A few weeks back I rented The Thrill Of It All, a 1963 Doris Day comedy about a housewife whose growing fame as the pitchman for a popular brand of laundry detergent threatens to destroy the domestic paradise she's built for herself, her children and husband James Garner. I recalled liking the film a lot as a twelve-year-old. But a second viewing revealed it to be not just unfunny and hopelessly dated but also a sour, ugly little wallow in misogyny and retrograde gender politics.
Though they're separated by several decades of ostensible progress for women The Thrill Of It All and My Super Ex-Girlfriend both essentially ask male viewers the same loaded questions. What would you do if the woman in your life suddenly possessed incredible power? Wouldn't that make you feel like a pathetic, emasculated husk of a man?
As a feminist I'd like to think that the universal answer would be "No. No, It would not". As a realist however I'm more inclined to answer "perhaps. But I'd try to deal with it in a mature and responsible fashion." In The Thrill Of It All Day's power is economic and professional. Day may not possess conventional super-powers but she's nevertheless able to leap over hubby's M.D. and decades of professional experience in a single professional bound.
In My Super Ex-Girlfriend there's nothing at all metaphorical about Uma Thurman's powers. She can fly, flick cars into outer space and hurl sharks through windows. Thurman doesn't seem overly enthused about her super-powers however. Throughout the film she wears an aggravated look that suggests that super-powers are more trouble than their worth. My Super Ex-Girlfriend flirts with some fairly dark ideas. What if Wonder Woman was a castrating, possessive shrew? What if someone's crazy stalker ex had super powers? What if all Wonder Woman really wanted to do at the end of the day was sit down and enjoy a nice meal without dealing with the hassles of a citizenry perpetually in need of rescue?
This last question forms the basis for the film's only satisfying scene. In it Thurman's maddeningly passive-aggressive wallflower/superhero is increasingly aggravated when the demands of super-herodom prevent her from enjoying a meal with boyfriend Luke Wilson. The scene isn't funny necessarily but it's smartly, even subtly, observational in the way it juxtaposes the mundane with the super-heroic.
Otherwise Super Ex is an ugly aggregation of missed opportunities about a lovelorn sad-sack (Luke Wilson) who finds out that neurotic, needy girlfriend Uma Thurman moonlights as super-hero G-Girl. When Thurman's grasping neediness becomes too much for Wilson to take he breaks up with Thurman only to learn that hell hath no fury like a super-woman scorned. At this point the adolescent fantasy of making sweet passionate love to Wonder Woman morphs into the equally adolescent nightmare of getting on the wrong side of a person who could hurl you over the Sears Tower.
Super Ex has an excellent opportunity to deconstruct male paranoia about female strength. But the film is ultimately less interested in critiquing or analyzing male insecurity regarding female power than in glibly exploiting it. In My Super Ex-Girlfriend the problem isn't Luke Wilson's inability to deal with Thurman's super-human strength. That might implicate the audience as well as the film's wet blanket of a hero. No, director Ivan Reitman and screenwriter Don Payne let Wilson off the hook by making Thurman an evil shrew who would kill Wilson if she had a chance.
My Super Ex seems to have been made by someone with no love for either super-heroes or romantic comedies. Thurman's character doesn't hold up to the least bit of scrutiny. Has she had boyfriends before Wilson? If so what happened to them? If Thurman hates being a super-hero so much why does she continue to do it? Is G-Girl the only super-hero in the film's universe or merely one star among many? Is G-Girl an international celebrity? If she has such contempt for humanity and the male gender why doesn't she switch sides and become a super-villain? Is she rich? What kind of a moral code does she have? Does it preclude stalking? How bout super-stalking? What about Thurman's relatives?
But the film doesn't seem interested in Thurman's character as anything other than a source for cheap gags. There's a promising subplot in Thurman's relationship with best friend turned nemesis Eddie Izzard but it's at least five drafts away from being emotionally satisfying. Given the film's regressive gender politics it seems strangely fitting that the film ultimately pairs off Thurman's man-hating super-woman with an effete British comedian known for dressing in women's clothing.
The central problem with Super Ex is that it has no real angle on its subject, unless you consider sour, curdled misogyny a cohesive worldview. Like Epic Movie and Date Movie it barely seems familiar with subject matter it should possess a deep and multi-layered appreciation for. Incidentally screenwriter Don Payne also wrote a recently aired episode of The Simpsons where a pregnant fifteen-year-old tricks Bart into marrying her. Needless to say I suspect Payne won't be delivering the keynote address at the National Organization of Women conference this year. Now I've gone on record as saying that The Simpsons has brought me so much joy throughout the years that they've won a free pass from me for life but I've gotta say that late-period Simpsons episodes like the one I just described make it awfully hard to maintain a Zen state of acceptance about the show's decline.
Early in the film Wilson's horndog best pal Rainn Wilson speculates on what the G in G-Girl means. G-force? G-spot? I humbly nominate Generic. That goes double for this ugly little misfire.
Failure, Fiasco Or Secret Success:?:Failure