Monday, August 02, 2004

Spike Lee Stinks up the Joint

I hates She Hate Me, which completes Spike Lee’s grammatically incorrect pronoun trilogy. He should have called it: Everything I Need to Know About Lesbians I Learned From Watching Cinemax. This is a shame because I really like Spike. When he’s at the top of his game, he makes great movies like Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, Get on the Bus, and Bamboozled. Even some of his less-than-great movies like He Got Game and 25th Hour have some interesting stuff going on and some very good elements. But when he’s bad, boy is he bad. Now I haven’t seen Girl 6, but up until this past week, I thought Summer of Sam was his worst film. But She Hate Me make Summer of Sam look like… a not horrible movie.

For starters, nothing in the movie makes the least bit of sense. Not the way the characters behave, not their reactions to things, not the story – not nothing.

The dialogue is stilted and condescending. I don’t know who he thinks his audience is, but he obviously doesn’t have enough faith in them to get his message or to even know what Watergate was without explicit instruction from him and his cast of walking pamphlets.

In David Poland’s scathing review, he compared Lee to Woody Allen, and the analogy is apt in many ways. In particular, both used to have a talent for capturing the way that contemporary people spoke. Yet now, both just seem out of touch, as though the pulse of modern life no longer courses through their veins.

The movie is also offensive in its racial and sexual stereotyping and its sheer ridiculous portrayal of lesbians. In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman nails one example of this:

What's truly ugly about the film is that without any apparent irony, it appears to buy into the most hideous possible stereotype of black men as simultaneously the most coveted and the most dehumanized of sexual beings.

In addition, Lee once again with the help of John Turturro, grinds an axe against Italian-Americans using one-dimensional mafia stereotypes who are reduced to imitating Marlon Brando as The Godfather. And just about every straight Caucasian in the film is an overt racist, which is fine in a surreal piece like Harold & Kumar, but is just lazy in a purportedly “thought-provoking” film. I don’t know which white people Lee’s been subjected to over the years, but are there really white folks under the age of 70 who still use the word “colored?” I’m sure there are plenty of whites who are more subtly racist – I’ve known a few – and while that doesn’t make them better people than the white-hooded ones, it does make them more interesting characters to explore issues of race with in a film.

As for the lesbians – oh man. Where to begin. It’s as though his entire philosophy regarding homosexuality stems from Jason Lee’s (no relation to Spike, and again, not to be confused with the star of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story – also no relation to any of them) line in Chasing Amy:
All every woman really wants, be it mother, senator, nun, is some serious deep-dickin'.

Because the lesbians in She Hate Me loves them some dick. They can’t get enough of it. In fact, even though they should only be interested in Anthony Mackie’s character for his baby batter, they want to see the Full Monty before laying down their cash. And when they do get a load of his – presumably large (you know, ‘cause he’s black) – endowment, they are sold! Apparently, Lee didn’t read the fine print in the dictionary definition of “Lesbian,” the pesky part where they’re not sexually attracted to men, because these girls all LOVE sex with Mackie, proving once and for all that they just haven’t found the right man. Mackie should be expecting a call from the Vice President, setting up an appointment with his daughter.

Many of the flaws in She Hate Me have been creeping into Lee’s movies over the years, even the good ones. Yet they stand out in this film because they are even more glaring and there is nothing of cinematic or ideological value surrounding them. One of these recurring themes – one I’m almost hesitant to bring up – is that many of his protagonists consider themselves victims and refuse to take responsibility for the parts they’ve played in rendering their own predicaments. This is an allegation sometimes leveled at members of the African American community, from both within and without, most recently and publicly by Bill Cosby. Based on interviews, I don’t get the impression that Spike Lee himself fits into that proposed category, so I wonder why so many of his characters do. Everyone from Mookie (played by the auteur) in Do the Right Thing to Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) in 25th Hour to Jack Armstrong in She Hate Me embodies this attitude. Yes, Jack gets a bum deal from the corrupt company he worked for, but nobody forces him to sell his seed to lesbians. And when he goes before congress to testify, he says that he did nothing illegal, but, and correct me if I’m wrong, he did prostitute himself to tens of women, which last time I checked is illegal. He may not have caused all his problems, but he refuses to accept any accountability whatsoever, and that is disturbing.

Oh, and did I mention that the movie is a whopping 138 minutes? Why?


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