Elizabeth Banks' 'Walk of Shame': Is the Female 'Hangover' Comedy Secretly Feminist?
2009's The Hangover brought with it a surge of films that fit into a new category of comedy: They were buddy comedies, catering to men, that featured all the fun and excess of a road trip flick, without the consequences. Don't be mistaken, The Hangover was hilarious: it featured an all-star cast of comedic actors and killer writing. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't linger on the flick while flipping through channels. But the film, which gravitated towards traditional buddy tropes like strippers and dick jokes, was undoubtably crafted for a male audience. A few films have tried to fill gender gap with a female perspective. 'We can have fun too, goddammit!' they screamed while employing bathroom humor, vagina gags and male strippers. Some did this successfully, like Paul Feig's brilliant Bridesmaids, and some less successfully, like 2012's Bachelorette. And with the release of Walk of Shame, out Friday, we are offered up another raunchy comedy that features a female lead.
I screened Walk of Shame about a month ago, and was cringing with preconceived notions before I entered the theatre. The film begins and progresses like a typical romantic comedy: Girl gets dumped, girl gets drunk with her girlfriends, girl meets new boy. But after these familiar plot points, the movie gets tipped on its head. Meghan (played with gumption by Elizabeth Banks) is a "good girl" news anchor from the South, with volumized hair and the perfect pants suits to boot. She's pretty, well-mannered, perhaps on the boring side, that is, until she is thrust out into the streets of Los Angeles in a "slutty" yellow dress, high-heels, night-before makeup, and no way to get home. Our damsel has arrived, and she is the essence of distressed.
As she ventures into the streets of Downtown L.A., cluelessly looking for any trace of her car, her cell phone, her purse, or a dime to call home, she is immediately mistaken for a prostitute. This beat is repeated throughout the film, with other prostitutes, homeless men, drug dealers, and even police officers calling her a hooker. Later in the film, Banks's Meghan asks to borrow a small boy's bike in a last ditch effort to get home. He agrees, on the condition that she show him her boobs. Unfortunately, we saw that one coming. But as Banks is accosted by one sexual slur after the next, she never fades in her resolve: "I'm a journalist, not a whore!" she repeats over and over in so many words. But because of her tiny dress, blonde hair and perhaps a coat too many of mascara, she is determined to be of only sexual merit.
While the film does have a knight in shining armor, Gordon, coming to the rescue (James Marsden), he is aided by Meghan's best friends, who are clearly in charge of the hunt for their pal. Marsden rides in the backseat as the two best friends find clues to their friends whereabouts and eventually track her down. Gordon is but another small piece of the support system.
Yet the film comes full circle during a scene at the end (small spoiler to follow). Meghan has found her way back to the news station she anchors, and instead of delivering her usual sugar-coated speech, offers a genuine one. She lets down her hair, still a complete bird's nest from the night prior, reveals her dress, coated in dirt, and tells the truth. She describes her insane evening, gives a shout out to Gordon, and admits to her "walk of shame." But then she delivers some real talk. In a speech that could only be written by a feminist, Banks empowers her circumstance by turning the tables on those who had slut-shamed her, and all women, by the term "walk of shame." She argues the term is disrespectful, and frankly, those who use it should be the one feeling shame.
Woah. A film that begins as stereotyped and predictable as ever, reveals itself to be just the opposite. While she is objectified by many of the characters in the film, they receive a form of comeuppance when she begins the discourse for female empowerment.
Walk of Shame is fun, features an adorable sequence (a la Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love) between its leads Marsden and Banks, and offers an unconventional message in its seemingly predictable facade. And that is nothing to be ashamed about.
Walk of Shame hits theatres Friday, May 2.
Images: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment; Tumblr