Go and watch She Hate Me, Spike Lee's latest film. (It may still be out in some local theatres back home, or already on DVD; I caught it on DVD here, complete with a Spike Lee commentary track, for only two bucks. Go figure.)
If you check out www.rottentomatoes.com, a movie site that tabulates film critics' reviews from across the country and then somehow comes up with a collective score, you'll see that She Hate Me received the whoppingly-high score of 20%. (Meaning, 80% of critics hated it.)
Not a good omen, right?
Ah, but I'm of the belief that you must go and search out that which others collectively despise, because those are usually the very same things that give off glimmers of brilliance.
She Hate Me is a satire and a drama, and it does not fit into any box, and it does not want, or allow, any of its characters to fit into a box. It is messy and sprawling and uneven. It is about sex and money and power and money and sex and money and family and money and sex and what we will do, or think that we have to do, for sex and money. It is about our own images of morality.
It is raw and shaky and not altogether cohesive, like a lot of Spike Lee's films. It is ragged. It juts out. It is sprawling and a little unfocused. Kind of like life (only better lit, with a pretty cool music score, too, which life, unfortunately, lacks.)
Much of the criticism directed at the film had to do with its 'realism'.
A young black executive who is laid off from his corporation because the owners are crooked, callous, Enron-type scumbags who've stolen all the company's money decides to become a stud-for-hire and impregnate lesbians who are unwilling to risk having sperm-donors be the future fathers of their unborn children.
The idea is ludicrous, I grant you that.
But here's the thing: Lee's not going for realism.
It is a satire about money and power. He is playing and toying and challenging the stereotypes we all have about each other. He is asking you to consider what you know and why you know it.
"It's ridiculous that all these lesbian women are enjoying having sex with this man! How condescending! What a patriarchal male fantasy!"
That's what much of the criticism amounted to.
Hmmm. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, Lee is playing with our image of the black super-stud? Do you think he's possibly using these scenes to point out the ridiculousness of such stereotypes: Wow, here's a guy so skilled, so potent, that even lesbians love him!
Or consider the Italian woman he sleeps with, who, when telling him about her family, says: "Relax -- not all Italians are in the Mafia, you know."
And then we see that, of course, her family's in the Mafia. Her father even spouts long passages from The Godfather.
About race, ethnicity, sexuality.
This is a film that comes at you in a thousand different directions. It is long (perhaps too long), and the ending is not only somewhat unlikely, but a touch absurd, too.
That's why I liked it.
Movies are not made to be judged equally. Movies are not made equally. They are worlds unto themselves. She Hate Me is about the new age we live in, refracted and reflected. And yet, don't think of its world as our world. People and places are exaggerated and distorted to make a point. Characters and their actions can be seen as metaphors for entire segments of society.
I'm not saying you have to love the fim, or even like it. Humor and style and technique are personal, and you may not respond or react to how they're used here. That's fine. That's the essence of what makes movies work -- our likes and dislikes, our strange passions and quirky loves.
But it just seems that so much of modern cinema is made to be easily chewed, digested, forgotten about. It tells us what it's going to say, says it, then tells us again what it said. We leave the theatre smiling and happy and wondering what's on the radio. She Hate Me left me entertained, yes, but also bewildered, confused and unsure about what I'd seen or what it was supposed to mean.
The film allows you to be a co-conspirator, and it expects you, demands you, to bring your own ideas and insights along for the ride.