Movie viewing “rules”: the Bechdel Test and Jay Sherman’s rules (2010 edition)

Often brought up online is the “Bechdel Test.” Named after the cartoonist of LGBT comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel, it proposes that one shouldn’t see a movie unless it meets the following criteria, namely that it features:

  1. At least two women in it, who…
  2. Talk to each other, about…
  3. Something besides a man.

The rule first appears in an early DTWOF strip, where we see two women (one of whom resembles the later character Ginger) talking about going to the movies, and bringing the above criteria up. The original strip can be seen here: http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/the-rule

The rule itself, besides being quite strict (and eliminating a lot of Hollywood output as a result), is of course aimed at pointing out how important the presence of strong female characters are in a story. Of course, this easily cuts out most action film fare (though the Earth-2-version-of/proto-Ginger in the strip points out the last film she saw that met the rule was Alien).

Jay Sherman on films

Another possible set of rules for movie-viewing, though way more lenient, might be the ones that were proposed by Jay Sherman in the 90s animated series The Critic. In an episode where he’s forced out of his job as a film critic and winds up on public access TV, he finally tells the public that it’s up to them to think for themselves and avoid watching bad movies. His listed criteria for movies to avoid:

  1. If it’s based on a TV show, just don’t go.
  2. After Roman numeral II, give it a rest.
  3. If it’s a remake of a classic, rent the classic.

Granted, Jay was forced for his job to watch his world’s awful film fare such as “Dennis the Menace 2 Society” (Dennis the Menace-as-a-gang type) and “Robo-clapper” (Robocop with “the Clapper” built into him), plus he was generally cranky and dismissive about popular culture as a whole. Still, the above set of rules (as well as Jay’s closing with a plea for his viewers to ask for “stories about people, not $100 million of stunts and explosives”) is worthwhile.

Looking at this summer’s major film fare, I’d wager most if not almost all of it fails the Bechdel Test (unless there’s some surprise scene in the upcoming The A-Team film I’m unaware of); I’d guess Sex and the City 2 and the non-male-centric dramatic/arthouse films are the only ones to pass. As for the Jay Sherman rules, there’s fewer failures than under the Bechdel Test, but the results are still interesting; under Sherman’s rules, the major summer fare seems to fall as follows:

Pass

Iron Man 2: based on a comic, not a TV show; not a remake; and is the first sequel.
Knight and Day: Tom Cruise film.
Inception: a new Leonardo DiCaprio film.
The Other Guys: some new buddy cop film comedy with Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg in it.
Babies: a documentary about, well, babies.
Robin Hood: the new Russell Crowe Robin Hood movie. While it could be argued it’s a “remake of a classic,” i.e. the classic Errol Flynn film, I’d assume characters and material in the public domain, such as Robin Hood (who dates back centuries) doesn’t count, and so it gets a pass.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: it’s based on a video game, not a TV show.
Marmaduke: based on the comic strip.
Splice: horror film.
Get Him to the Greek: comedy about a has-been rock star.
Jonah Hex: based on the classic western comic from DC Comics.
Grown Ups: passes, unfortunately (it has Adam Sandler in it).
Despicable Me: new CGI animated film from Dreamworks about a wannabe villain whose plans are sidelined. Sounds much better than “Shrek 4.”
Ramona and Beezus: based on the classic children’s books.
Salt: a new Angelia Jolie action film.
Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore: Yeah, a sequel to a film that came out before much of its target kid audience was born (very early 2000s). Still, it passes. It’ll also feature the debut of one of the new CGI animated Road Runner shorts being made, if that helps.
The Expendables: action film starring Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, and others.
Nanny McPhee Returns: some modernized take on Mary Poppins gets a sequel.

Fail

Shrek Forever After: it’s a part 4—enough said.
Sex and the City 2: while it’s only the first sequel, it’s still based on a TV show.
Toy Story 3: yes, it’s a Pixar film, and I’m sure it’s well done, but it’s still a part 3.
The A-Team: based on a TV show.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: it’s a part 3.
MacGruber: apparently based on some Saturday Night Live sketch.
The Karate Kid: a remake of the classic 80s film.
The Last Airbender: based on the Nickelodeon cartoon.
Predators: either a past-part-two-sequel or a remake of the original Predator film. Either way, it fails.
Piranha 3D: apparently some remake of an earlier film about piranhas. Stars Christopher Lloyd and Elizabeth Shue from Back to the Future fame.

Yeah, I know, Cats and Dogs 2 and Marmaduke pass, but not Toy Story 3. Maybe Sherman’s rules, like the character himself, aren’t perfect, but there’s no rule against seeing stuff that failed the Bechdel or Sherman rules on DVD (and avoiding paying $10+ for movie tickets). Given I’ve seen every Pixar film since Monsters, Inc. at the theater, I’m likely to go see Toy Story 3 anyway, but agree the rest of the “Fail” column is DVD rental material at best (I didn’t care much for Shrek 3, let alone see the need for a part 4)…

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