Kathryn Bigelow finally broke through the gender barrier by being the first woman to win top honors for directing at the 2010 Academy Awards, snatching the top prize away from a field dominated by men in an industry where men have tended to hold most of the top jobs, from running studios to writing movies. Although even the top studio exec position has seen a slew of women compared to the number of working female directors in the industry today – or ever, really.
It took nearly four decades before Denzel Washington won an Academy Award after Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win Best Actor. Hopefully it won’t be nearly that long for the next women to grab Best Director; although I can say with absolute certainty that Bigelow’s reign as the sole female winner of that coveted award is in zero danger of being toppled by Leah Sturgis’ effort with her feature film debut, Hard Breakers. With a premise befitting a cheesy porn flick – especially during the ’70s heyday before gonzo took over – Hard Breakers follows the exploits of two supposedly college-aged hot blondes, Alexis (Cameron Richardson) and Lindsay (Sophie Monk), who decide that they’ve had enough with their unlucky adventures in love and take matters into their own hands by literally clubbing men over the heads, dragging them back to their apartment unconscious, where they then proceed to screw them once they wake up.
There are so many things wrong with Hard Breakers, but most of them all stem from the purely nonsensical script. Sturgis co-wrote with Elaine Fogg with the intent, it seems, to create a hilarious sex comedy from the point of view of the woman, for once. Something I wholeheartedly appreciate. I can’t go much further without mentioning that Bridesmaids just opened to rave reviews from both critics and moviegoers and success at the box office, another female-scripted, female-starring R-rated comedy written by two women. Now, there have been some who have said that the comedy in Bridesmaids still reflects the male perspective despite being populated by female characters. There’s evidence for this, especially the puke-and-shit humor that’s a comedic staple for guys of all ages. But, at the same time, the unique quality about Bridesmaids is that the characters in that film were truly women. They were written as women, by women, to be portrayed by women, with female-oriented conflicts and issues and arcs. Even while it was a male-aimed gag to have the women all get food poisoning and find themselves literally shitting in the street, the motivations behind what got them in that position was definitely feminine. The situations were absurd but they were organic to the characters. I know that this may seem like a tangent but I use this to illustrate precisely what Hard Breakers is not. Sturgis and Fogg’s script feels like it was written with two dudes in the lead roles and then changed at the last minute to be chicks, with barely even an attempt at changing their names to fit the drastic alteration in concept.
About halfway through, after one of their male prey gets way too attached after just one night together (an obvious, boring play on gender norms), Alexis and Lindsay declare who would be their perfect guy: a dude who shows up at the door, gives them great sex, and then leaves. Not to say that there aren’t women out there like that — there are — but, it’s also convenient that it’s such a vapid frat boy wetdream about what girls are actually like. Even better: once Alexis meets a nice guy — he doesn’t even want to make out because he doesn’t want to ruin anything — she turns uber-domestic goddess, going so far as baking and completely catering to everything he wants and needs. It’s like Ludacris himself, with his whole “lady in the street but a freak in the bed” mantra, come to celluloid life. It’s like a 22-year-old meat head wrote a movie about his ideal women, making them brainless sexbots until they meet Mr. Right, at which point they’ll immediately switch over to Domestic Mode and gladly devote their existence to mothering their man.
Then again, tt’s not exactly bringing something new to the canon of sex comedies to have hot blonde chicks who just happen to walk around only in bikinis and just happen to think about sex all day long. And, when it comes to this particular genre – usually its own version of light fantasy anyway – that’s not something altogether bad to have. So, it’s not so much the situations in Hard Breakers that are unbelievable, rather it’s the setup of the characters. Before they go all assault-and-battery-powered-sex-toys, they’re sleeping with the dregs of society: Alexis settles for the over-the-top Bobby Lee, who ends up being a good lay, surprisingly enough, while Lindsay has acrobatic, hours-long action with Sticky Fingaz, to more mediocre results. For two girls who just want to get laid, they’re already bumping uglies often and fairly easily — clearly with low standards anyone can get some play. Had they bee throwing themselves at men and not getting any response whatsoever in the beginning, it would make way more sense for them to comically resort to violence in order to get what they want. But when they could most likely get the guys they’re going for without much trouble anyway, there’s not much in the way of stakes or conflict.
And that’s not all that’s wrong with the script: the film takes 40 minutes to get our main characters to come to the realization that they want to just take what they want rather than wait for the right men to come to them. During that poorly structured first act, the girls are supposedly in college yet we never see them go to class or talk about school at all except for the opening scene house party — plus there’s a gaping plot hole to this effect regarding a 22-year-old dating Alexis’ dad (played well by Tom Arnold) who she laments is younger than her; there are 23+ year olds going to college, admittedly, but I don’t think that’s usually the implication when someone’s in a movie as being “college age.” There’s also some bizarre scenes with Tia Carrere as the seasoned male-hunter who takes things up a notch, and also with Chris Kattan as a sleazy producer doing the whole sleep-with-me-and-I-promise-I’ll-get-you-a-job-in-showbiz schtick. Neither of them are particularly bad. Honestly, considering the material and the general goofiness of it all, the acting’s about what you’d expect all around. Monk had better comic timing and overall acting chops than Richardson, but it wasn’t like either of them had to display all that much range. Who shocked me, though, was Tom Arnold, delivering some real pathos in his portrayal of a man going through his typical mid-life crisis wanting to reconnect with both his youth and his daughter. Then again, I’ve always liked Arnold for some reason. Regardless, he was excellently cast here.
Surprisingly enough, the film ends on a completely different beat than I expected it to, eschewing the whole typical romantic comedy trope of girl-loses-boy, girl-wins-boy-back finale for a reconciliation between Alexis and her dad. And, I actually liked this decision. First, it was something new, and the first time that felt like an honest moment for the characters. I believed that Alexis would be infinitely more interested in having her dad back in her life in a real way than making nice with her virginal surfer boy toy who was in her life for all of five minutes. It could be the most honest aspect of the movie, the part that feels like it may have been the nugget of gold that just hadn’t been mined enough before they rolled cameras. For all the talk of the male gaze in comedy trumping the female outlook even when a film is written by women, here’s a movie that finally has women behind the camera and holding the pen yet only pays off that combination with one scene at the end of the film. Having been written, shot, and now released roughly at the same time as Bridesmaids, perhaps Hard Breakers simply couldn’t get off the ground – clearly an indie film on a shoestring budget with a limited theatrical release – were it not for its sticking to tried-and-true formulas for what works in R-rated comedy — namely that this genre has a predominantly male audience and should be catered to them in order to get any distributors behind the project. Had this come out next year, maybe we’d see a different approach altogether in a post-Bridesmaids world. Or maybe I’m giving way too much credit to studios and that all we can expect now is just more wedding-based comedies, not more female-oriented comedies. And maybe I’m giving too much credit to Sturgis and Fogg, who may have still crafted an underwhelming, forgettable, home video-quality sex comedy (sans much sex and sans even more nudity) regardless of when it came out.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars