Every so often I want to escape into a world with resolvable conflicts, uncomplicated characters, predictable plot-lines, and upbeat humour. So last night I watched the movie 17 Again, recommended by my in-laws.
The opening scene has a femmephobic slur. I should have stopped there. The nerdy character was mocked by being called a girl by both the school bullies and the protagonist, who supposedly was sticking up for him. I thought it was part of the plot line- which I assumed was about a man-boy full of regret and living in the past turning into a real man who makes peace with his past decisions. He was going to grow out of that, I was sure.
Like the cover promised, this man-boy gets to be 17 again but without going back in time. He is now going to highschool with his kids- one of whom’s unexpected impending arrival was the reason our man-boy didn’t go to college like he dreamed of. I forgot about the misogynistic comments and tried to enjoy man-boy’s transformation.
But a few scenes later, 17 year old looking man-boy makes another misogynistic comment. His wife, who is filing for divorce, is talking about potentially dating again in front of her son and our hero, who she thinks is her son’s high school friend. Our man-boy yells that if she were in another country she would be horrifically tortured and murdered for talking to another man while still technically married. I think it was supposed to be evidence of man-boy’s real love for his wife and some sort of adorable jealousy. Which made the reference to ownership and justifiable murder of women all the more creepy.
There were some fantastic parts. Our man-boy finally gets to know his family, who either have been lying to him or not telling him anything about their lives. That was it. That was the best part.
Even there, I do find it hard to believe that it takes 18 years for a husband to discover his wife wants to do landscaping. I could understand his son not telling him about being bullied. His daughter didn’t seem like part of the family, but a foil from which virgin/slut paradigms were played out.
The movie started to appear more and more like propaganda from right-wing religious organizations. There was both slut-shaming and virgin-shaming, but one was portrayed as ‘loving’ and the other as something to be afraid of.
Our man-boy finds himself in a sex-ed class with his daughter. I anticipated juvenile humour. Who doesn’t like to laugh about sex and how silly we are about it? Apparently the guys who wrote the script.
The teacher compares abstinence to a “goat pooping cheese- disgusting”. Then she hands out a huge basket of condoms without any explanation or instruction. Our man-boy gets up and makes a speech about how he won’t have sex until he is married and wants to make a baby. The girls swoon over his description of holding his newborn daughter and they decide they don’t need condoms and pass them back.
Ahh! Now I know where some people get the idea that sex-ed classes mock virgins. I recall actual slut-shaming from one of my teachers but somehow held on to the idea taught by my church that it was I and my dedication to virginity who was being mocked.
Plus- sex is only for making babies? How could a person who has only 2 kids but was married 18 years really believe that? Also, the hypocrisy about this man-boy giving up his dream to go to college because he had sex without a condom and then encouraging other kids not to use condoms was overlooked. I find it hard to believe this character would have stayed abstinent for 6 years until he graduated college and was ready to start a family. Where was the “I love my baby, but I could have been a better father and husband if we had been smarter about sex” speech?
Then there is another speech given at a party about how girls should respect themselves. Of course, what man-boy means by respect is abstinence. Be ashamed of your sexuality = respect? I can only respect you if you act how I want? These girls are predominately women of colour and portray themselves as so slutty they don’t care if they guy even knows their name. If we didn’t have a history of sexually exploiting minority women and justifying it by portraying them as wantonly lustful (asking for it), this scene would have been merely revolting.
Of course there was the double standard in which Son is pushed to talk to and make-out with Hot Cheerleader. In one scene, both parents watch proudly as these two kiss. At the same time, older Daughter is yelled at by her father, told that her father knows her boyfriend better than she does and that her father knows best. What is best for Daughter is single celibacy. I wasn’t sure if it was because her boyfriend was portrayed as a one-dimensional bully and she should wait for someone better, or if was because her boyfriend wanted to have sex and that would be unacceptable for graduating Daughter. It wasn’t clear which was worse.
Our man-boy mocks Daughter’s boyfriend by calling him a girl in three different ways. It was supposed to be a triumph of man-boy and sweet revenge against boyfriend. So much for him growing out of femmephobia.
Man-boy supposedly grew up. He broke up his daughter’s relationship, jump-started his son’s, and convinced his wife he loves her. Somehow this magically leads to him finding a job that is perfect for him and he can now live in his older body again with contentment.
And I guess I know why my relations liked the movie.