At first, I didn't think much about the news that At the Movies had dumped the well-hated pair of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz to get a little more intellectual with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. When Ebert was officially gone and the Ben-led fluff job took the spots, I preferred to pretend that the show didn't exist. Nevertheless, the new leads are solid choices for cinematic discussion. Writers for the Chicago Tribune and New York Times (respectively), our William Goss pointed out that both had "previously appeared in lieu of Ebert when he had taken ill and proved their own considerable intelligence and mutual respect for one another, the medium, and their audience."
Then I read Melissa Silverstein's "New Hosts for 'At the Movies' -- Another Couple of Guys," and started thinking about the testosterone-led television show. She asked: "Women filmgoers want more information before they make decisions about what movies to see, so wouldn't it make sense to try and bring in a female voice and perspective to look at films that are opening?" That would surely be a benefit to the women looking for reviewers they can relate to, but I think it would be even more important for the overall cinematic community by having a popular, visual representation of a female critic who loves more than the stereotypical "female fare."
Like it or not, there's an attitude towards women and cinema -- especially those who write about it -- and to have a thoughtful, cogent reviewer who could show love for a superhero film or an aggressive art piece, just as much as a romance or comedy, would be a wonderful step forward. It helps teach the audience that women have a variety of interests, too. Moreover, it would help pave the way for a more equal view on the opinions between male and female writers. In writing for Cinematical, I've been called out for calling a man sexy and told to go work for gossip rags (something that never gets thrown at male writers commenting on an actress' looks). After writing something positive about one rom-com clip, I was described elsewhere as a chick writer into Chick Flicks -- a rather strange assumption if you've kept up with my writing and talk of favorite films (cult flicks, docs, avant-garde, etc).
It's just commenter silliness, which is the name of the blogging game, but it does reflect a larger attitude that appears in many shades of grey. It can range from that look of surprise when girls are really excited for G.I. Joe (I hope to see it Friday!), to a female critic getting handed only fluff fare to review, to serious questions about a writer's ability to like or understand a film or genre based on their sex.
So adding a female critic into the mix, Silverstein's suggestions included Anne Thompson and ex-Cinematical editor Karina Longworth, both of whom would be a great way to start re-thinking our cinematic sex-pectations. Having a male and female critic argue over the finer points of an action film, or share their distaste for a vapid romantic comedy, would set us on the road for more real expectations and opinions of taste. Maybe it would no longer be weird that Cinematical has 6 female writers in a group of 17, most of whom are the daily writers, plus a female geek expert. Maybe an opinion can become nothing more than an expression of taste without being thrown into a "girls don't get that" or "guys don't like that" rationale. And just maybe one day, a genre can be nothing more than a genre, and not a troubling emblem of an entire sex or gender.
Maybe it will happen one day. And in hopes that it does: Which female film critics would you like to see on At the Movies, or stealing the thunder in a competing critic-led show?