Archive for the Fashion Category

Where are all the women—on the big screen?

Posted in Fashion, Movies, Sex and the City with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

Bring on the next “Sex and the City” movie. If “Obsessed” or “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” are my only options at the movie theater when I want to revel in the female experience, I’d rather spend time with Carrie Bradshaw, even if she isn’t leading the single in the city lifestyle anymore. When I did the online equivalent of yawning at news of a sequel two months ago, I didn’t know that, much like the dating dry spells Miranda has on the “Sex and the City” TV series, there would be a drought at the theaters of perceptive, engaging movies made about and for women. Carrie and her friends at least provide the opportunity for intelligent discourse on the challenges and rewards of being a modern woman.

Other films have tried to copy the “SATC” formula for success and failed miserably, whether on an emotional, intellectual or commercial level. Earlier this spring I decided to see “Confessions of a Shopaholic“—I was initially attracted because of the fashion montages promised by the title—but it’s a silly concoction of cinematic fluff better served up to young women who haven’t actually entered the workforce (read what I think about it here).

As for “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”—is Charles Dickens rolling in his grave at the abusive play on his words?—not even the well-tanned brawn of Matthew McConaughey could entice me to pay money for “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” The trailer song alone—“Pictures of You” by The Last Goodnight (not to be confused with The Cure’s superior but different song by the same name)—makes me want to throw a stiletto heel at the TV screen.

“Obsessed” has less comedic moments, but I wouldn’t call it a real drama either. In the movie, a gorgeous woman (Ali Larter of “Heroes”) stalks a married man from work and eventually gets in a knock-down -drag-out catfight with his equally gorgeous wife (Beyonce Knowles). It’s a cross between “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and “Fatal Attraction,” and the premise of beautiful women physically competing for the love of one man puts this realm in the realm of deranged male fantasy.

Management,” starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn and Woody Harrelson, opened last weekend. According to the Movie Insider Web site, “A traveling saleswoman sells cheap art to small companies and motels. She has a fling with an aimless, underachieving assistant motel manager at one of her stops, and he pursues her all over the U.S.” The genres it’s listed under? Comedy and romance. Only in Hollywood is a stalker considered the protagonist of a romantic comedy.

If we aren’t being presented with silly or superficial films about women, we’re offered cinematic fare lacking in any sort of meaningful female presence. I recently saw “The Departed” and “We Own the Night,” two male-centric movies that, if they feature women at all, bestow upon them only the most insubstantial of roles—typically that of a girlfriend or wife who has very few lines and almost none of any import. They are by no means the exception. So many of the movies on top 100 lists—or any reputable list, for that matter—focus so much on the story of men from a male perspective that women are relegated to minimal screen time or, in the worst case scenario, they don’t appear to exist at all in whatever landscape the director has created. With the frequent dearth of women in movies, an alien species might assume men spring entirely from the loins of other men. It’s an inane trend, given that women make up more than half of the U.S. population.

As much as this irks me, I don’t abhor movies meant to appeal mostly to a male audience. I saw both “Star Trek” and “X-Man Origins: Wolverine” on their opening weekends with my boyfriend without any coercion from him. I love action, adventure, fantasy and/or science fiction movies, all of which are intended mostly for men. And women like me are part of the reason why these movies do so much better at the box office. Women are more willing to compromise. How many women saw “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” last summer? How many men, do you think, went to see the “SATC” movie, either by themselves or accompanied by their significant other?

Which brings me back to my original complaint. Since the release of “Sex and the City: The Movie,” we’ve had few choices that really appeal to those of us who seek a versatile handbag as well as gender equality. Women need to start taking control of their purse strings when it comes to movies, and maybe then we’ll have more box office power.

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‘SATC’ withdrawal not getting any easier after five years

Posted in Fashion, Sex and the City with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

So they’re filming the next cinematic installment of “Sex and the City” this fall. Can’t say I’m too excited. Yes, I adore Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her three New York glamazons—and of course I’ll make a trip to the theater to see the movie—but it’s just not the same when three of the four main characters are married. Unfortunately, I don’t have any alternatives. Those of us who long to view candid, funny, and occasionally poignant depictions of female single life have been sorely disappointed by what’s come after the “SATC” TV show.

In the five years since the series ended, its fans—women who love their shoes as much as professional advancement and who believe female empowerment includes sexual freedom—have had to endure such inferior tripe as “Lipstick Jungle” and “Cashmere Mafia,” neither of which really made it past one season. I wonder what made the shows fail more: the lack of chemistry among its female leads or the PG rating its writers had to abide by. Bill Cosby might disagree, but trying to honestly convey the messy, complicated but thrilling lives of single women without swear words or sex scenes just isn’t possible.

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I turned on “My Boys” once, which has its core a strong female character surrounded by guys—hence the title—but I was turned off by the lanky Jordana Spiro. She doesn’t have the stellar fashion sense, introspective musings and “everywoman” appeal of SJP, who has been charming audiences since her days on “Square Pegs.” (Spiro also has an oddly gruff voice that makes her sound like one of the boys too.)

I regularly tuned into “Desperate Housewives” in its first season but eventually grew bored of the domestic struggles and family life. This is “Sex and the City” after the honeymoon; it’s the kind of existence you picture Laney Berlin (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) from “The Baby Shower” episode leading in the well-to-do suburbs of Connecticut. I’d rather, as Samantha (Kim Cattrall) does in that episode, throw an “I don’t have a baby” shower party. Another flaw on Wisteria Lane? “Desperate Housewives,” which spawned an annoying reel of reality show knockoffs, lacks the heart that elevates “SATC” above other she-centric television fare.

If I were a decade younger, “Gossip Girl” could be considered a contender with its fashion-forward focus and bed-hopping socialites, but like Samantha being alarmed by 13-year-old Jenny Brier and her over-sexed friends in “Hot Child in the City,” I’m a bit taken aback by adolescent sex addicts on basic television. “Gossip Girl” is aimed at the tween and teen set, and although the actors are undoubtedly older than the characters they are playing, I have no desire to engage in this kind of voyeurism. Plus, all the backstabbing is unattractive. I’ve already lived through “Beverly Hills, 90210”—the original—and still haven’t recovered from the betrayal of Kelly (Jennie Garth) seducing best friend Brenda’s (Shannen Doherty) boyfriend, Dylan (Luke Perry).

On the occasions that I tuned into “Girlfriends,” which centered on four African-American women in Los Angeles, I found the show to be tolerable, even amusing sometimes, but it’s more parody than dramedy. There may be some stereotyping on “SATC,” but Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) are not caricatures. Ever.

Despite the multitude of storylines involving sex, love and relationships, “SATC” is not a soap opera. Carrie and her gal pals may be seeking many of the same things—well, actually, Samantha is only ever on the lookout for her Next Good Time—but they’re not stepping over each other in their high-heeled Jimmy Choos to achieve them. They’re the best of friends. And that’s what I feel like I’ve lost: a best friend.

Barbie at 50: Still looking good and causing debate

Posted in Fashion, Favorite stores, Shopping, Toys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

Barbie—she of the glossy blonde locks and bullet breasts atop an impossibly tiny waist—is half a century old, and damned if she doesn’t look just as good as ever. Little girls everywhere emulate the Mattel doll, and even big girls—I’m referring to age here, not necessarily size—delight in the Barbie-verse, complete with a closet full of couture, a “dream house,” sporty cars, a plethora of impressive careers and an adoring metrosexual boyfriend.

I’m going against the feminist grain when I proclaim my love for Barbie dolls. It wasn’t until I minored in Women’s Studies at Northern Illinois University in the mid-’90s that I realized not all females were so enamored of the golden girl. There is plenty of venom aimed at the doll in certain academic circles and class discussions.

I’ll admit the arguments against Barbie have some validity. At 39-21-33, her measurements are not only unattainable, they’re absurd, and I certainly won’t refute the research that she would lack the requisite body fat for menstruation. But it’s silly to extrapolate from that information that Barbie, once such a close friend in childhood, becomes the enemy in adulthood, turning healthy young women into anorexics and bulimics.

Back in the ’80s, when Cabbage Patch Kids were the big toy trend and I had two of them, I never thought that they were setting the mold for what real babies should look like. In fact, I would have been appalled to discover that someone’s newly born baby could have passed for a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Barbie is a beautiful doll, but she’s a toy nonetheless, and I did not delude myself into thinking I could or should resemble her when I grew up. I also come from the unique perspective of being a minority—I’m Korean—so a busty, leggy doll with platinum blonde hair and wide blue eyes was never going to be a possibility for me.

I’ve read that dolls like Barbie have an adverse effect on minority children—the heart-wrenching story of Pecola in Toni Morrison’s 1970 novel, “The Bluest Eye,” comes to mind as a literary example—because they perpetuate the belief that beauty is best defined in white terms. I don’t want to discount those whose experiences run counter to my own, but I don’t consider Barbie to be the cause of prejudice in the world. That would be the territory of man, not plastic toy.

Without hating myself or having low self-esteem, I happily played with Barbie until junior high, sending her out on dates with Ken (and G.I. Joe when she desired variety), changing her outfit multiple times in an hour and sliding her—yes her, not Ken—behind the steering wheel of her camper van. Did she inspire eating disorders or depression in me? No. Did she lead to unrealistic expectations about womanhood? Well, maybe I hoped to one day have a wardrobe as great as hers, and that’s obviously not happened.

Not all girls treated their dainty dolls as kindly as I did. I’ve heard horror stories—at least they fill me with horror—from friends who flushed their heads down the toilet, cut off their hair, tossed them around in the dirt and drew on their faces with marker or pen. That to me was sacrilege, although I’m guessing many a feminist is snickering at the notion. (I, however, would point out that abuse against any woman, real or imagined, is reprehensible.)

Much like the maidens and princesses in fairy tales, Barbie almost always has blonde hair and blue eyes. But I had dolls from the international collection; they came from different countries and were designed accordingly. I had one from Scotland, Ireland, France and Korea. These were actually my favorite dolls, especially the Parisian one with copper-colored hair and a beauty mark who came clad in a slinky can-can dress.

Barbie didn’t impede my development into an intelligent, assertive young woman. If anything, she helped me push the boundaries of my imagination about how I’d interact in the adult world. I never looked at any of them as a substitute for my grown-up self. Rather, she was a heroine in a soap opera or epic miniseries with an exciting social life I could only dream about at that age. I enjoyed Barbie much like I enjoyed—and still enjoy—fairy tales.

The promise of transformation is a heady thing, and that’s the allure of both Barbie and fairy tales. They make you believe change is possible. Fairy tales have been reinvented and retold in recent years, spurring a wonderful book series edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (or maybe it’s the other way around). Barbie’s appeal is enduring; every second at least three of the dolls are sold. She’s the ultimate siren, and I find it surprising she isn’t mentioned in Laren Stover’s “The Bombshell Manual of Style.”

Just last Christmas I succumbed to her powers of seduction once again. While shopping at Target’s toy department for my niece and nephew, I saw a Hello Kitty Barbie. It took me only a second’s delay before I scooped her up and rushed over to the cash register. She’s still in her box, resting comfortably on a shelf in my second bedroom.

Cheers to Barbie on her birthday. This dame is 50—and she still doesn’t need Botox. Lucky cougar.

Addictions to love and shopping: A stale cinematic formula

Posted in Fashion, Movies, Shopping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

Give me “Moonstruck.” Give me “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” I’d even take “The Cutting Edge” (hey, it’s got the Pamchenko going for it).

But as far as romantic comedies go, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”—based on the series of best-selling books by Sophie Kinsella—is an excruciatingly painful exercise in female fantasy. Isla Fisher’s Rebecca Bloomwood will resonate with women like myself who crave high-fashion clothing and accessories. Poor Becky’s full-time hobby is so out of control she has run up nearly $20,000 in credit-card bills. And yes, I can relate to reaching for the plastic instead of cutting up the cards, bringing them to the local junkyard and watching as they’re crushed into oblivion. An extreme measure? Not for shopaholics.

But I found my willingness to suspend my belief gravely tested when Becky is so obsessed with shopping that she risks missing an interview for her dream job at the fashion magazine Alette. I found it further tested when she finagles a job at Successful Saving and writes a hugely popular column on frugality using—what else?—fashion metaphors. Why do I consider Becky’s career trajectory so absurd? Because I’m in a job search mode myself, and penning winning propositions while drunk to land a second interview after the first one failed abysmally just doesn’t happen. To anyone outside of Hollywood’s play pen, that is.

The real romance in “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is not between Becky and her boss, the dashing British editor Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). It’s between Becky and her newest acquisition. Her ever-burgeoning relationship quickly hits a snag: The Evil Debt Collector, played by a properly unctuous Robert Stanton. The silly cat-and-mouse game between Becky and Stanton’s Derek Smeath reminds me of the battle between Ferris Bueller and Principal Rooney, but you grow tired of her preposterous yet nearly always successful machinations to avoid him and accept responsibility for her actions.

I prefer my romantic comedies to be witty and charming, with some sort of metamorphosis, whether physical, mental or emotional, at the heart of the story. “Confessions of a Shopaholic” falls woefully short on all counts, and it’s not even really fun to watch. Its glossy veneer eventually cracks under the strain of Becky’s frequently garish wardrobe. Label lust doesn’t automatically translate into style.

I’ve read many reviews extolling the comedic talent and physical virtues of Fisher, who’s beguiling to a degree with her oh-so-earnest, wide-eyed pouts, but I am oddly disturbed by the sight of such a childlike face atop such a curvy body. I guess that’s why she appeals to the male set. The same phenomenon must happen a lot with Scarlett Johansson, who plays Anna in “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

But whereas Becky doesn’t mean to hurt anyone—really, wouldn’t any fashion addict pick buying a new outfit for a TV show appearance over buying a bridesmaid’s dress for your best friend’s wedding??—Scarlett’s Anna is, well, yearning to be a scarlet woman. (It’s interesting how even in the reviews that pan “He’s Just Not That Into You” for its supposedly misogynist portrayal of women, no one condemns Anna for actively pursuing a married man.)

“He’s Just Not That Into You,” a better page-to-screen adaptation in the romantic comedy genre—I won’t call it a chick flick, because I consider the term derogatory—is based on a book by two “Sex and the City” writers, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I was mildly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, from the opening sequence where Ginnifer Goodwin narrates that women’s acceptance of cruelty in boyfriends and husbands stems from a childhood incident. A little boy insults a little girl on a playground, and the girl runs crying to her mother, who tells her the boy was mean because he likes her. Flash forward to the present, where in various scenarios a woman’s girlfriends explain a man’s bad behavior by saying essentially the same thing.

There’s truth in those vignettes. Not that men who treat women poorly are masking their true feelings of love and adoration—if that were truly the message of this movie, I would call it misogynistic—but that women tend to look at their significant other as a long-term investment and are therefore often reluctant to let go when the relationship starts sinking or has been seriously problematic from the beginning. That women are especially guilty of coddling their heartbroken friends with bonbon-like compliments when they should be serving up cold slices of reality. That women like to believe in the exception rather than the rule.

Goodwin’s character, Gigi, is a Carrie Bradshaw on steroids in terms of being an emotional basket case and treating every man like he’s Mr. Big. She doesn’t know how to censor her thoughts or emotions, she jumps years ahead in a relationship after half a date gone OK, and she stalks men who express minimal interest in her. You can feel all the women in the audience wince when she once again demonstrates her lack of pride and tries to wrest an honest response from a man. And when Gigi finally succeeds, when she finally gets her man and she is recounting the moment when everything clicked for them, you see how easily perception redefines our histories as a couple.

The women in “He’s Just Not That Into You” aren’t farcical like Becky Bloomwood. They’re flawed and messy, yes, but they’re real. They spend more time on finding love and working on their relationships than I like to see in a movie theater or real life, but society is greatly responsible for female absorption in the ultimate commitment.

Another “He’s Just Not That Into You” character, Jennifer Aniston’s Beth, wants to be married and breaks up with her boyfriend of seven years because he won’t marry her. One agonizing scene is during a speech at the dinner party the night before her younger sister’s wedding, when a cousin refers to Beth as the older model still available. The humiliation Beth experiences as a single woman past her 20s is very relevant—it’s what made “Sex and the City” so relevant and successful with women of all ages.

Still, I’m not the biggest romantic comedy fan (I would have never watched Sarah Jessica Parker’s TV series if it had been named “Dating and the City” or “Looking for Love in the City”). The cinematic fare I enjoy most doesn’t go by names like “Serendipity,” “Sweet Home Alabama” or, my all-time nonfavorite, “You’ve Got Mail.” I plan to see “Coraline” this weekend and it wouldn’t shock me if the richest roles for actresses are in a stop-motion animated movie aimed at young girls, long before society warps our self-esteem and informs us our life should revolve around the Next Man or the Next Big Purchase or the Next Mr. Right.