July 28, 2014

Movie Review || Walk Of Shame

In Elizabeth Banks' new film, 'Walk of Shame', I spent most of my time wringing my hands and pulling my hair (metaphorically). The film follows the humorous experiences of Banks' character after she has a one-night-stand and tries to find her way home to prepare for a news cast that might mean a promotion for her. The only problem is that her car was towed, and once she left her lover's apartment, she couldn't remember which number it was. Hilarity (supposedly) ensues as she finds herself deeper and deeper in trouble.

The focal point of the film is the 'slutty' yellow dress that she wore to the club to celebrate her new-found singledom, which is her only covering throughout the entire film (except for her high heel shoes and, at one stage, a white coat, which she strangely discards even though it could have disguised her for a while).

The shortness of the dress is the cause of all her problems. As she walks through downtown Los Angeles without cellphone and warmth, she is continually mistaken for a prostitute. She approaches several men for help - a taxi driver who takes her to a strip club and then tries to bribe a lap dance out of her, a few other men in cars, one of whom wants some 'help' down on his lap, a jogger who runs away from her, a member of a Jewish community, a young boy who just wants to see her boobs, and even the police, all of whom don't bother to listen to her pleas for help.

Indeed even the women in the film will not even listen to her because of her appearance, including a bus driver who kicks her out of the bus yelling 'crack whore', an old lady on the bus calling her disgusting because of her assumed 'work', and even a woman she approaches on the road.

The only people who bother to listen to her story and help her are three black men, who are the stereotypical drug dealers living in the 'hood'. They appear to be the only decent people in the film: although they do at first judge her by her appearance, they listen to her story and help her make a phone call. They even help her run away from the police.

Eventually, the whole of LA is on the lookout for a 'hooker hoodlum' in a yellow dress who has been linked to several crimes, including streetwalking, theft, a hate crime, drug dealing, and avoiding arrest. I think the dress is a symbol of her 'walk of shame', that moment in time when a college student leaves the room of the man she slept with that night and walks through the dorm of careening, shaming men, a la 'Sorority Boys'. You know, because men can't have walks of shame.

What had me wriggling uncomfortably was not only the comedic value of the film - she really walks into the worst situations and just makes it all worse - but also the fact that no one would listen to her asking for help. It brought to mind this video:

And on top of it all the indirect 'slut-shaming' made me uncomfortable, too. It was almost as though the film was misogynistically asking the audience to say, 'Yeah, she asked for it, wearing a dress like that' and 'It's a miracle she wasn't raped!'

Although Banks' character was blameless, it felt as though the film was showing women who wear so-called 'slutty' dresses what society thinks of them and why they shouldn't dress that way (contrary to all advertising, for example) and that if you're dressed that way you only get what you deserve - shame, insults, victim-blaming.

The dress is, thus, for me, not only an indictment of our quick-to-judge society, but also for its bias in encouraging women to be sexy while simultaneously punishing them for doing so. Our patriarchal society wants women to be sexual objects, but only when it so desires - not in the public forum of our own choice, but in the private forum of its own.

The film only slightly managed to redeem itself at the end, however, where Banks' character publicly - in a forum where she is usually the object at which the gaze of newswatchers is directed - accepts and asserts herself as subject, calling out the people who judged her and refused to help her because of her appearance, taking ownership of the yellow dress and of her self that is not the object of someone's desires but the subject of her own.

Of course, this was all undermined by the happy ending she was certain to have with James Marsden's character, for whom she is the object of desire. But, oh, well, she tried!

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