Saturday, August 22, 2009
Mrs Wapiti and I rented "17 Again" from the $1 movie kiosk the other night. We expected another "body swap" movie in the vein of "13 Going on 30" or "Big" and we weren't disappointed in that respect. But while Mrs Wapiti, who is seven years younger than I and who "imprinted" on the current generation of actors and filming styles somewhat enjoyed the movie, I found it completely predictable, a tad boring (largely because of the predictability), not well acted, somewhat irritating, and more than a little bit depressing. I critique this lame movie below.
Basic Plot: The movie starts with the main character, Mike O'Donnell (played by Zac Efron) in high school. He is hip, popular with both the dudes and the bettys, and skilled at athletics. However, just before a crucial basketball game in which a college scout is in attendance, his girlfriend breaks the news to him that she is pregnant before she flees the court. Rather than play the game, O'Donnell abandons his team, thereby blowing his chances for a full-ride scholarship, and proposes to marry his HS girlfriend. Fast-forwarding 20 years, he never went to college, is highly dissatisfied with his soon-to-be-dissolved marriage (more on that later), disappointed about where his career hasn't gone, and has many regrets. He meets his "spirit guide" in the hallways of his old high school (where his two estranged children presently attend), falls off a bridge into a time-warping, body-changin' vortex, and wakes up in his 17 yo body. Subsequently, he determines that his new mission, rather than relive his glory days, is to rescue his son from incipient gamma-male-dom, and his daughter from following her heart* and throwing her lot in with a thug. In the end, he rescues both of his children, convinces his soon-2-b ex that he is worthy of her affection and loyalty, and everyone gets back together and is happy ever after.
Critique #1: The older O'Donnell never graduated from college. He is stalled in a mid-level sales job at a pharma company populated nearly entirely by younger women. He drives a Ford Taurus. He is low-status and drives a prole car. Message: he is a quintessential loser upper-30s beta male, not worthy of respect.
Critique #2: Repeating a meme found in most Disney movies, the feminine is normal in this movie, the male is the one who must change to be worthy of a woman's attention. O'Donnell's soon-2-b ex has no faults, no sins, and is portrayed as being in the right while the O'Donnell character is portrayed as selfish and contemptible and constantly in the wrong. Message: self-explanatory.
Critique #3: Reinforcing Critique #2, this movie normalizes a whole slew of social pathologies wrt men: Feminine contempt for their hardworking self-sacrificing men in their lives (O'Donnell's wife obviously lost respect for him long ago, despite the fact that he sacrificed his future for her and their baby). Wife's toxic friends are portrayed as helpful and not harmful. Wife's self-centered, happiness-seeking therapeutic divorce behavior is positive, even at the expense of the marriage and the welfare of the children. Children's contempt for fathers (no doubt taking cues from mom) is normalized. Women's DV against men is also normalized, and even sort of a joke (Hefron's character is slapped not once, not twice, but 4 times by women and twice more by his effete male best friend).
Critique #4: This movie somewhat normalizes teenage extra-marital sexuality. Abstinence is openly discredited by a HS sex ed teacher. When the O'Donnell character challenges this message in class, he is denigrated as a square and hopelessly clueless. Also, being able to "get a girl" is portrayed as a requisite for being considered a full-fledged male (as depicted by the O'Donnell character coaching gamma-male son to successfully approach and begin to date the captain of the cheer squad). The movie does balance this message however by showing subsequent attempts by the O'Donnell character to evade the simultaneous advances of 3 sexually aggressive, somewhat slutty teenage girls at a party and to counsel his daughter against early sex. These last two examples are shown in a bit more positive light.
Critique #5: This movie conveys the message that selfish behavior is preferable to self-sacrificing behavior in men, by showing O'Donnell being ill-rewarded for putting the concerns of his girlfriend and nascent family above his own. Message: take care of yourself first and everything else will fall into place.
Critique #6: O'Donnell's soon-2-b ex is a cougar, who falls for the younger high-school aged version of O'Donnell. All this while still technically married to the older O'Donnell. Moreover, most of the scenes between the teenage O'Donnell and his older wife are genuinely creepy and inappropriate. Message: it's sort-of okay for a upper 30s woman to have a heavy emotional (the couple doesn't get the chance to take their relationship to the next level) relationship with one of her son's minor friends, and a adulterous one at that. Not much respect for the marital bond here.
All told, this movie was a formulaic body-swap movie that largely reinforces the prevailing cultural memes of "women right, men wrong" and that men need to change to be worthy of a woman's respect. Definite thumbs-down from this viewer.
* I quote Rachel, bride of MikeT, who said: "Telling women to decide on relationships by following their hearts is like telling a man to [decide on relationships by] follow[ing] his penis".