jessicaI like Jessica Simpson. I have a huge soft spot for her, and I hesitate to even type a title like this, but you’ve got to call ’em like you see ’em. (Which means I should technically write “Joe Simpson vs. Feminism.”)

No bones about it: Blonde Ambition is bad. You knew that, though. You’ve no doubt heard about how it opened in a handful of Texas theaters and barely scraped together $6,422.

My friend Z and I rented it last night. Jessica deserved better.

I’ve seen almost everything she’s appeared in, cinematically: Dukes of Hazzard, Employee of the Month, There Will Be Blood. She has a definite charm about her, a likability that could be used very effectively.

Could be, that is.

Too often, the grasping hand of manager Papa Joe Simpson sabotages his daughter, and cheap-looking, piece-of-trash Blonde Ambition is no exception (the Photoshopped cover is a leftover from her A Public Affair album cover shoot). Will he be content until he’s ruined any goodwill fans have for her?

Jessica could be good in movies; she just needs the right project and the right people who will help show her in the best light possible. I want nothing more than for her to prove this. Alas, that wasn’t the case here.

Some observations:

  • Luke Wilson looks bloated and scruffy/homeless. (As opposed to scruffy/cute.) Plus, he looks at least 20 years older than Jess. He played this role before in Legally Blonde…he (and the production) barely rate above dinner theater.
  • Jessica’s lipstick and hair are outrageous. There’s never a scene where she looks like a real person–instead, she’s got a billion billowy extensions and an unbelievable amount of hot scarlet lipstick slathered on, even when relaxing at home. Her lipstick changes, color, too: to match a coral-colored raincoat, she gets a bright orange mouth. TOO MUCH MAKEUP! (And, hey, I like drag queens!)
  • The script is groaningly stupid, giving Jessica no character to play. She goes through the typical romantic comedy tropes (She lies to the man she loves! He lies to her! He has to run to catch her at the end when he realizes he loves her!) but everything (from the opening credits that look like I designed them on a Tandy to the numerous green screen “effects”) just looks so cheap and generic that it’s a shock no one noticed beforehand.
  • Speaking of which, good actors (Penelope Ann Miller, Rachel Leigh Cook, Larry Miller) and bad-but-known actors (Andy Dick, Luke Wilson, Willie Nelson) do their best, but there’s nothing with which to do anything.

Here’s my main issue, though: for a supposedly empowering film aimed at women and girls, the movie’s feminism is, at best, strongly conflicted. While it does establish a strong bond between the “good” women (and presents some of them as capable, intelligent and successful), it also hits some really bizarre, jarring notes. Jessica lands a job as Larry Miller’s secretary, where she wears glamorous couture, bakes for everyone and cleans up the office. Like a bad fantasy of a submissive secretary (unlike the excellent fantasy starring Maggie Gyllenhaal), Jessica leans over to pick up files, coos “Yes, Mr. Connelly” and drops staplers into her cleavage. (Well, not the last one.) Her “business” success consists of her performing similarly housewifely duties–throwing a children’s birthday party, dressing up in a slutty Norweigian costume to “entertain” foreign clients and exiting an elevator in slow-motion in a gorgeous red power suit, blonde hair flowing behind her. That’s all it takes, girls!

The film’s villainess, Penelope Ann Miller (the VP who *gasp* schemes to become president) gets the seemingly-incompetent Miller fired and takes his job. Jessica’s character, ever the anti-feminist, pouts and schemes until PAM is hauled off by security and the middle-aged white man is again president, with Jessica’s white-toothed smile and huge breasts happily subservient and at his beck and call, where the movie says she belongs.

jessica2There’s a strange, ugly twist, though. After slapping Penelope, Jessica is urged by Penny Marshall and a roomful of other “investors” to call her a bitch. After demurring (“You’re a very mean person!” she frowns), Jessica is finally convinced and calls her a bitch, at which point everyone applauds (Penny most heartily) now that the career woman has been put in her place. You know, because she was MEAN, had an unflattering haircut and hid her funbags under business suits instead of letting them flop around like seal pups in the surf. Fuck all that business knowledge she must’ve had to rise to the top–she never wore lipstick and was tired of being #2, so let’s all cheer her downfall! What the fuck?!

The only bright spot in the film was the compelling/disturbing/fucking fantastic performance of Karen McClain as Betty, the secretary whose place Jessica takes. With a knowing smile and an arched eyebrow, she delivers the limp dialogue with an awesome combination of camp and menace that’s pure genius. She knows what the script calls for (a sassy black woman referred to “Big Momma’s House” by another character), but she rises above it and steals the entire film. There’s a tag at the end of her character returning to the office, where she’s the new VP, that’s the closest the film comes to hitting the right notes. Trust me–watch at least the scene where McClain hisses, “…and SOMEBODY’s being a Sneaky Susan!” and tell me she isn’t simultaneously frightening and hilarious! Check her out at her website and her MySpace: I hope to see this “Talented Terri” again soon.

Jessica, here’s hoping Major Movie Star‘s better!

femalethingI first read about The Female Thing on Gawker in a post written by my favorite (now ex-)editor, Emily Gould. I’m always up for reading books about women’s issues and feminism–in college, I took a course called “The Woman Writer,” where I was one of only two guys. (The other one was a jelly-braceleted, bottle-blonde waif who only showed up once every month or so.)

I read the whole thing in an afternoon, really quickly, and really dug it, so much so that I wanted to send a copy to my sister. In a really breezy and funny way, Kipnis separates the female psyche into four sections (and essays): Envy, Sex, Dirt and Vulnerability.

The main crux of her argument is that, basically, women are their own worst enemies, because of the tension between feminism and femininity. Feminism’s aim is to equalize the genders; femininity’s aim is to give women a unique power on an uneven playing field…despite the fact that it’s grounded in notions of female inadequacy.

It sounds weighty and it is, but it’s written with verve and a great sense of humor about how fucked up gender identity and relations can be, even at a time when we’re supposedly more enlightened than ever.

I really admire someone like Kipnis, who can make something like this so accessible and pleasurable to read. She distills the philosophical positions of complex figures like Andrea Dworkin with respect and intelligence. (I spent a lot of time while reading it Wikipedia-ing different people she discusses–it’s so fascinating how you can lose yourself following difference references. I even found another book I’m going to read this way.)

You know how when you’re having a discussion with someone, maybe at a party or at lunch, and a subject comes up that you feel passionate about but wish you were better informed? I’d love to be able to articulate my views as eloquently and quippily as Kipnis. It’s one reason why I love reading any of Antonia Fraser’s historical biographies: the mixture of sensitivity, authority and warmth.

I wish that I had the skill to write the way these women do!