O.K., that’s an odd title, I know. But women are always recommending books and films to men so that we will learn to understand them better. This is fine because, let’s face it guys, most of us are pretty lousy at understanding women. I say this as a man who grew up in a large family where males were very much outnumbered by females–all very strong, mostly feminist, women, led by my mother who was a force of nature. I am now married and have 2 daughters–no sons. So, I still live in a female dominated household–and yet, I still need help understanding women. So I don’t mind all the help or the pointers. Bring ’em on, ladies, and thank-you very much, indeed.
But it seems to me that most women also have trouble understanding men. Yet they seldom ask for help in understanding us. And since we’re men, we don’t usually offer. We think we are self-explanatory. We aren’t.
So, for girls and women who would like to understand men (at least, straight men in U.S. culture) better, but are too embarrassed to ask, I offer the following two films as a combined “Beginner’s Guide to the (Straight) U.S. Male.” No, films that help you understand men are not the same as films that men naturally like. If a woman just tries to watch what men watch: Top Gun, James Bond films, martial arts movies, True Lies, movies about sports, Die Hard, Ocean’s 11, etc., she MIGHT learn much about men. But, like an anthropologist in a new culture, she might draw all the wrong conclusions. What men like to watch doesn’t necessarily (or easily) tell you much about us.
But two films are better-than-average guides: Beautiful Girls and City Slickers. Beautiful Girls (Miramax, 1996), directed by Ted Demme and starring Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Annabeth Gish, Rosie O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, and a very young Natalie Portman will help you understand men in their 20s trying to grow up. High school is over, we may or may not have been able to go to college, but life has not turned out the way we hoped. We still dream of doing great things–and of being a hero to a beautiful girl–usually an unattainable one. Often we miss how great the beautiful (and brilliant, etc.) women are who are actually flesh and blood realities in our lives because of the dream girl, the fantasy. So, a key scene in the film, not to be missed, has Rosie O’Donnell attempt to wake up Hutton and Dillon (her good friends) by taking them to a convenient store and showing them centerfolds from a skin magazine and proceding to explain how fake they are: real (non-enhanced) breasts that size don’t float like that and aren’t attached to waists that slim. If you want big boobs, they usually come with larger waists. Smaller waists usually mean smaller mammary glands, too. Then she tells them the facts of life they have never learned: Breasts are designed to be chewed on by babies. Wake up, guys, you both are about to lose the great women in your lives because you think the fantasy is real. (They get it, but, being guys, they can’t help razzing Rosie. After she walks away, they loudly compliment her tits and ass. 🙂 ) Eventually, MOST of the men in the film wake up and do the right thing by their women. We men do grow up, face reality, accept reality, and appreciate the real life beautiful women who, for some reason, love us. It just takes some of us awhile to get there–but come on, women friends, give us a break. You already knew that girls mature earlier than boys.
City Slickers (Castlerock, 1991), directed by Ron Underwood and starring Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Patricia Wettig, Jack Palance, Helen Slater, Noble Willingham, David Paymer and Bill Henderson is about men facing middle age. Yes, this hilarious comedy is about the infamous mid-life crisis: You have not achieved all you set out to and now it looks like you never will. But how do you deal with it and what will be your legacy? A key scene here for women seeking to understand men is during the cattle drive when each of the men tells the others at what point he knew he was a man. Women don’t easily grasp this. Biology tells girls when they are women with or without any formal rites of passage. Boys don’t have such a clear symbol and our culture no longer has formal, agreed upon rites of passage. (Thus, teenaged males are so destructive or self-destructive as they seek their own rite of passage: learning to drink or smoke, running with a gang, drag racing, sexual intercourse, etc.)
Both films have plenty of comedy. These are not documentaries. But an observant, intelligent woman could learn much about men from these films. And since she is going to deal with men most of her life (even if she chooses lifelong singleness or is lesbian), the knowledge should be quite useful.