On Bratz and Men

Hey you guys,

Reviewing movies for The A.V Club is a wonderful job. But it's often a fairly ridiculous one as well. Case in point: this morning I went to a press screening for Bratz: The Movie, the feature-film adaptation of the popular line of slutty dolls. Barbie may boast a figure out of Russ Meyer's fevered imagination but Bratz are the first line of mass-produced dolls that'd probably go down on their owner's dads if they bought them a mojito or two.

As the lights went up scattered pockets of applause erupted throughout the room. At first I imagined it was a case of curmudgeonly critics sarcastically praising one of the more ridiculous pieces of pop idiocy in recent memory but it was actually sincere applause from a handful of pre-pubescent girls who'd somehow made it into the screening room. The demographic of the screening room is overwhelmingly older, white and male but this time out us critics looked particularly geriatric.

I couldn't help but notice the surreal incongruity of pasty-faced men in their forties, fifties and sixties casting unstinting judgment on a movie aimed unmistakably, if not exclusively, at fashion-conscious ten-year-old girls. Even Roger Ebert was there. Heaven knows that if I were a Pulitzer Prize winning multi-millionaire I would have a hard time getting out of bed for a ten o' clock screening of a movie based on a line of popular dolls even under the best of circumstances.

I've never much cottoned to the idea of reviewing films with their target demographic in mind. For me the whole "If you like this kind of thing, then this is the kind of thing you'll like" mindset has always felt like a lazy excuse for setting standards so low that just about everything makes the grade. But it also seemed ridiculous for me to be writing about something so far out of my frame of reference.

Bratz is technically a movie–heck, it even says so in its title–but it's actually more of a consumer product, another ancillary revenue stream for the Bratz brand. Heck, it even has poor old Jon Voight in it bucking for the Guinness World Record for least distinguished performance by an Oscar winner, a title currently held by, um, Jon Voight for his performance as a Hitlery bad guy in Super-Geniuses: Baby Geniuses 2. Keep reaching for the stars, Voighty! Your best years are clearly ahead of you.

I don't think it's my job as a critic to tell you whether your ten-year-old daughter will like Bratz. To do so would be condescending and presumptuous. Yet it also seems ridiculous to separate Bratz from its very specific cultural context: as a consumer product for ten-year-old girls enamored of the Bratz brand.

Though it brings me no joy to say this I think ten-year-old girls will like Bratz precisely because it panders so shamelessly and unapologetically to their basest instincts. It tells them that friendship is awesome, but not nearly as awesome as shopping, choosing the right clothes, wearing the right make-up, having the latest technological gizmos and attracting cute boys.

But if you find the very concept of a Bratz movie utterly, agreeably ridiculous I imagine it'd also be a pretty fun movie to drunkenly heckle with a group of friends on a rowdy Saturday night. It's a wall-to-wall laugh riot, albeit unintentionally so. Just how bad is Bratz: The Movie? Let's just say that it's beneath the dignity of even Paula Abdul, who was famously fired from it on her reality show.

So in a strange sort of way Bratz ends up satisfying the needs of two wildly dissimilar demographics–reverent little girls laughing with the movie and irreverent, camp-addled slackers laughing at it–precisely because it's such a worthless, pandering piece of commerce. Ironic, ain't it?

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