Battered by Senate hearings, Avenger delirium, “Game of Thrones” anxiety and the news that Aaron Sorkin did not get nominated for a Tony, I took comfort in the positive reviews for “Long Shot” and raced off to my local theater on Friday morning for a little technically job-related escape.
Two hours later, I emerged more depressed and angry than I had been before, and not just because of all the blatant Dell product placement.
As a longtime fan of rom-coms, I was prepared for the requisite insistence that what every deeply committed professional woman needs is a “real guy” who can persuade her to just lighten up for a second. That this case involved a secretary of state days away from announcing her candidacy for president of the United States “lightening up” with a bunch of molly, which then left her negotiating a hostage situation while stoned and wearing really stupid sunglasses was a bit worrisome. But hey, Charlize Theron can sell pretty much anything, right?
No, what kept me tensely sighing throughout the film (sorry, older couple to my right) was the sight of Hollywood once again having a little fun with the notion of a woman in or pursuing a position of power — president, vice president, late-night host — that no woman has actually achieved yet.
Given the current state of affairs, it’s not that funny anymore.
Once upon a time, the merest glimpse of a woman in any such role felt progressive, even if the character was a monster. The female leaders of “24,” “Prison Break,” and “Homeland” were just as rotten and corrupt as the men they replaced (often through nefarious means), but that was fine. No one said a woman president was chromosomally ordained to be good, just that those chromosomes shouldn’t keep her from being president.
When Armando Iannucci decided to adapt his British sitcom “In the Thick of It” for American audiences, it made perfect sense that the lead of “Veep” would be a despicable female politician.
Maybe it felt a little weird to have a show making fun of a female vice president when no actual female vice president has ever existed, but at the time — Obama was in office with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state — such a thing at least seemed possible.
And sure, Selina Meyer’s endless assortment of sleeveless body-con dresses may have intensified some of the issues the show appeared to be satirizing — that for women, it’s not enough to be vice president; perfectly toned arms and no visible belly fat are also required. But like Theron, Julia Louis-Dreyfus can sell anything, right?
The show changed a bit after Trump and his very much non-female vice president took office, which is to say it got even darker. Some, including Louis-Dreyfus, believed “Veep” was an accidentally perfect reflection of his administration — the show that “started out as a political satire” became “a sobering documentary,” she said at the 2016 Emmys.
But it wasn’t really because, well, Selina is still a woman.
A woman who, in this final season, is running for president. And sure, she’s hateful and hilarious, but in a Teflon way that is completely removed from her own gender, all that body-con notwithstanding. Even in the satiric world of “Veep,” the notion that a female candidate could get away with all the profanity, bellicosity and dirty tricks of a male candidate is absurd. Just ask Sen. Amy Klobuchar about that comb; heaven knows everyone else has.
It isn’t just politics fueling the fantasy. Mindy Kaling’s delightful “Late Night,” out next month, turns on Emma Thompson as a female late-night host who has been in the job so long that she needs a young inexperienced writer, played by Kaling, to save her from calcification.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the only female host of any late-night show is E!’s Busy Philipps. Oh, wait, she was just canceled, after seven whole months. Thank heavens she didn’t calcify!
Will these sorts of characters help us get comfortable with the idea of an actual female president or (I know, I know, it’s crazy) late-night host? Maybe, maybe not. Many people, myself included, believed that shows like “The Good Wife,” “Madam Secretary” and “Game of Thrones” had, going into the 2016 election, paved the way for a female president, and yet here we are.
In the real world, female candidates are still judged on likability in a way men are not, still told to smile more even as their male opponents glower, still have their appearance criticized no matter what they look like or how they dress.
In the real world, most movies, including “Long Shot,” are directed by men; most corporations are run by men; most media outlets are headed by men; and last year, when most of the Grammys continued to be won by men, women were told they should just “step up.”
In the real world, it took the loss of male anchors to multiple sexual harassment charges for networks to realize having two women host “Today” would not bring on the apocalypse and that Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell are stars too. (Although even O’Donnell’s move from cohost of “CBS This Morning” to anchor of “CBS Nightly News” was accompanied by rumor that it was the result of a rift with King.)
In the real world, no story has obsessed so many for so long as that of Elizabeth Holmes, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who turned out to be a grifter. Just as so many male entrepreneurs have turned out to be grifters, except they weren’t young women with big unblinking eyes, so it wasn’t quite as delicious.
In this world, “fun” stories about women becoming president can seem at best flippant, at worst patronizing.
Either way, depressing.
Which brings us back to “Long Shot.” Even the title is annoying, equating, as it does, the odds of a rigorously unattractive guy hooking up with a glamorous powerful woman with those of her becoming president.
A cursory glance at couples attending any power-list party proves that these odds are in no way equal.
For the purposes of romantic comedy, all the real obstacles facing any (unmarried!) woman running for president are ignored in favor of her having to choose between her political ambitions and her inexplicable love for a man who refuses to comb his hair or wear a suit to a state dinner, a supposedly savvy journalist who doesn’t seem to know that you shouldn’t masturbate in front of your laptop when you haven’t covered the camera lens. Especially if you are working for/dating the secretary of state.
(We can only hope the title is not also a sly reference to what occurs in the subsequent video.)
Yet somehow, the simple act of defending her choice of said boyfriend ensures that Madam Secretary does indeed become the first woman president.
Apparently everyone loves a smart woman who stands by her highly imperfect man no matter what.
If only someone had thought of that before.