1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser, or strong as an ox.
2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.
There's not much that's more irksome than clichés -- the flesh-eating fungus of Hollywood, the virus that makes Tinseltown's already rampant repetition all the more tiresome. They're completely trite and overused, but the cinematic machine clings to them like they're energy-giving oil.
The men of Hollywood certainly have a lot of clichés to contend with (the man-boy, crotchety letch, misogynist playboy), but some of the movie world's biggest gems get thrown to the women. In fact, female clichés in Hollywood are so rampant that I often wonder what a complete and total outsider would think of women if shown our filmmaking. They'd probably think we all fit into the clichéd norms I've listed after the jump. What follows is four of the biggies -- the ones I always try to escape, the ones that never go away.
1. The Prostitute/Stripper
While I love writing about movies, the daily grind can get eye-bleedingly irksome when you notice just how many prostitute/stripper films they're out there. Sure, you can think of a few right off the bat, but that's the first drop in a torrent of prostitute/stripper characterizations that run wild through all cinematic incarnations -- the arthouse, the indie, the mainstream blockbuster. It makes me wonder if Earth's alternate name is the "Land of Whores," because any alien or other-worldly creature would assume that prostitution is the most prevalent and wide-spread occupation for the female and human race.
And Hollywood loves them. Even our most beloved actresses flock to the roles because these are the gritty, extreme gigs that bring them critical attention and Oscar love. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, the first woman to win an Oscar -- Janet Gaynor in 1928's Street Angel -- played a prostitute, and thus opened the door to a long history of lascivious leading roles: Greta Garbo, Charlize Theron, Donna Reed, Kim Basinger, Elizabeth Taylor, Jodie Foster...
But at some point, this can't be considered as much of a stretch for an actress when there's almost one hundred years of prostitution productions ... or so I would hope.
2. The Bitchy and Imbalanced Successful Shrews
Always fear the woman in power. She's not like the men. She's a different beast altogether -- the bitch -- the cold, calculating, focused, and detached woman of power who seems to have little to no humanity. In movies, that often means caricatured CEOs who have little social skills or rational thought, but somehow manage to run large companies.
I've never quite understood this trend. It suggests that women have some sort of professional autism, skilled enough to get ahead but not able to function in any other part of their lives. We've grown accustomed to this notion that successful women on the big screen probably won't be successful in their personal lives. Sometimes this can be tackled with enough finesse to be palatable (Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), and sometimes it's so ridiculous that words fail (Katharine Heigl The Ugly Truth).
3. The Hysterical Woman
Yeah, this category is casting a big net. But Hollywood loves its female hysteria. Now, I've known a lot of women over the years -- everyone from the most butch tomboy to the most girly girl fashionista -- and none have ever been hysterical. Angry and ranty? Yes. Fly-off-the-handle, screechingly insane? No. Even my friends' most tumultuous of moments have been handled with some sort of dignity, but on the big screen, all bets are off. Do something out of line, and the gals will wail, rant, and throw messy scenes that shouldn't be fit for consumption.
Hysteria was the weakest point in Up in the Air (as Anna Kendrick freaks out in a moment of weakness), but it's just the cherry of a long-standing tradition. It will definitely happen when marital plans are afoot (Bride Wars), when ex boyfriends enter the picture (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), when pent-up emotions erupt (Before Sunset), and many more. The sad thing is, three of those four are films are solid projects that I really like -- the "hysterical woman" is not some cliché hidden in unsuitable fare. It's everywhere!
Hollywood needs to learn that the charm of a cold shoulder, a well-written rant, and carefully released burst of anger can be just as cinematic.
4. The Pretty Ugly Girl
This is the one we all joke about -- the "ugly" girl who rips off her glasses, pulls her hair out of its ponytail, and suddenly becomes the most irresistible goddess. This trend was rampant in the '80s and '90s teen movies, the basis for many a makeover montage (Clueless), and even pops up today (Needy in Jennifer's Body could be called the modern incarnation). Although, thankfully, there seems to be less pr-ug regularity today as films try to grasp at unique personalities getting loner status, rather than superficial and oft-irrelevant fashion cues likes glasses.
While the ridiculousness can be amusing, this one grates -- as if a girl is toeing the line of uglydom by needing glasses to see. As if any refusal of fashion thrusts her into the realms of the ugly -- not the awkward, not the disheveled -- but the all-out unpleasant to look at. It just breeds a society of snarky, overly critical people eager to pick out the slightest "flaw."
As we all know, there are so much more -- the shopping obsessed, the money idiots, the femme fatale... -- Hollywood never fails to make sure all clichéd bases are covered.
Which do you loathe?