I was really enjoying the scene in “Up in the Air” where George Clooney’s character meets Vera Farmiga in a hotel bar. But as soon as she introduced herself, I went right out of the movie.
Why did she have to be called Alex?
For me, “Alex” is Hollywood screenwriter code for a post-feminist archetype: an empowered woman who can do anything a man can do—but is also smokin’ hot. The male characters sense that Alexes might turn out to be stronger than them and that cuts into their confidence and sense of entitlement. Alexes scare men, but they also give them boners. Out of this primal conflict, Academy Award nominated screenplays and books by Camille Paglia are born.
The mother of all Alexes is Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) in Adrian Lyne’s “Flashdance” (1983). Like most women I knew at the time, Alex works as a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night. But Alex doesn’t take off her clothes, because she considers stripping to be exploitative—instead, she wears skimpy outfits and drops a tub of water on herself in front of boozy schlunks in a bar. Even though Alex displays a remarkable talent for taking her bra off without removing her shirt, her dream is to be a ballet dancer. But when her boyfriend (Michael Nouri) tries to pull a few strings to get her an audition, she dumps him and sets him straight: sisters are doing it for themselves. She also throws a brick through his front window, but I don’t remember exactly why.
ALEX LESSON #1 – Alexes don’t need men to help them reach their dreams.
The next Alex didn’t come along until 1987 but she was a doozy: Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction,” once again directed by Adrian Lyne. Happily married Michael Douglas has what he assumes is a momentary affair with businesswoman Close, only to find out to his chagrin that he has messed with Medea. Alex becomes a fearsome stalker, willing to do anything to possess Douglas, even if it involves heinous acts on bunnies.
ALEX LESSON #2: Alexes do need men--to do whatever they want or else!
So I couldn’t help flashing on those two Alexes when I heard that Farmiga introduce herself as Alex. For me, this was too much information before the story even got started. Oscar-nominated screenwriters Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner aren’t at fault, as the name came from Walter Kirn’s book. Still, I think the three of them should wise up and emulate a real writer like Joe Eszterhas, who co-wrote “Flashdance,” but learned his lesson and used the name Catherine Trammell for his next Alex, Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.”
ALEX LESSON #3 Alexes need men, but only now and then.
While Clooney and Farmiga came on to each other with their frequent flyer cards, I tried to remember other notable screen Alexes. I could only remember the late Brittany Murphy in “8 Mile” and the great Tori Spelling in “Scary Movie 2.” Murphy’s Alex reprised the tough-talking street girl with higher aspirations portrayed by Karen Lynn Gorney in “Saturday Night Fever.” She didn’t take any crap from Eminem, that’s for sure. But Murphy wanted to be a model, which sealed the deal on the go-go dancer aspect of being an Alex.
ALEX LESSON #4: Alexes don’t let men stand in front of their career plans.
In “Scary Movie 2,” Tori Spelling’s Alex is asleep in bed when she starts to be fellated by a phantom. Instead of being frightened, her Alex takes charge right away. “Bring it on, bitch!” she shouts, as she spider-f*cks across the ceiling. “You want me!”
ALEX LESSON #5: Alexes need men—for sex!
After a few moments of thinking about this, I tried to warn Clooney about what he was getting into, but the woman ahead of me kept shushing me. I went back to watching the movie, which incidentally, I liked.
NOURI/DOUGLAS/CLOONEY/EMINEM/GHOST MESSAGE: Ouch!
Am I the only one who thinks that this whole Alex deal isn’t about opening up the definitions of sex roles but of trying to jam them back into the bottle? Even in really good movies like “Up in the Air”? Are we so married to traditional notions of men and women that if a female character is ambitious or independent or even a little cold it’s time to slap a male name on her head?
Also, anybody else have some other screen Alexes they’d like to contribute?