Friday, 16 September 2011

A slap between friends...

One of my surprises when considering confrontation scenes in movies recently was the number of films where she slaps/punches/kicks/knees him.

Robert Downey Jr. finds a red rose no defense against Marisa Tomei in Only You (1994)
For example: Definitely, Maybe (she slaps him twice), The Holiday (she punches him twice), No Strings Attached (she slaps him repeatedly), Only You (she slaps and kicks him), Miller's Crossing (she punches him), Jerry Maguire (she punches him), That Old Feeling (she attacks him), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (she punches him), Groundhog Day (she slaps him repeatedly), Hollow Point (she punches him repeatedly), Romance & Cigarettes (she attacks him), The Royal Tenenbaums (she slaps him), and Scenes from a Mall (Bette Midler knees Woody Allen in the clods). 

Ryan Reynolds cops one from Isla Fisher in Definitely, Maybe (2008)
The one that surprised me most was When Harry Met Sally... I thought I knew this film fairly well, but I somehow hadn't registered the slap scene. (Or the two F-bombs Sally drops during the course of the movie.) 

When I asked various friends about it, not one of them could remember the face-slap scene either. These are all people who are fond of the movie. (I'd conducted an informal survey of What's Your Favourite Rom/Com? among friends a year earlier and WHMS came out on top, by a wide margin.) 

Watch out, Harry, here it comes...
Probably in Miller's Crossing, Groundhog Day, Romance & Cigarettes, The Holiday, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the slap/punch is deserved. The rest are debatable, to say the least. Which raises the question of what purpose these face-slaps fulfill in movies. 

Aamir Khan cops a slap from Kareena Kapoor in 3 Idiots (2009)

Are they a vicarious I-Wish-I'd-Done-That moment to satisfy a female audience still seething over some historical wrong, or do they fulfill some other function?

Bill Murray deserved it. Definitely.
I asked a number of women if they'd ever slapped a guy's face. Only one admitted to it, and she pleaded serious (and violent) provocation. The others were generally vague (read, non-committal), and some were decidedly defensive.

Edward Burns deserved it, too.
From a cinematic perspective, I think of the Cecil B. De Mille quote: "I will trade you forty gorgeously beautiful Hawaiian sunsets for one good sock on the jaw."

For the benefit of those looking at the timing—for structural reasons—I checked five of our films. The punch in The Holiday takes place at the 12% mark, the slap in Only You at the 54% mark, in Groundhog Day at the 57% mark, in Definitely, Maybe at the 75% mark, and in When Harry Met Sally at the 89% mark. 

What does it all mean? Who knows? Certainly not me. But I am now reviewing confrontation scenes in my scripts with a view to adding a decent slap somewhere.


Kathy said...

I'm having trouble picturing a satisfying slap scene. I think a few decades ago it was normal to hit your kids, normal to stay married to people who hit you, but nowadays I can't picture a hero or heroine staying heroic after they gave in to a violent impulse like that.

Henry Sheppard said...

I discovered the prevalence of violence-by-women-against-men in movies quite by accident. I was seeking examples of confrontation dialogue, for study purposes, but every second scene I selected involved an element of violence.

That approach might belong to a bygone era domestically, but it's quite current cinematically. I'm used to hearing the "sex-and-violence" catch-all explanation for how filmmakers attract viewers, but there seems to be a pattern where it's okay for a woman to be violent, but not for a man.

I watched "Shop Around The Corner" (1940) [one of the precursors to "You've Got Mail" (1998)] this evening. Romantic films from that era never featured violence. Or sex, either, for that matter. Would it be too cute to say, it's a sign of the times?

Kathy said...

Sorry to harp on this, Henry, but I think the slapping you see in romantic comedies is a desperate act of a scriptwriter attempting to shock an audience. It is about as believable and appealing as the gross-out scenes which are now finding their way into romantic comedies.
I just watched an old version of Wuthering Heights which showed violence during intense scenes. It was authentic violence, it had to be there, and the scenes were passionate and real. Real man-woman violence just doesn't fit in a romantic comedy.
In my opinion only, of course.