Saturday, December 22, 2012

Barbra vs. Bette

Still alive?

Good. Let's proceed with today's post.

Maybe the truest sign of the apocalypse is that the 2012 Christmas season features a cage match between one-time divas who are at least two decades, and probably more like three decades, past their prime.

This past Wednesday, The Guilt Trip, starring Barbra Streisand, hit theaters. Next Tuesday, Parental Guidance, starring Bette Midler, does the same.

Streisand is 70, Midler 67.

Both movies can probably be described as holiday family comedies, though The Guilt Trip likely skews younger since it features Gen X-friendly Seth Rogen. Meanwhile, Midler's co-star, Billy Crystal, is also in his mid-60s (he's 64), while even Marisa Tomei is nearly 50 (she's 48). Though I guess you could say that Parental Guidance skews really younger, as in to young kids, as well as to those Midler's and Crystal's age. So Parental Guidance -- the fittingly rated Parental Guidance, I should say -- gets the really old and the really young, while The Guilt Trip gets the middle.

Which of the two would I sneak into as the free half of a double feature? The Guilt Trip, but that's because I too am in the middle.

Midler and Streisand aren't just similar by being "women of a certain age." Both have also spent their careers straddling between two worlds, the world of acting and the world of singing. You'd probably say that Midler leans more toward the former while Streisand leans toward the latter. Streisand is almost undoubtedly the more famous and successful for her renowned music career, as she's won numerous awards -- as well as two Oscars in acting. But don't sell Midler short. She's also won awards, been phenomenally successful with her albums and at least been nominated for a couple Oscars, not to mention her status as a mainstay performing for American troops abroad.
What's interesting about the timing of these two movies is that they don't just represent the latest in a long, unbroken succession of film appearances by the two actresses. As can be expected for "women of a certain age," they've been winding down in recent years -- either by choice, or more likely, out of necessity. Midler has been working slightly more regularly, though her last "appearance" in a movie was in 2010's Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, where she provided only a voice (though it was the voice of the title character). Her last appearance as a human being was in 2008's The Women, and she'd had only two other film roles before that since the year 2000. Streisand, on the other hand, has had only two film appearances, period, since the 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces, and both were in Fockers movies. That pattern suggests that Streisand's retirement from acting may have been more by choice, while Midler may have just been failing to get roles.

So even though the career edge almost certainly goes to Streisand, does that mean The Guilt Trip will fare better than Parental Guidance?

If I had to guess, I would say "probably." Not only has it been marketed more aggressively, at least before the movies I've been seeing, but it seems to have a bit more "edge," which has proven a key ingredient with a moviegoing public that has made such big hits out of The Hangover and Ted. Besides, Parental Guidance also represents the (long-overdue) unearthing of Billy Crystal, who has been doing almost exclusively voice work for the past decade. So it could be seen as an incredibly unhip affair, trying to "make happen" not one but two career comebacks.

Then again, families looking for something they know will appeal to all ages may gravitate toward Guidance, since it features a number of child actors in prominent roles, and seems to be more of a traditional "family comedy." The Guilt Trip is more of a buddy comedy, and its PG-13 rating (plus a prominent scene from the trailer that takes place in a strip club) may mean that parents will keep their younger kids away from it.

What do these two movies represent in the larger scheme? Well, they seem to provide some indication that recent casting trends in Hollywood don't only favor the men. In the last couple years, numerous aging male stars (your Stallones, your Willises, your Schwarzeneggers) have been given a new opportunity to make the kind of movies that made them famous. It's a trend that has dovetailed pretty nicely with the remake trend, as Hollywood has consciously decided to give us another helping of the things we loved 20 years ago. We've responded by buying tickets to those movies, and allowing the cycle to continue.

Now, Midler and Streisand are showing us that the boys aren't the only ones having the fun. Or, they could be showing us that -- if these movies do well. If they don't do well, then it'll just be another case of Hollywood's long-standing gender biases returning to the status quo.

This last makes me think that maybe I should actually try to see one or both of these movies. That in whatever small way, I should try to further the struggle of female actresses everywhere to get their proper respect, not to mention their proper salary. And I can't do that by sneaking into the movie as the free half of a double feature, because that won't contribute to either movie's box office haul.

As much as I'd like to stand up for gender equality in the workplace, I don't know that I'll actually do this. In fact, it's very unlikely that I will. With all the movies I need to see in the next three weeks before I finalize my 2012 rankings, I've got bigger fish to fry.

The best I can hope for is to reverse the order of the free double feature. I can pay for The Guilt Trip or Parental Guidance, then sneak into some other movie that I really need to see. Then again, all those movies I want to see are over two hours long, making them a poor bet for the second movie in a double feature. And with a double feature, you always run the risk of not being able to get in to the second movie, so you have to see the one you really want to see first, the one you know you'll get in to, the one where you know you'll be fully awake.

Darn it, now The Guilt Trip is giving me a guilt trip.

Good luck, Barbra and Bette. I'm rooting for both of you.


Nick Prigge said...

I actually do want to see "Parental Guidance." But......I want to see it on account of Marisa, not Bette. I'm pretty sure Marisa could class up any joint.

But I get the feeling I'll have to wait for DVD. Just too many new releases I have to pack in at this time of year. Then again, when you're back in Des Moines, Iowa for Christmas your options are suddenly much more limited. So you never know...

Vancetastic said...

You know, you'd think there would already be a movie called Restricted, wouldn't you? General Admission would not make a very good movie title, though.

Yeah, comedies released during the holiday season always get the short shrift. However, each of the past two years I've caught one -- two years ago it was Little Fockers, because I went to a Mommy and Me showing with my son on a day off, and last year I saw The Sitter because it was the second half of a drive-in double feature. Not sure if I'll get one in this year.