When it comes to terrible movies, they tend to fall into two categories. There are the terrible movies that are objectively awful yet you watch and enjoy them anyway because it’s hilarious how bad they actually are (1994’s live action Street Fighter movie is the perfect example of this kind), and there are the terrible movies that are just legitimately horrible pieces of cinema with no enjoyment value whatsoever. Can you guess which category That’s What She Said falls into?
Thinking back, the fact that the poster proudly proclaims “Directed by Carrie Preston, star of HBO’s True Blood” should have been the indicator that I wasn’t going to enjoy this, but – perhaps somewhat naively – I didn’t think that Alia Shawkat was capable of starring in a movie that was anything less than “alright”. What makes TWSS such a uniquely terrible film, however, is that it manages to fail on multiple fronts, for reasons that will become apparent later on.
That’s What She Said is a story about three women. The central protagonist of the movie, the kind and homely Bebe, is its main focus, as we follow her throughout the course of a day as she prepares for a big date in the evening. She is accompanied by her bitchy and jaded best friend Dee Dee (real imaginative naming), and the two are joined relatively early on by the more than a little unhinged nymphomaniac Clementine. We follow the three leading ladies throughout the day as they amble from place to place around New York City.
That’s perhaps the most glaringly obvious problem in a superficial sense. Nothing really happens. There isn’t even a remote semblance of a proper overarching plot. Seinfeld showed that you can build a media vehicle on the premise of it being about nothing, but the difference between the two is that Seinfeld was witty in its dialogue and observational humour. That’s What She Said, on the other hand, is not. The conversations are Seinfeldian in that they are banal, but they are also completely devoid of any witticisms. There are no smart laughs, and no dumb ones either.
However, the lack of anything vaguely resembling genuine cinematic quality is not the only reason why TWSS was not an enjoyable watch. You see, in theory, it is the perfect movie for women. There are three men who appear on screen throughout its duration, and none of them have any lines. As the excellent documentary Miss Representation (and to a lesser extent, Anita Sarkeesian’s highly divisive yet nonetheless very valid Feminist Frequency series) showed, realistic positive portrayals of women on the silver screen are few and far between. And to be fair, the three main ladies in TWSS are not your stereotypical movie women.
They’re all real people with real problems and offer at least an indication that even if the movie itself isn’t exactly going to sweep the Oscars, it could at least be commended for daring to challenge the antiquated movie gender roles that are sadly still so prevalent in contemporary cinema. This, however, is not the case either. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Bechdel test, but the general gist of its purpose is to analyse the presentation of women in a given piece of media based on conversations they have that don’t revolve around men.
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where That’s What She Said really collapses in on itself. As I’ve already mentioned, there are no speaking males in this movie. And yet, despite this, even though it completely defies any kind of logic, MEN ARE ALL OUR THREE LEADING LADIES DISCUSS. That’s right. From the very beginning to the very end of its pitifully short 83 minute runtime, Bebe, Dee Dee and Clementine do not have one single meaningful conversation that isn’t centred around a man.
That a movie featuring no men that was also written and directed by two women can fail the Bechdel test so shockingly really tells you all you need to know about this piece of garbage. Avoid avoid avoid.
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The Bechdel Test might be useful in giving a general outline but it’s too rigidly dependent on small pieces of content to ‘pass’ rather than representing genuine character nuance. I haven’t seen it, but Sex in the City 2 passes on what I assume is a superficial technicality rather than transcending female stereotypes. Meanwhile, Mud fails; one of its 3 women spends the film alone in a room talking about a man, though portraying her social isolation gives her a complexity outside of Bechdel’s confines. The odd episode of Mad Men would fail, but the female leads are as fleshed out as the men, and feminism underpins two of the show’s main themes (gender roles and shifting social values).
A film with 3 female leads and minimal male screen-time not passing is a travesty though. I hope getting to pan the ever-loving fuck of this was at least some consolation for watching it!
Thanks for the input! I think you have a valid point about the Bechdel test – haven’t seen Mud OR Mad Men so can’t comment on them, and I think you might be right about SatC2. As you said though given the circumstances of this one the fact it didn’t pass is nothing short of ludicrous. Thankfully, being able to slate it like this (unusual for me as I’m generally quite easily satisfied when it comes to movies) was ample consolation. Negative reviews are always way more fun to write than positive ones.
A truly devoted critic! Were you forced to go and see it? You know what, that IS actually all we women talk about so that’s quite accurate. That was a joke 🙂 This films sounds horrendous – why do I find myself wanting to watch it? Are there actually any “That’s what she said innuendoes” or… what was the plot? Rom-com I’m guessing…