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Haranguing Around the Movies

Couples Doing Battle Over 'Company of Men'

By Alona Wartofsky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Aug. 22, 1997

Couples who see "In the Company of Men" walk into the movie theater hand in hand. When they leave, they are no longer touching. The women's arms are grimly folded across their chests. The men slink out of the theater.

"In the Company of Men" is the feel-bad movie of the summer, in which two dissatisfied men decide to retaliate against womankind for all slights, both real and perceived. Their plan: Find a vulnerable woman, romance her for six weeks, then dump her. "Trust me," says the more odious of the two. "She'll be reaching for the sleeping pills in a week. And we'll be laughing about this till we are very old men."

A low-budget independent feature currently showing at area theaters, "In the Company of Men" is hardly a blockbuster. Still, it's drawing steady crowds who gasp and groan throughout the film. Afterward, they talk about it. And in many cases, they fight about it.

Josh Flaherty, 26, saw the movie with his girlfriend. "We argued about it all night," he says. "It gave me a forum to say a lot of things. I talked about men I knew in college, how we behaved really badly, trying to [expletive] a lot of women."

She did not respond well. "It was explosive," he says. "The worst fight we ever had."

"It's not a date movie," says Mike Lakatas, 25. "It raises issues you don't want to discuss with someone you don't know very well. You'd have to avoid putting your foot in your mouth."

Serena Klein, a 21-year-old from Germany, saw the film with a male friend. "We argued all the way home," she says. "I was so angry because I just experienced what the guy did to the woman. You meet someone, the man tells the woman, 'Oh, you are so lovely, bleh, bleh, bleh.' Then he has fun with her, and then he leaves her."

When Klein got home from the theater, she wrote in her diary:

"The movie touched me like salt on an open wound. Men are using women and why? Because they have a cold heart -- "

"I called my girlfriend in Germany and we told each other that men are [expletive]," she says. "We always tell each other about experiences with men and we always tell each other men are bastards."

The film seems to confirm women's worst suspicions about the less fair sex. Chad, the character who masterminds the plan, is a corporate piranha and a racist to boot. But it's his misogyny that really gets to female viewers, who imagine past boyfriends echoing Chad's line "Left her sobbing in the hotel room, then I walked over to Pizza Hut."

Anna Schwarz, a 19-year-old student, stands sputtering outside the Cineplex Odeon Dupont. "Part of me wants to run out and join riot grrl," she says, referring to the radical feminist movement.

Like many female viewers, Schwarz identified with Christine, the deaf woman who is Chad's unwitting victim. "That was me," Schwarz says. "I've been there. And he laughed in her face. Oh my God." Her fists are clenched.

"I didn't see anything fake in the whole movie," says 53-year-old Joanne, who didn't want to provide her last name. "It actually lived up to my experience of my husband today, which is why I came to see it. . . . I also saw my son in that [expletive] character. It really, really upset me."

"In the Company of Men" is the first film from Fort Wayne, Ind., writer-director Neil LaBute, 34, who likes to tell reporters that women consider the film documentary-like while men try to play it off as science fiction.

"Actually, I don't see it drawn on gender lines so much," he says. "It tends to be polarizing, but it also seems to be very individualized.

"I've met women who think it's as feminist a movie as they've ever seen, and others who say it's misogynist tripe," the filmmaker says. "We hear men who say they feel sorry for Christine. And then there are men who kind of look at me with these dog eyes that say, 'Did you have to? We were doing fine. Why did you have to let it out of the bag?' "

For the record, LaBute has been married for 12 years. His wife is a family therapist.

Bill, a 37-year-old who sells commercial real estate, is looking forward to seeing the film. "I've done that kind of thing," he says. "I could have directed that movie.

"I had a situation where a woman wasn't nice to me at a party. So I decided I was going to wine her and dine her and romance her to the point where I could sleep with her and then dump her. It was phenomenal. It felt so good. I had absolutely no remorse.

"I'm going to go see this movie," he says. "But I'll definitely go see it without my wife."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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