by ALEX CARNEVALE
The Nice Guys
dir. Shane Black
I started to ask myself: who would I be if I didn't live in a world that hated women? I've been unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, but I did realize I've long been mourning this version of myself that never existed. - Jessica Valenti
Earlier this year an employee was fired at Nintendo of America after a group of misogynist messageboard posters targeted her as a perpetrator in the heady crime of making changes to an American release of a Japanese game. (She wasn't responsible for those alterations, not that it matters.) They started "researching" her past and decided to shame her for various opinions she held in her dissertation about the prosecution of sex crimes. Nintendo responded by digging further into the woman's life, uncovering a job she performed in order to supplement the measly income and health insurance she made working for the company. They fired her for this moonlighting, even though it was explicitly allowed in her contract. It was nothing more than an excuse to side with trolls over a talented member of their own company.
The women-haters who brought this all about seem like the real villains of this story. But there are worse ones: men (and sometimes women) who buy into harassment and support the atmosphere it generates. These good-intentioned people — how often we hear them say they love women — have a distinct point where they completely capitulate to pressure of any kind. They are comfortable with the concept of women as long as the women in question are simultaneously making them comfortable. Enter the nice guys.
It is perhaps natural that fathers today want to protect their daughters more than ever. Star of The Nice Guys Holland March (Ryan Gosling) does not particularly subscribe to this point of view. After the death of his wife, he is raising his daughter Holly (Australian actress Angourie Rice) on the wages of a private eye. During her summer off from school, Holly tries to aid her helpless pop on a case where he attempts to determine the whereabouts of a pornographic actress named Amelia (Margaret Qualley).
Holly is almost shot, murdered with a knife, run over by a car and abducted throughout Shane Black's The Nice Guys. At the end of it you would be hard pressed to say that Holland is any kind of a good parent, but you have to give him credit for allowing his daughter to be her own person, albeit a miniaturized version of himself. "I hate you," she tells her dad during one particularly feisty moment, but the rest of the time she is simply upset whenever she is not included in the excitement of his job.
The rest of the women in The Nice Guys are either evil beasts doing the bidding of men, or whores. Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) appears halfway through the film as a cold-blooded concerned mother. In The Nice Guys, Basinger portrays the head of the Justice Department, a lawyer working for the car manufacturers in order to ensure they are not penalized for defying environmental regulations. She hires the nice guys to find her daughter; instead her daughter is murdered and she does not even get a refund.
The joke Black is making is that there are no nice guys. Exhibit A: the closest Black has ever come to writing an effective woman character is a thirteen-year-old virtually identical to Nancy Drew. Still, you have to give him points for effort. Unlike the producers of the new Ghostbusters, he knows his own limitations.
A particularly wretched article appeared in The New York Times recently, announcing that anyone who thought Paul Feig was less than a complete genius (for his patronizing character of a ghettoized black woman?) is a person who clearly hates women.
Paul Feig is another "nice guy," only he isn't very nice and he can't write women for shit either. I guess some credit goes to him for making an action film with an all-woman cast. The fact that is a cynical cash-in on fan nostalgia and the movie looks completely tone-deaf and unfunny, not to mention borderline racist, is besides the point. This particular beacon of feminism is a man drawing a huge paycheck for making a group of talented women the focal point for a hate campaign while he lurks in the shadows.
Feig's last movie was quite financially successful as well. It spent a solid two hours making fat jokes about Melissa McCarthy — but hey, since she was the star, it was a progressive piece of revolutionary feminism. Actually, Spy was mean-spirited and awful, and anyone involved in its production should be pretty ashamed of the Chuck Lorre-esque bigotry the movie espoused. It may have somehow escaped the notice of those determined to justify everything that this nice guy does, but women have — gasp! — been starring as the lead draws in feature films long before Paul Feig was born.
Maybe it is as Jessica Valenti says in her new memoir, and the whole world hates women. This does not mean, prima facie, that this was always so. Women did rule nations, empires. They accomplished a lot before The Nice Guys ever came onto the scene. Given the title Shane Black gives to his movie, you would have thought there was some larger point at work here about men's relationship to women. Instead The Nice Guys becomes turgidly boring after an entertaining first hour, subsisting mostly on Black's back-and-forth banter. The basic overall message of the film is how difficult it is being a good person.
Russell Crowe has no chemistry with Gosling for some reason, which is how The Nice Guys falls apart. The two men have very little in common besides their occupation and their status as bachelors. Despite the insanely long running time of The Nice Guys, neither ever even meets or approaches a woman in a sexual way. It is as if Black believes that treating a woman as a romantic equal is ultimately too much like objectifying her as a sexual object. Except for very young girls who might be their daughters, Gosling and Crowe's characters are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of adult women.
One scene near the end of the film is particularly disturbing in that regard. Gosling and Crowe wait in the lobby of a courthouse after testifying in front of a grand jury about the machinations of Kim Basinger's corrupt lawyer. She goes over to sit by them and explain her actions and sadness at her daughter Amelia's death. Strangely, the two men cannot even bring themselves to look at her face, that of a grieving mother. Instead Gosling speaks in German, comparing this powerful fallen, woman to Adolf Hitler.
Whether or not there is an active misogyny behind this filmmaking, I don't really know or care. It used to be that Hollywood was where society took steps forward; now film is purely a reactionary medium. Even contrived, white savior stories like Mississippi Burning and Schindler's List did the important work of showing why human beings deserved to be treated as equals. The Nice Guys barely believes that women exist as anything other than children. This horrendous state of affairs really stands out when a B-tier remake of a soulless franchise that was never really much to begin with, directed by a man, becomes a rallying cry. Women actually do make films — it's not just the nice guys.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.