How much does Hollywood detest originality? Let us count the ways.
Up next in the women-led remake gravy train is a new, all-female version of “Ocean’s Eleven,” starring Sandra Bullock and produced by Danny Ocean 2.0 himself, George Clooney. This will be the second Clooney role that Bullock will fill; the first was her character in “Our Brand is Crisis,” which was originally intended to be a Clooney vehicle.
It’s easy to see the appeal for a studio here: placate the call for more films starring women while mitigating risk because it’s a familiar story starring a proven actress. But it’s arguably a giant nothingburger offered as lip service for putting more women in leading roles.
This dedication to female-led remakes of classic movies which originally starred men becomes a problem when it begins to eat into possibilities for original stories about women, told from their perspectives. That’s quite a different animal from shoving women into roles that were created for and defined by men, with a few tampon jokes thrown in to reinforce that this is the “girl version.” It doesn’t help that such remakes are accompanied by a built-in sexist backlash.
“The fact there was so much controversy because we were women was surprising to me,” Kristen Wiig, one of the stars of the upcoming all-female “Ghostbusters” remake, said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Some people said some really not nice things about the fact that there were women. It didn’t make me mad, it just really bummed me out.”
When original stories are done, and done well, such as Reese Witherspoon’s depiction of Cheryl Strayed in the adaptation of her memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” they can be resonant and revelatory in a way that speaks to the unique trials of being a woman. In Strayed’s case, that included an ever-present worry about being assaulted because she was a woman hiking alone. Those types of stories expand our understanding of the human condition.
This doesn’t mean that every film that’s written for actresses is going to do well, or for that matter, that they’re even going to be good. (See: “Hot Pursuit.”) But when movies starring men fail, like say, “Burnt,” it doesn’t get attributed to an audience’s inability to connect with Bradley Cooper because of his gender. It’s simply a flop.
The reason the gender-flipping maneuver worked for Angelina Jolie’s “Salt,” and could have for “Our Brand is Crisis” — barring other, unrelated problems with the film — is because audiences hadn’t seen those characters before. They only knew the characters as women.
In a recent conversation with Terry Gross, Sarah Silverman talked about doing comedy in the ’90s and the very specific praise she used to hear for comedian Paula Poundstone:
[People would say that] Paula Poundstone is a real comedian because you can take her material and a man can do it, and it would be just as funny. She’s not talking about tampons and stuff. That’s what hacks talk about. And I really took that as truth… And there was a conceit that you had to make the men laugh because the women were just there on dates, and they would only laugh if their dates were laughing. So you had to get the men to laugh. And that was, like, a real conceit, and it took years for me to realize, [expletive] (laughter). You know, like, comedy is talking about my own experience, and I’m a woman. And that’s my experience. And just because it isn’t yours doesn’t invalidate it.
When retellings of stories about men begin to dominate popular film offerings, it begins to send a message about original stories centering women — namely, that they don’t count. That said, if Bullock wants to spend the next phase of her career remaking George Clooney’s old roles, who are we to stop her? If Clooney and Bullock are so bent on making this a thing, we’ll even chip in our top five suggestions.
Does this mean Bullock recreates Clooney’s super-steamy bathtub scene with Jennifer Lopez? Nothing like a little girl-on-girl action to get 12- to 34-year-old male butts in the seats, amiright?
Hey, maybe all that football speak from “The Blind Side” could come in handy again.
Bullock would star not only as Ryan Stone, but as her twin astronaut sister whose voice allows her to save herself when she’s stranded in space. Bullock squared.
In which Bullock stars as an out-of-touch, non-custodial parent who doesn’t know what time school starts and feeds her kid Tic Tacs for breakfast. That’ll go over swimmingly.
Oh hell, it’s not as though she could do any worse.