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MOVIES AND TELEVISION

Battle of the Sexes – A Review By Marilyn Penn

What’s missing from Battle of the Sexes is the lively exuberance that we see in the promotional picture of Emma Stone as Billie Jean King jumping three feet off the ground with her tennis racket ready to whack that ball to victory over Bobby Riggs in a match played in 1973. Instead, we get the Billie Jean who’s tongue-tied by the attention of a hairdresser who comes on to her by telling her how pretty she is, capturing her heart as well as her libido at an inconvenient time when she was married to a man and when being openly gay would eventually cost her dearly in the cancellation of her endorsements.

Hindered further by oppressive background music that sounds as if it was scored in the fifties, the movie never finds its pace and hangs precariously between a biopic of a great female athlete and that of a moonstruck lesbian uncertain of how to live her life. Complicating this dilemma for the viewer is the fact that Billie Jean’s husband Larry looks more gay than she is and has none of the predictable reactions of a husband finding another woman’s bra in his wife’s hotel room. We never witness a scene in which he gets to air his devastation at her betrayal of their marriage, leaving us with a lingering question of whether she was mainly his meal-ticket or someone he loved passionately who broke his heart.

Steve Carell plays Bobby Riggs with the requisite clownishness that viewers of a certain age will remember but not enough of the charm that would occasion a wealthy heiress to marry him twice. Nor do we understand why his adult son who has acted as his manager in staging the battle of the sexes decides to stay away from the match. Sarah Silverman turns in a stereotypical performance as a Jewish manager as played by Rosalind Russell auditioning for Auntie Mame. For reasons beyond my comprehension, this movie starring two box-office favorite was directed by two people whose names are unfamiliar to me and probably to most readers – Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. Their heavy hands are all too obvious in a production that is leaden and missing both the carnival quality of that famous match or the gravitas of Billie Jean changing the world of professional tennis and being the harbinger of a rapidly changing acceptance of gay behavior and rights. I saw this film in an appropriate setting where the woman in front of me had her phone lit up throughout and two senior couples on either side of me had simultaneous explanation of the action and missed dialogue to each other. I was annoyed at first but quickly realized that it hardly mattered.

Battle of the Sexes and Victoria & Abdul: Crowd Pleasing and Crowd Punishing Both movies re-enact petty wars. By Armond White

Battle of the Sexes is unconcerned with equity in life, sports, or art. This overlong, half-comic rewriting of the history of the 1973 tennis stunt between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is so heavily slanted toward the goal of advancing feminism that it neglects to offer a humanely balanced portrait of the players.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, a husband-wife team, were also behind the trite Little Miss Sunshine, and they continue their heinous, calculated exploitation of trendy, sentimental gender politics here. Riggs’s avuncular brashness is overplayed in the depiction of his gambling addiction and chauvinist clowning, but King is portrayed as a noble, closeted lesbian. Their eventual tennis match — controversial mostly because it is now suspected that Riggs threw it (unshown in the movie) — was less predictable than the filmmakers’ ideological con game: Faris, Dayton, and screenwriter Sean Beaufoy all but canonize King, romanticizing her homosexual identity (King opens up during a relationship with a TV hairdresser, played by Andrea Reisborough). Why isn’t Meryl Streep mimicking this part?

Storytelling like that in Battle of the Sexes isn’t “crowd-pleasing” in the sense of uplifting people; instead, it’s stridently agenda-driven. While pretending to balance Stone’s toothy grin with Carell’s goofish boyishness, the filmmakers forego evenhanded humanism. They’re really unthinking cynics who take insultingly obvious positions on male privilege and female oppression. Over-obviousness was also the major fault when screenwriter Beaufoy simultaneously glamorized poverty and greed in Slumdog Millionaire, the worst film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture until Spotlight.

Watching recent Oscar-winner Stone bring her unprepossessing tomboy persona to King’s plucky, bespectacled homeliness, while Carell continues to mistake foolish caricature for characterization (as in the vile Foxcatcher) creates a battle of oddballs. It epitomizes Hollywood’s Left-warped, identity-politics reduction of what is human. Though giving lip-service to the idea of pay equity in the scene where King argues about money with sports entrepreneur Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), the scheme degrades men as testosterone-loaded boors. This isn’t even an ideological battle. Women are heroized; men demeaned as doofuses. The two sexes are set in the cement of progressive ideology.

*****

Victoria & Abdul offers a more interesting match-up between England’s longest-ruling monarch and an Indian clerk dragooned to present the royal with tributes from the colony. They don’t become maudlin besties as in Driving Miss Daisy but are ready-made symbols of the confounding relations between the British empire and its colonized subjects. Their mutual respect and admiration feel outdated, yet the lead actors Judi Dench and Ali Fazal both impart a humane consciousness that challenges the usual post-colonial blame game.

Their equalizing exchange (Abdul’s cultural knowledge trades with Victoria’s noblesse oblige) returns them both to their peoples’ roots and to the essence of human sympathy. That is, until the film indulges in political gestures as mechanical as a rigged tennis match: Special emphasis is put on Abdul’s religious identity; he’s a Muslim begging acceptance by the West. This over-obvious metaphor ruins the film’s momentarily fable-like vision — what Spielberg hinted at during the diverting Buckingham palace sequence of The BFG.

Abdul’s colleague issues predictable political rationales: “These people are the exploiters of a quarter of mankind,” and “they are oppressors of the entire subcontinent.” And the Queen insists, “I can take a Muslim wherever I like.” These cynical statements limit appreciation of the ambiguous cross-cultural complexity in this fact-based tale.

When Victoria’s friendship with Abdul upsets protocol and faces pushback, a startling modern parallel occurs: This resistance stems from an outwitted group’s inveterate classism and racism, and from their desperation to maintain the status quo. Victoria loses the allegiance of her holdover staff. She’s called crazy. Revolt is plotted, even initiating a household coup. The lessons in Victoria & Abdul could be cautionary.

The contempt that universities now teach about colonialism is designed to ignore a complicated response between ruler and subjugated. Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Lee Hall (adapting the Shrabani Basu novel) only half encourage the normalized class relations that modern progressives abhor. Interesting ironies of political domination are smothered by the harsh reality of unbridled racism, expressed by Victoria’s staff and her son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), and by such insultingly pointed irony as Victoria’s marveling at Abdul’s wife wearing a burqa: “I think it’s rather dignified.”

Queen Victoria as College Diversity Officer A new film uses history to lecture us about today’s supposed Islamophobia. By Kyle Smith

Rummaging through the files of history to find a useful analogue for today’s propaganda wars is an old sport in the movie business. In 1940, for instance, British producer Alexander Korda, who was in New York reporting to the British spy agency MI5 about anti-war and pro-German sentiment in the U.S., put Laurence Olivier in Admiral Nelson’s epaulettes for That Hamilton Woman, in which the Napoleonic menace to Britain and to Europe was meant to evoke the spreading evil of Nazism. Winston Churchill declared it his favorite film.

Thirty years later, as the Vietnam War appeared to be going badly but Hollywood was reluctant to say so directly, M*A*S*H appeared in theaters, disguising its satire of the then-current Asian conflict by pretending it was targeting the previous generation’s Korean War.

Today’s filmmakers, eager to present a plea for tolerance across ethnicities, cultures, races, and religions, have found an unlikely new spokeswoman for the cause: Queen Victoria. Points must be awarded for audacity to Victoria & Abdul, in which the octogenarian empress (Judi Dench) takes on the spirit of a college diversity coordinator after 1887 thanks to her unlikely friendship with a dashing young Indian servant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who, though presented to her by courtiers as one of “the Hindus,” turns out to be a Muslim. There’s a scene where we meet Abdul’s wife, fully covered by a burka and veil. Victoria, rebuffing the advisers who find this a bit disturbing (as indeed it was, and is), tells them — really, us — how splendid and beautiful she looks.

There turns out to be more than a grain of truth to this story, directed by Stephen Frears (who also made The Queen with Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II). Abdul had a job in a prison in Agra when he and another man were almost randomly summoned to England to stand in for all imperial subjects in presenting a ceremonial coin to the monarch, after which the two were expected to get right back on the boat. Instead, the queen took a liking to Abdul, asking him about customs back in India, which she had never visited, and encouraged him to teach her Urdu. The two became so close that she began calling him her “Munshi,” or spiritual teacher, as the rest of the royal household stewed in disbelief.

The entire staff of Buckingham Palace, presented without exception as racist and xenophobic, threatened to resign en masse, very much in agreement with “Bertie,” the then Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII (Eddie Izzard), who couldn’t stand Abdul. He schemed to find a way to get rid of the interloper and even threatened to have the queen declared mentally incapacitated, in tandem with the royal doctor.

Victoria & Abdul is a sort of sequel to 1997’s Mrs. Brown, in which Dench played Victoria in the 1860s, shortly after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, when she found some solace in her friendship with a Scottish servant named John Brown (Billy Connolly), with whom it was rumored she had an affair. (Brown died in 1883.) She has great fun reprising the role here, playing the queen as a bored old wretch who hates to get out of bed and rushes through state dinners so quickly that guests don’t have the chance to finish their soup before the bowls are ordered taken away. For all she commands, the poor woman has never had a curry in her life. Abdul, though, is the human equivalent of a bright burst of spice in her otherwise bland daily diet of official papers and monotonous pomp.

Battle of the Sexes: Billie Jean King Sings, ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Bore’ By Kyle Smith

The directors of the new movie don’t seem to realize that Bobby Riggs is the one viewers want to hang out with.

‘Billie Jean for President” reads the placard hoisted by an excitable fan at the climactic moment of Battle of the Sexes. Subtle! The story of an epic showdown between a feminist and a troglodyte is for Hollywood an unmissable opportunity to restage the 2016 election as a 1973 tennis match, the big attraction being that this time the woman wins.

Except the movie undermines its own point by not understanding who the real underdog is, nor why he’s ever so much more appealing than the dull, grinding standard-bearer for female equality. If this movie had an anthem, it would be “I Am Woman, Hear Me Bore.”

Bobby Riggs (played as pathetically needy by Steve Carell) is in 1973 a 55-year-old clubhouse hustler having problems with his rich wife (Elisabeth Shue), who throws him out of the house because of his gambling addiction. When a Rolls-Royce turns up in the driveway and he sheepishly admits he won it in a bet, she calls it the last straw. How dare he ruin her life by winning luxury automobiles? He’s the kind of guy who attends a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting and urges the other attendees not to quit betting but to quit losing. There’s a difference, he explains, between gamblers and hustlers. It’s a glorious moment, sort of the country club version of General Patton telling the men that the goal isn’t to die for their country — it’s to make the other dumb sonofabitch die for his.

All that is mere background, though. In the foreground is Billie Jean King (a rabbity, withdrawn Emma Stone). Depending on the moment, she’s either the best or second-best female tennis player in the world, but the boys at the United States Lawn Tennis Association won’t pay her on par with the male players. They argue that women’s tennis is simply worth less in the marketplace. King huffs out the door and forms the Women’s Tennis Association along with a pushy promoter (Sarah Silverman, who tries hard for laughs that don’t quite materialize). The righteousness of their cause is somewhat muddled by their dependence on a sponsor selling a brand of women’s cigarettes that touted smoking as a dieting aid. Younger readers will not recall this, but there was once an era when it was considered unladylike to smoke. Feminists rejoiced when they broke down this barrier. You’ve come a long way, baby. Celebrate by giving yourself cancer.

King meanwhile strikes up a flirtation with a vixenish hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough), which is inconvenient because she has a husband. (His name is Larry King. Not the former CNN host and legendary USA Today columnist.) Her sexuality is presented as very dicey and dangerous stuff, but since we in 2016 know the outcome of her coming out — nobody much cared — there isn’t a lot of dramatic mileage here. This isn’t The Imitation Game. Gradually America learned King was gay, and America shrugged.

As if to present a Big Top version of her struggle for equality, Riggs starts making a nationwide spectacle of his boast that he could beat any woman in tennis, even giving himself the title “male chauvinist pig.” Long before Trump vs. Megyn Kelly, he becomes America’s favorite sexist troll, making such a ruckus that huge prize money flocks to his proposed matches. Then he goes out and beats Margaret Court, the top-ranked ladies’ tennis player at the moment. Not only does he beat her, he demolishes her, 6–2, 6–1.

Shocker: new movie about Chappaquiddick tells the truth By Thomas Lifson

The power of the Kennedy clan seems to be fading, no longer able to prevent the production of an indie film that no only tells the truth, but which has earned the praise of the show business bible, Variety. Steven Hayward of Powerline spotted the anomaly:

I paid no attention to the fact that Hollywood was producing a biopic of Ted Kennedy’s famous “accident” at Chappaquiddick in 1969, and would have assumed that it was a typical gauzy pro-Kennedy puff piece if I had known. But Variety magazine, the main trade journal of Hollywood, offers a review that not only says that the forthcoming movie Chappaquiddick is suitably harsh on Teddy, but that he—and the Kennedy reputation—deserve it:

The film says that what happened at Chappaquiddick was even worse than we think. Kopechne’s body was found in a position that implied that she was struggling to keep her head out of the water. And what the film suggests is that once the car turned upside down, she didn’t die; she was alive and then drowned, after a period of time, as the water seeped in. This makes Edward Kennedy’s decision not to report the crime a clear-cut act of criminal negligence — but in spirit (if not legally), it renders it something closer to an act of killing.

The entire review is well worth reading here. It turns out that Variety has been following the progress of the movie for quite some time now. Recall that the family patriarch Joe Kennedy was a major force in Hollywood, and kept one of the biggest female stars, Gloria Swanson, as one of his mistresses, while sons Jack and Bobby enjoyed the favors of Marilyn Monroe, herself also the biggest female star. That is clout!

But the clout may be dissipating. The family was able to sideline a truthful miniseries on the family, relegating it from ABC to the Reelz cable network, where it made little impact. But would Variety go out on a limb this way if it felt any pressure?

We’ll be keeping an eye on the distribution this movie receives. But in today’s environment, theatrical distribution is not even necessary. Pay-per-view audiences are more than capable of bringing profit to independent films. But smart film distributors ought to realize that there is substantial audience out there hungering for truth about the Kennedys.

It’s not as if the Kennedy family bench is very impressive. Caroline’s plans to run for office were torpedoes by her own inarticulateness. Who’s political future is at stake in protecting the reputation of the man who was euphemized as “the lion of the Senate.”

The Unknown Girl – A Review By Marilyn Penn

If the Dardenne brothers were filming in English instead of French, it would be easier for critics to admit that The Unknown Girl is a Christian soap opera in which a young idealistic doctor discovers that everyone harbors a secret which is just another version of sin. Whether it’s jealousy, vanity, pride, lust, theft or murder, we’re all guilty and one sure way of atoning is to choose a life of service to the poor and downtrodden

In an early scene, we see Doctor Jenny tending to the infected foot of an overweight elderly diabetic – no gloves for this saintly woman, nor do we see her wash her hands before sitting down to have a snack with her patient. This is but a preamble to her taking on the role of detective to solve the mystery of a young murdered girl’s unknown identity. Jenny will venture into some rough places on her own; she will stand up to shady characters, she will put herself in harm’s way even when it makes little sense. Questioning a man who has procured a prostitute for oral sex as to whether he got her name would be instantly laughable in American English but gets a pass as a sub-title. Would Carmen have been as desirable or successful if her name had been Ms Sonia Perez?

At one point, I had hopes that the Dardenne boys were about to admit that the doctor’s naivete was more disruptive than helpful in a scene where the police complain that her treading on their turf complicated their own investigations and antagonized their inside stool pigeons. Unfortunately, they quickly reverted to some pat scenes of guilt and atonement and our heroine ends on the high note of helping an elderly patient negotiate some stairs. If you like your whodunnits garnished with piety and unlikely remorse, see The Unknown Girl. If you don’t need moralizing with your murder/mystery, especially in French, skip this one – c’est un dud.

The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi by Mark Steyn

This Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the Benghazi attack and, as Hillary Clinton would say, “What difference at this point does it make?” Which is why, presumably, she’s chosen the occasion for the release of her latest leaden tome. But it makes enough of a difference to us that we’ll be observing the date at SteynOnline. So I thought we’d start, for our Saturday movie date, with the major motion picture based on the events of that hellish night:

Michael (Transformers) Bay has now made two feature films about real-life military attacks on US sovereign territory – in 2001 Pearl Harbor, which was enough to have you rooting for the Japs, and fifteen years later 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Happily, the latter does not have much in common with the former, save for a reprise of what evidently Mr Bay regards as his signature – a rocket falling from the skies to its target, but shot from the rocket’s point of view. If you object that a rocket is an inanimate object and can’t have a point of view, well, it’s all comparative: in Pearl Harbor, the rocket was a lot less inanimate than Ben Affleck. Here the director has a grittier and hairier cast than Pearl Harbor’s matinée idols, and makes a good-faith if not wholly successful effort to dial back the prettifying devices of blockbuster film-making.

As for the point of view, the rocket has one. But Bay doesn’t. This is a visceral, sensory, pulverizing, you-are-there slab of action – all twitchy cameras, sudden edits, jerky cross-cuts – in which the context of the fireballs all around is left for another day. The director describes 13 Hours as “my most real movie”, but it doesn’t have to be that real to be more real than the official version. Film-making and storytelling have been part of the Benghazi fiasco since the evening of September 11th 2012, when the US Government decided to tell its own story about a film-maker whose all but unseen video had, they insisted, led to the death of a US ambassador. In the Hillary Clinton version, four Americans died at the hands of (as I put it at the time) “a spontaneous class-action movie review”. Three days later, when the President, the Secretary of State and the US Ambassador to the United Nations were all still lying to the American people about what happened and why, my characterization of that night holds up better than the Government’s:

As Secretary Clinton and General Dempsey well know, the film has even less to do with anything than did the Danish cartoons or the schoolteacher’s teddy bear or any of the other innumerable grievances of Islam. The 400-strong assault force in Benghazi showed up with RPGs and mortars: That’s not a spontaneous movie protest; that’s an act of war, and better planned and executed than the dying superpower’s response to it. Secretary Clinton and General Dempsey are, to put it mildly, misleading the American people when they suggest otherwise.

One can understand why they might do this, given the fiasco in Libya. The men who organized this attack knew the ambassador would be at the consulate in Benghazi rather than at the embassy in Tripoli. How did that happen? They knew when he had been moved from the consulate to a “safe house,” and switched their attentions accordingly. How did that happen? The United States government lost track of its ambassador for ten hours. How did that happen? Perhaps, when they’ve investigated Mitt Romney’s press release for another three or four weeks, the court eunuchs of the American media might like to look into some of these fascinating questions, instead of leaving the only interesting reporting on an American story to the foreign press.

In the end, the court eunuchs chose to continue fanning Sultan Barack. Three years later, based on a book by five of the survivors, Bay’s film belatedly provided answers to some of the basic questions the media never asked. It’s not a political film at all: Hillary is never mentioned by name, and for the whole 13 hours the Government of the United States – indeed, in a more basic sense, the entire global hyperpower – is an unseen character confined to the end of a telephone that no one ever picks up. There are occasional glimpses of nearby assets – a US air base across the Med in Italy – but in this western the cavalry never come. Five years ago we were told that they couldn’t have got there “in time” – so, in Hillary’s words, what difference would it have made?

Can a White Person Make a Movie about African Americans? Some on the left say no. By Brendan O’Neill

Not content with harassing white people who wear their hair in cornrows and branding as “cultural appropriation” everything from college cafés serving sushi to Beyoncé donning a sari, now the new racial purists are coming for film director Kathryn Bigelow. Her crime? She’s a white woman. More specifically, she’s a white woman who dared to tell the story of the 1967 Detroit riots in her latest movie. It’s wrong for whites to tell black stories, apparently, because they can never truly understand those stories. It’s a profoundly philistine argument that exposes the misanthropy of the racial thinking that passes for radical commentary these days.

Bigelow’s Detroit is a blistering movie. It focuses on one incident in those crazy days of July 1967: the stand-off in the Algiers Motel between a group of young African Americans (and a couple of white girls) and the Detroit police and the National Guard. Through distilling the Detroit disturbance into one bloody clash, with a huge bulk of the film’s action taking place in a single motel corridor, Bigelow captures the racial and social tensions of the ’60s in a way few other filmmakers could. It’s both taut and expansive; part thriller, part social commentary. In that corridor, in those black heads pressed in fear against the wall, and in the jitteriness and hatefulness of certain of the cops (not all of them, though), the audience is given a stirring picture of a nation on the edge.

But Bigelow’s artistic achievement with Detroit, alongside that of her longstanding screenwriter Mark Boal, counts for little in the face of her racial heritage, it seems. Her whiteness apparently voids her artistic vision. No sooner had Detroit hit theater screens than she was being “called out” — PC for publicly shamed — for her cultural arrogance.

A Variety cover story asked: “How could Bigelow — a white woman raised just outside San Francisco by middle-class parents and educated at Columbia University — understand and illuminate [this] kind of raw experience?” This movie speaks to “the problem with watching black pain through a white lens,” said a writer for the Huffington Post, as if Bigelow were reducible to her whiteness; as if she turned up to work on Detroit every morning thinking and behaving as a white woman, a racial creature, rather than as a storyteller. This is a “white filmmaker [using] the spectacle of black pain as an educational tool,” says the HuffPost, which is bizarre, since Detroit doesn’t feel educational at all: It invites both emotional and intellectual responses, but it never once feels like a lecture.

At Slate, Dana Stevens argues that film directors — and surely by extension, all artists — cannot escape their origins when telling stories: “The people behind the camera . . . will create a different film from a different perspective depending on the lives they’ve led and the bodies they inhabit.” Bodies — here we get to the ironically dehumanizing element of PC racial thinking, where people are mere skin, driven, sometimes without realizing it, by their bodies, their biology. “The fact of the filmmakers’ whiteness can’t help but inflect their depiction [of racial history],” says Stevens. Can’t help. This resuscitates the very fatalism that lay at the heart of older varieties of racial thinking — namely, that we are prisoners of race, that our racial origins shape how we view and act in the world.

Wind River – A Review By Marilyn Penn

Wind River is a movie where the scenery chews up the actors. Filmed in Utah, substituting for Wyoming, the snow-covered mountain ranges are so monumental that ordinary human interaction is no competition for the natural landscape. As the film begins, Jeremy Renner is called upon to track some mountain lions that are killing cattle. He plays Corey Lambert, an employee of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, whose job is to track and capture (kill) predators. As such, he is experienced at observing and interpreting the details of how predators arrive and depart the scene of their carnage We rapidly become aware that he is also suffering from double G syndrome of guilt and grief over the murder of his teenage half-breed daughter.

Wind River is an Indian reservation and we soon see the larger guilt we are meant to experience at the squalid conditions of native Americans whose sons turn to drugs out of despair. But even worse fates await their daughters – another lesson the movie will hammer home. This will be learned once Corey finds the body of Natalie, another beautiful young native American teen who lies dead in the snow. Jenner is joined by Elizabeth Olsen – this year’s Jessica Chastain – an actress who suddenly appears in too many movies at once – without being noticeably unique. She plays Jane Banner, an FBI agent who hails from Florida, important because it signifies that she hasn’t been hardened by the unforgiving climate and tough living of the west. Never mind – she’s a quicker study than you imagined of a young woman with perfect hair, and engages Corey to help her solve the puzzle of an oil rigger who has gone missing but will unsurprisingly turn out to be implicated in the same event that resulted in two other deaths on the mountain.

You will discover that white men are as predatory as lions and wolves, that native American girls are beautiful and gentle, that the racist American govt doesn’t keep track of how many of them disappear each year, presumably at the hands of drunk, malicious white men. Now that I’ve told you the plot, you can see the movie for the extreme violence of the rape and murder scene plus the bonus of the vicious shoot em up that restores proper justice and order to our woebegone west. I failed to mention that you have to listen hard to hear what Jeremy Renner is mumbling along with the low voices of ancient native American men chanting sorrowfully and inaudibly, perhaps for being included in this film.

A Feminist Reviews Dunkirk, and Says Exactly What You’d Expect What good is a beach movie without girls? Marie Claire wants to know. By Kyle Smith

It was sophomore year of college when Absurd Feminist burst into our English-department seminar room with steam puffing out her ears. “Are there any WOMEN in this book?” she demanded, to no one in particular, slamming a paperback on the table. I happened to be nearest to her blast zone of accusation, so I replied: “Not really.” The book in question was Dispatches, Michael Herr’s account of life among infantry grunts in Vietnam. “Then I CAN’T GET INTO IT!” she exclaimed.

In a moment of clarity I understood what the two main imperatives of higher education were to Absurd Feminist and to so many of her peers: First, instead of broadening her horizons and taking her outside herself to discover the world, she demanded the educators filter all knowledge through her own experience to make it relatable to her. Second, all learning was to be valued in proportion to how effectively it could be made into a cudgel in the identity-politics war. Dispatches, with its virtually all-male cast, represented a pernicious advance for the patriarchy, even if it was about the agonies suffered by men.

Fast forward a few years, and another absurd feminist is here to tell us what’s wrong with Dunkirk: It’s about men. Why couldn’t it have been about women? No, really, Marie Claire’s reviewer wants to know:

Dunkirk felt like an excuse for men to celebrate maleness — which apparently they don’t get to do enough. Fine, great, go forth, but if [director Christopher] Nolan’s entire purpose is breaking the established war movie mold and doing something different — why not make a movie about women in World War II? Or — because I know that will illicit [sic] cries of “ugh, not everything has to be about feminism, ugh!” — how about any other marginalized group? These stories shouldn’t be relegated to indie films and Oscar season. It’s up to giant powerhouse directors like Nolan to tell them, which is why Dunkirk feels so basic.

“Basic,” you may or may not know, is the current term of derision used by young women and gay men to indicate feeble, unimaginative taste. Oh, you’re wearing a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt? You’re so basic.

It seems unlikely that Marie Claire’s reviewer, Mehera Bonner, has before her an exceptionally bright career of writing about film. As for a career of writing about feminism, though, the sky, for Bonner, is the limit. Her essay could plausibly have appeared on any number of bristling feminist sites. What is her reasoning except feminism taken to its logical extreme? Feminists often declare to the world that they stand merely for an entirely reasonable proposition — say, that women’s lives are as important as men’s. Who would dispute that? Yet feminist writing usually continues far past this point into a need to prove women and men have been equally important in every context, even in history. If women turn out to be mostly irrelevant to an incident, then it is the moral duty of socially conscious creative artists to ignore the matter. They should retrain their sights on something that will give absurd feminists something they can relate to, something that will advance the cause of feminism in general.

Feminists have a habit of obsessively dividing the world into teams — us, them. Ideas and even facts get considered in the light of whether they are good for Team Woman or not. Instead of seeing men and women as close collaborators in the human project, feminists often suppose that the sexes are rivals, opponents. This is sheer tribalism. Bonner looks at Dunkirk and is irritated that men like the film. She sees it as a celebration of manly courage and bravado, or at least manly endurance and grit, and this repulses her. Feminism means constant maintenance of an imaginary set of scales, and she fears Dunkirk adds weight to the masculine side, tipping the culture away from women. If Dunkirk — “Christopher Nolan’s new directorial gift to men,” she calls it — shows men at their best, it must therefore be bad for women.

The reason we can’t have a Dunkirk that’s about women and “marginalized” people is because there weren’t a lot of them on the beach in June 1940. The only Dunkirk that would satisfy Bonner would be a Dunkirk that simply didn’t exist. Can’t men just shut up about all the stuff men have done? Their sense of history is so . . . basic.

— Kyle Smith is National Review Online’s critic-at-large.