing review last week of what I’d  (go out on a limb to) call the female counterpart to Hot TubSex and the City 2, which he called “desperate, grating and a little sad.” At closer examination, both comedies have more in common as a  Gen  X midlife-crisis movie than you would think.

As with Hot Tub, SATC2 basically dramatizes the  40-something main characters facing insecurities and disappointment/boredom with their life choices (marriage, etc.), thus venturing out on a escapist trip to cope. In Hot Tub it’s to a shabby ski resort, in SATC2 to an exotic Arab land. As its 1980s young-adult icon  Hot Tub features John Cusack, while SATC2 stars Sarah Jessica Parker of Square Pegs fame (and married, coincidentally, to Ferris Bueller). In both, the characters travel back to the 1980s: SATC2 in opening flashbacks, and Hot Tub in a time-traveling fantasy. The main characters in each are self-absorbed and not always likable, but yet are relatable to Gen Xers in some basic ways. Both rely on nostalgia to create humor and draw audiences: SATC2 for fans of the TV show, which started more than a decade ago, and Hot Tub for those men harkening back to the 1980s teen sex film.

Above all, both are clearly intentionally over-the-top comedies. SATC2 recalls 1930s escapist movies from the Great Depression;  the actors of Hot Tub seem in on the absurdity of their film. Both are gleefully raunchy throughout.

But Scott considers Hot Tub “fun” and SATC2 “desperate.”

He is not alone; this double standard permeates other reviews of these two movies. For example, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, who also loved Hot Tub and forgave its “derivative” nature, tore SATC2 to shreds in his review. (I wrote two years ago in another group blog about critics’ same  double standard with the first SATC film, then focusing on a bizarrely hostile New Yorker review and illustration, which was so bad that the new SATC movie actually makes a veiled reference to it.) In a commentary about the scathing reviews SATC2 has received, Manohla Dargis in The New York Times today pointed out a double standard in men and women’s “road trip” films, comparing the much warmer reception to last year’s all-male The Hangover.

I’m not saying that male critics don’t deserve to ever criticize formulaic “lady” films. And female critics have certainly been harsh on this film also. But it is finally time that critics at least try to take women’s movies like this on their own terms, knowing they’re not trying to present high art/Kurosawa-level fare, but escapist entertainment–like the boys have.

I only see this imbalance continuing, with more and more male Gen X midlife-crisis films like these coming out, such as the forthcoming Grown Ups. To counter that tide, I’d personally love to see our own most beloved 1980s female film icons summoned to action. How about Jennifer Jason Leigh of the 1982 classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High? (Actually, she’s a co-writer of Greenberg and has a minor role in it). Or what if Molly Ringwald got to blow out more than 40 candles? Any other suggestions?

ABOVE: Sarah Jessica Parker; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Comments

  1. Ally Sheedy/Molly Ringwald reprise their roles in The Breakfast Club to do a buddy comedy. Also, I’d like to see Winona Ryder and Janeane Garafalo re-team with Steve Zahn to hit the road in Reality Bites 2 . . . leaving Ethan Hawke’s Troy Dyer far behind.

  2. There’s a great piece in the Guardian exploring exactly these issues- and I would recommend a read:http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/04/sex-and-city-critics-misogynists
    It’s something I find really interesting-how do we tell women’s stories without a) essentialising a female experience and b) using the script of patriarchy, but within the mainstream. I for one am still waiting for a women’s view of a decent action/hero/adventure film…I think a great revisit (although not technically a Gen Xer but still an ACE 80s/90s film)would be the Frances/Baby story. She’s probably a partner in a human rights firm by now.And a dance teacher by night.human rights+dance=perfect!

  3. Paul: I totally get where you’re coming from with this; there’s a serious double standard in terms of what’s acceptable fodder for a male-dominated film versus a female-dominated film. Thanks so much for your post. While SATC2 certainly had it’s flaws, I did feel like some of the reviews were unduly harsh for the wrong reasons.

  4. hollytomlinson says:

    There’s another interesting Guardian article about this as well: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/31/sex-city-male-female-fantasy

    I wasn’t particularly impressed by the first one and probably won’t see the second, but it does really frustrate me how many people dismiss it as pathetic rubish, while not applying the same standard to male fantasy films.

    I have to defend the Hangover though, it was really funny and I’m afraid I enjoyed it a lot more than Sex and the City.

  5. hollytomlinson says:

    Sorry, I take back praise of the Hangover on account of it featuring convicted rapist Mike Tyson. I was just reading a account of the trial – a shocking amount of victim blaming in court: http://tech.mit.edu/V112/N4/tyson.04w.html

  6. Thelma and Louise, they really did not die, their car was caught on a tree and women park rangers found them and helped them escape…..now they are back and they need bigger liquor bottles because woman’s rights have never came to fruition.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Therese Shechter and Kristen Lambert, erin molloy. erin molloy said: Women's v Men's escapist films: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/05/29/the-gen-x-male-only-midlife-crisis-hot-tub-v-satc/ [...]

  2. [...] There are others who are thinking about the film in interesting contexts: Paula Kamen on the Ms. Blog: The Gen X Male-Only Midlife Crisis: Hot Tub v. SATC [...]

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