I have to say… I was pretty excited when I saw that Netflix and Happy Madison had released a new rom-com with Lauren Lapkus as the lead. As a big fan of Comedy Bang! Bang! (the podcast and the TV show), I was elated to see Lapkus step out from the side character shadows and show off her incredible ability to take on a character that I had previously witnessed, albeit in improvised form. That, coupled with the fact that my partner and I had just gotten back from our Hawaiian honeymoon in February, it seemed like the perfect fit for us to watch and (temporarily) escape the pandemic with.
Lapkus plays Missy, an eccentric woman who, after a texting mishap, is accidently invited to Hawaii on a company retreat by Tim, played by David Spade (I would say “spoiler alert” but this is *literally* divulged in the title). Having met two women of the same name in the recent past, one from a blind date and the other in a chance encounter at an airport, Tim inadvertently texts Lapkus instead of the other Missy, played by Molly Sims, who is his “dream girl” that he has an implausible amount in common with. An overjoyed and peculiar Missy joins him on his weekend retreat and, well, calamity ensues.
Lapkus is VERY committed to the role, which only appears odd relative to David Spade’s lacklustre performance (like, I get that his character is supposed to be “plain” but in all seriousness – did he even want to be there? He is truly phoning it in). Not to mention, their on-screen chemistry is so non-existent and contrived, it’s difficult to watch – the writing efforts seemed to be directed entirely at below-the-belt jokes and not, say, the plot or the development of the romantic relationship (to at least get it to a semi-believable state).
However, the real issue lies in its shameless perpetuation of rape culture. Chris Pappas and Kevin Barnett manage to fit two incidents of non-consensual sex into their tight 90-minute running time. In the first 20 minutes, Missy forces Tim to take a dog tranquilizer for their flight, knocking him unconscious. He is awoken by her giving him a 40-minute non-consensual hand job as a “wake-up call”. Don’t be mistaken – this is the definition of date rape. Tim’s comatose state, as well as him grabbing her hand to stop her while saying “Good Lord”, is more than enough to constitute sexual assault. He eventually resigns to this act, despite his unmistakable discomfort.
The second time that Tim is assaulted in his sleep takes place no more than 15 minutes later in their shared hotel room. He wakes with Missy straddling him after apparently overhearing him talking in his sleep saying that he “wanted her” (it’s not clear whether this is intercourse or dry humping but truthfully, it doesn’t matter). Aside from these egregious acts that either remove Tim’s ability to consent or place him in a position in which he is uncomfortable with revoking it, there is the general gross-ness of one person relentlessly pursuing a clearly uninterested party in an attempt to “break them down”.
It is difficult for me to imagine that if the gender roles were reversed, there wouldn’t be an uproar. Why do we treat male sexual assault so differently?
Perhaps this has stuck with me because it plays right into age-old sexual scripts of gender role stereotypes, a theory in which I am currently immersing myself for my dissertation on sexual consent. Mainstream sexual scripts depict men as inherently sexual creatures whose consent is assumed and ever-present (i.e., they are always “ready and willing” to have sex). Indeed, the movie actually seems to celebrate Tim being assaulted (after re-casting it as him “getting some”) by subtly implying that any man should be happy or proud to be in these circumstances. This rape myth is featured prominently in both scenes and furthers misconceptions that conflate physiological arousal with consent. Yes, Tim may have had a physiological response to Missy’s violation in a way that could signify desire, but it doesn’t amount to consent. This is a dangerous and harmful fallacy to promote.
In addition to the more obvious sexist transgressions, the movie also provides a more understated flavour of misogyny throughout (are we really expected to believe that there are not one, not two, but THREE beautiful women vying for Tim’s affection? Tim, the man with less personality than my kitchen sponge?). Also, the wild + outspoken woman = undesirable/demure + decorous woman = desirable trope? Yawn.
Despite this being called “harmless” and “amusingly inappropriate” by Variety, it is an inexplicable film for 2020. Perhaps it could be argued that I am expecting too much from Sandler, whose movies lost their appeal in 1998 and haven’t evolved since. But I am, however, rightfully disappointed in Netflix – it’s partnership with Happy Madison to produce the lazy, predictable, and trivial films that we have come to expect is one thing. It’s quite another to blatantly endorse sexual assault and date rape in a feeble attempt at a “joke”. What’s more, they promote the movie relentlessly on their home page, pushing this message to millions of viewers. I recognize the fact that many, many people (myself included) are looking for a source of escapism and light-hearted distraction during this heavy and challenging time. I just wish that filmmakers were a little more responsible in their role as generators of pop culture, particularly when the world is so overwhelmed by major issues that severely compromise its ability to think critically. Are we really not yet informed enough about sexual assault to pick up on these transgressions? This is the only explanation I can muster for the baffling number of supportive reviews from viewers and critics alike, as well as the film’s staying presence in the Top 10 Netflix dashboard.
Honestly, the more I think about it, the worse it gets. At best, it normalizes harmful sexual practices that are already prolific in our culture. At worst, it discourages the report of sexual assault among men, an established problem.
While I hope that this opens doors for Lauren Lapkus (some have even described her as the female Jim Carrey!), I am genuinely saddened by some parts of the entertainment industry that appear to be trapped in the 20th century, long before the emergence of #MeToo and other important feminist movements. Sigh.