Within the new comedy What Males Need, Taraji P. Henson performs a high-stakes sports activities agent who, after a slapstick-y mishap, features the ability to listen to the interior ideas of the boys (and solely the boys) in her quick neighborhood. She instantly decides to make use of her energy to get forward at work. The premise and title might sound acquainted: What Males Need is a remake of What Girls Need, Nancy Meyers’ 2000 comedy starring Mel Gibson. This isn’t the primary latest story to riff on a earlier challenge by swapping protagonists’ genders or races — 2018’s in-continuity franchise installment Ocean’s 8 and the 2016 separate-continuity reboot Ghostbusters are two high-profile examples — however the apply goes again at the least so far as 1940’s gender-swapped cinematic tackle the stage play The Entrance Web page as His Lady Friday or the 1943 stage musical (and later, movie) Carmen Jones, which added a black forged and a contemporaneous taste to the 1875 opera Carmen.
What Males Need received’t be the final protagonist-swap remake, both. Later this 12 months, Anne Hathaway and Insurgent Wilson’s The Hustle will redo Soiled Rotten Scoundrels (itself a remake of Bedtime Story). This 12 months’s Sundance movie competition noticed the debut of a gender-swapped model of 2006’s After The Wedding ceremony, with Julianne Moore within the Mads Mikkelsen function. And there are nonetheless plans for a remake of the 1984 mermaid rom-com Splash, with Channing Tatum as a merman and Jillian Bell because the human lady he loves.
However remakes based mostly on identification flips nonetheless trigger consternation, and never completely amongst reactionary shut-ins outraged that 4 ladies would try to bust ghosts with no dude to carry their arms. (Although this group does are typically the loudest.) Among the individuals who complained concerning the 2016 Ghostbusters remake, sight unseen, insisted that they didn’t object to the feminine forged; they had been simply usually offended about remakes and reboots and the cynical notion that audiences would possibly flock to a money-grubbing rehash beneath the guise of gender parity, relatively than supporting unique movies. (It’s actually doable to dismiss remakes and reboots out of allegiance to extra unique films, however doing it in good religion requires some due diligence — like, for instance, searching for out accessible however underseen films like Tully, Widows, or Depart No Hint.)
On the opposing facet, some folks really feel that if audiences wish to see a bunch of girl film stars pull off Ocean’s-style heists and Hollywood truly bothers to make that film, it’s a long-overdue web constructive. These sorts of remakes sometimes provide two main alternatives, both collectively or individually. One is solely providing the floor pleasures of a mainstream film that fills main or a number of roles with members of underrepresented teams; watching, for instance, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett, and Mindy Kaling play off one another, relatively than squeezing one in every of them into the token “lady” function in a male-driven ensemble. That appears like a naked minimal for progress, however contemplating how few films place ladies in main roles (lower than half as many as these starring males), films with 4 or 5 feminine leads, geared toward basic audiences in search of time begin to look revolutionary.
On the identical time, cast-flipped films have a singular alternative to discover concepts about sexual or racial roles and politics by inserting characters of various backgrounds in acquainted, typically male-dominated contexts. His Lady Friday turned a celebration of a working lady along with a comedy of remarriage. The 2016 Ghostbusters was extra of a lark than a severe assertion, however youthful viewers members seeing 4 ladies kick ass by means of a sci-fi / fantasy journey took it as severely as so many younger folks took the 1984 unique. Nobody needs flipped remakes to take the place of incisive, unique tales about marginalized teams, however incisive, unique tales are endangered both manner, and among the finest massive studio entertainments are capable of smuggle some intelligence and perception right into a multiplex. If acquainted model names can be utilized to inform tales that don’t solely mirror a white, straight, male viewpoint, that’s extra justification than most remakes can boast. Each the enjoyable and the intense facets of flipped remakes lend them some built-in artistic curiosity exceeding, say, a pointless redo of Robocop.
What Males Need doesn’t really feel pointless. It has a gap to handle gender and racial politics in a comic book setting, and it isn’t risking a lot ailing will by tinkering with What Girls Need. It’s flipping the script on a creaky, sort of dopey comedy, relatively than a beloved fan traditional. So when this explicit remake falters, it’s much more disappointing. The issues might have begun with a behind-the-scenes swap. As a substitute of a lady directing a film a couple of man studying about ladies, it has a person directing a film a couple of lady studying… effectively, by the top, it’s not solely clear.
Henson’s character, Ali, has a related, relatable dilemma in the beginning of the film: she’s a lady working in a male-dominated subject, typically neglected of “locker-room discuss” (the film pulls a number of phrases from latest nationwide information, with a wink) due to her gender, however she’s additionally quietly vilified for performing an excessive amount of like one of many guys. Her newfound psychic talents let her reduce by means of workplace maneuvering and enchantment straight to the needs of sizzling potential consumer Jamal (Shane Paul McGhie) and his mercurial dad-manager (Tracy Morgan). Regardless of her talent as an agent, she has to actually learn minds to compete along with her male colleagues.
But the reconfigured film’s gender politics are muddled, much more so than its supply materials. Ali’s powers allow some humorous facet revelations about guys strolling round with senseless tunes or ridiculous questions bouncing by means of their heads. However primarily, she “learns” what she mainly already knew: that a number of males privately and unfairly consider her as a ball-buster. It additionally implies she shouldn’t care a lot about what males suppose.
Besides the film makes it clear that males do have an effect on her alternatives at work, whether or not she cares about their ideas or not. What’s extra, her stereotypically “male” aggression doesn’t appear to be a entrance she will drop to be extra authentically herself. It appears to be a part of her character, however the film nonetheless implies it must be fastened. She does be taught to be kinder to a sweet-natured bartender / love curiosity and to her devoted assistant, however these modifications don’t include any realizations about gender, or about the right way to navigate sexism and the glass ceiling. What Males Need pays delicate lip service to the truth that Ali isn’t only a lady in a male-dominated house, however a black lady in an area the place white males compete to serve various black shoppers. It simply by no means digs into these racial dynamics.
That’s a disgrace as a result of Henson is clearly recreation for each righteous fury about inequality and goofing round with bed room farce. What Males Need has intelligent moments the place it goofs on masculine fronts: there’s a working gag the place the male characters act laconic and chill on the surface, whereas their ideas reveal that they’re secretly exploding with childlike glee about, say, assembly their sports activities heroes. However the movie typically lets the blokes off straightforward, offering a token good dude who Ali has misjudged and, solely briefly, evenly poking at the concept that a white man’s forthrightness is known as “daring,” whereas a black lady with the identical qualities is tagged as “offended.” This materials is at all times saved toothlessly on the margins of the film. However why evoke an actual, important social downside in a satire, then refuse to grapple with it?
Likely, there are many filmmakers, female and male, who may have pulled off a fragile steadiness of comedy about gendered expectations, aware and unconscious discrimination, and office politics. However director Adam Shankman of Bringing Down the Home and several other ineptly staged musicals doesn’t have the comedian chops to reimagine this materials. He and his writing crew appear to count on that flipping sufficient particulars from the unique premise will probably be inherently comedic. However deliberately or not, they typically simply observe the unique script.
The filmmakers behind Ocean’s 8 and Ghostbusters had been additionally content material to riff on their predecessors’ work relatively than recontextualizing it, however these movies at the least had a glow of feminine camaraderie and a number of star chemistry. The conceptual laziness that rankled some viewers additionally allowed these movies to suit comfortably alongside their predecessors. Paul Feig has a unique comedian strategy than unique Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, and Gary Ross can’t match the model of Ocean’s trilogy director Steven Soderbergh, however they do keep on their respective collection’ traditions of constructing goof-off hangout films disguised as big-budget missions.
To this point, the up to date apply of identity-flipped remakes or sequels has produced extra disposable enjoyable movies than nice and even memorable films. It could most likely assist if extra of those movies had been directed by ladies and other people of coloration, relatively than simply starring them. Individuals who’ve truly skilled racism and sexism could also be bolder about addressing it in fiction and fewer inclined to play it off for mild, straightforward, disposable gags. However it’s nonetheless truthful to say that any remake or continuation of, say, Ghostbusters (together with the deliberate Jason Reitman-directed model) is unlikely to totally recapture the unique movie’s magic, and a gender-flipped Soiled Rotten Scoundrels sounds extra enjoyable than revelatory. The enterprise of remaking and sequelizing is at all times going to be principally that: a enterprise.
The remake enterprise isn’t going away anytime quickly, whether or not genders flip or not. Even outdoors of the big-budget franchise world, the fourth model of A Star is Born simply got here out to acclaim, massive field workplace gross sales, and a number of Oscar nominations. (Wouldn’t it have at the least been fascinating to reverse the naïve starlet / industry-veteran-guy dynamic at play in all 4 iterations?) The affable mediocrity of What Males Need is disappointing principally as a result of a gender-reversed, race-adjusted model of What Girls Need has much more satiric and observational potential than taking one other crack at Complete Recall or The Terminator. It may function a corrective to all the pieces clumsy and old school about its supply materials or at the least outdo it on a easy chuckle stage. Definitely, ladies and other people of coloration deserve greater than infinite remakes, however in addition they should play catch-up with the sorts of popcorn films white dudes have been starring in for many years.