Playing With the Big Boys

Playing With the Big Boys

Since Massachusetts blew the senatorial election to replace Ted Kennedy, I'm going to do what lots of folks do to avoid reality: focus on Hollywood. I shall now turn my attention to the next important "race" in America, which is the Oscar race.

In this contest, I support only one candidate and would like to announce my endorsement by offering the following campaign slogan:

Kathryn Bigelow rocks.

If you don't know who she is, I dare you to watch The Hurt Locker and walk out of the movie theater without having your mind blown.  Hollywood's got Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers leading a tiny pack of female film directors, but these dames only churn out girly schlock about parenting, shopping and going gaga for guys. Kathryn Bigelow is a different animal. Some of the director's most famous films were 1987's Near Dark, a creepily dark gore fest about vampires, and Point Break, an adrenaline rush about bank-robbing surfers that became a cult classic despite the Keanu Reeves cheese factor.

But Bigelow's masterpiece is last year's The Hurt Locker, a gritty, ass-on-the-edge-of-your-seat film about the Iraq war which The New York Times promises will leave you "shaken, exhilarated and drained, but…also thinking." As a filmmaker, Kathryn Bigelow is hardcore and virile.

And yeah. She's a chick.

I get jazzed when female entertainers compete on the same turf as the big boys, only because I loathe any presumption about what art is and who should be making it; in particular, the suggestion that females can only make art for other women. Supposedly, lady art doesn't touch on universal themes or is considered light fare when compared to the hunkier expressions of men. Books by women are chick or mommy lit, while their movies are chick flicks and rom coms. In 2007, Vanity Fair god Christopher Hitchens claimed women aren't even as funny as men.

Admittedly, there aren't many women working in or consuming mainstream culture who are disproving these theories. I don't want to believe most gals would rather write or read The Dating Detox than The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or create or watch The Proposal instead of, well, The Hurt Locker. I wonder if women really are into fluff or whether we're conditioned to be. Are women who break the mold, like Kathryn Bigelow and, say, Tina Fey, really anomalies, or are they the only females who've had the luck to squeeze through the cultural gate? There must be gobs of talented writers, filmmakers and craftswomen who would make multi-dimensional art if they could just find their way into the, right?

It all came home during last Sunday's Golden Globes where I found myself comparing Bigelow's flick to the Best Picture competition. Indeed, Avatar was a gorgeous adventure, Up in the Air touching, and Inglourious Basterds a riotous good time.

But really, these movies were just manifestations of their directors' lost boyhood fantasies – Cameron's fairy tale fascination with alien-inhabited planets, Reitman's sweetly moralistic conclusion that love is all you need, Tarantino's adolescent bloodlust. Only the blistering Precious managed to do what The Hurt Locker did: tell a good story about an authentic human being whose journey into the depths of his or her own psyche illuminated some greater truth about our time.

Kathryn Bigelow directed the manliest, most adult film of 2009, about the manliest of subjects: war. No pretty blue people, no handsome, repentant studs, no zany Nazis. Just sweaty men, dirt and bombs. Bigelow offered high-impact action and ideas; she got us high as our nerves popped then left us with a rewarding emotional finish. And unlike Avatar's director, James Cameron, whom I expected to come out from behind the scenery to say, "In case you didn't get it, war is bad," or "Hey, that last scene was about how we should care more for the environment," Bigelow made her point without slamming us over the head. As The San Francisco Chronicle said, "She makes guy movies—and she makes them better than guys do."

Of course, there's no harm in silly, chick-infested fun, just like dudes can toss softballs like The Hangover into the culture and still be considered an artistically versatile gender. The problem with bubble-headed girl crap is there isn't much else for us.

Although who am I to talk, when I've written a novel that, upon publication, will undoubtedly land smack dab in the middle of chick lit-ville. I love my book; my baby makes me proud. But I do hope to continue to evolve as an artist in order to lift myself and my lady friends out of the pigeonholes we fit ourselves into. Thankfully, women like Kathryn Bigelow make playing in the big leagues seem within reach.  

As of now, I'm practicing my swing.

**Reprinted from Laura K. Warrell's blog Tart&Soul at