Bright Lights Film Journal

Why Can’t We all just Morally Compromise?

I had to watch this odd romantic-ish comedy last night called SEX AND DEATH 101. Many other critics have been bashing it, calling it uneven and it can’t decide what it wants to be. It runs around trying to please all comers… it serves you rom com wussiness, then makes fun of it — it gets metaphysical then wipes it all away with been-there done-that Farelly-style sex gags. The worst part is that my beloved Winona Ryder returneth here, as a serial killer named “Death Nell.” She’s awesome once she finally gets to show her face. There’s a long, great little scene in a diner at the end, with Death Nell and her latest victim, who goes to her willingly, ala the end of DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY. Ryder is so sexy crazy she give Marilyn Monroe circa THE MISFITS a run for her money.

But this is where it gets annoyingly “moral” – i.e. she doesn’t “really” kill anyone, which for a serial killer is the lamest example of moral cop out since the altered ending of HANNIBAL. See, this chick sleeps with smug misogynists, then sends them into comas via some weird herbal drug… so who knows? they might wake up… oh brother. Check, please!

There’s a new movie coming out by David Ayer, co-written with Jammes Ellroy, called STREET KINGS. These two guys are like the only ones working in the entertainment industry who a) write convincing drug-dealer dialogue and b) aren’t afraid of backing up morally compromised protagonists (others being the Coens and Paul Thomas Anderson, Tarantino and Rodriguez, John Dahl, Ferrara and sometimes Oliver Stone). Hopefully it will do better than Ayer’s last film, the underseen and underappreciated Christian Bale epic, HARSH TIMES.

But man, SEX AND DEATH 101 makes you appreciate the need for directors to trust their audience to be able to “half-root for, half root-against” a complex character, to come away from a movie uneasy and fascinated, rather than just exhausted and sleepy. If they doubt it’s possible, they should read some Shakespeare, or Tennessee Williams, or something.

I’m not saying there’s not plenty of morally compromised protagonists floating around the cinema, for there surely are – and they often get Oscars for it too, while the films that back-pedal usually get dumped mostly to dvd straight up. So if the idea of a girl serial killer preying on manwhores and perverts sounds awesome, just be aware that fear of females killing in cold blood runs deep up in the patriarchy to the point that even most liberals start kicking in their stalls over it, lots of actresses even refuse to do it. That’s fine, but when that fear-desire combo is exploited then wimped out on at the ninth inning with all the coma victims waking up as rested as could be, then man, you know your movie SUCKS, as in sucks up to the neo-con power structure like a Britney-pimpin’ BITCH!