When Grace and I started this blog last year, The Long Kiss Goodnight was the first movie on my review list. So of course, it took me almost a year to review it. Part of that was not knowing what to say, except “It’s amazing!” And that’s not a very interesting review.
But I’m still going to start out by saying “It’s amazing!” So amazing that it manages to overcome itself. It contains some of the the worst cliches of the action heroine. Shower scene? Check! The heroine doesn’t even bother to pull the shower curtain closed. “Strip and torture” scene? Check! With wet lingerie, even. The Bad Guy calling her a bitch often and with great vigor? Check!
But somehow, magically, it’s a heroine content classic.
Geena Davis plays Samantha, a small town schoolteacher who can’t recall her life before she washed up on the beach eight years ago. Samuel L. Jackson plays Mitch, a private detective who is hired to help Sam find some trace of her past. When it turns out that her past may involve something more complicated than grading homework – say, oh, killing a bunch of people – they end up fighting all kinds of Bad Guys and things explode.
What does this movie do right?
It lets Samantha be everything she is. She’s a warm, funny mother and teacher. She’s also a highly trained fighter. She isn’t forced to choose one or the other as the “happy ending.”
It gives her genuine friends and relationships. Sam is not a heroic figure set apart from the rest of the world. She’s a real person who can do for herself just fine, but she realizes her full self when she’s connected with other people. Her boyfriend cares about her, but doesn’t try to control her, and he’s not afraid of her. She and Mitch develop a close, supportive friendship.
It’s a compelling story about well-developed characters played by talented actors.
It’s also a kick-ass action movie.
(I hate to draw the conclusion that it didn’t do well at the box office because the star is a woman, so perhaps I will console myself and think that this combination confused people.)
It contains the best takedown of a man catcalling a woman that I have ever seen. Honestly, it should be required viewing during discussions about street harassment. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it just for this scene.
Most importantly, the film never says that Samantha can’t be who she is because she’s a woman. When the characters react with shock to finding out about her past, it’s not “But you’re a girl!” or or “But you’re so little!” or “But you’re a mom!” There are plenty of other reasons why it’s bizarre to discover that the neighborhood 4th grade teacher and PTA member is a trained assassin, so there’s no need to resort to outdated gender stereotypes.
True, there are a few scenes that could have used some editing: the “life is pain” speech, the blood and whipped cream thing (ick). If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.
Race is brought up very explicitly. Police arriving at Samantha’s house in response to a violent disturbance immediately and obviously focus their suspicions on Mitch, the African-American man. Mitch makes comments like “the white lady seducing the colored help” and a half-joke about Miss Daisy when Samantha orders him around. They film’s creators make Mitch’s race part of the movie, instead of just casting an African-American actor and then pretending like race and racism would never come up as he’s interacting with a bunch of white people in modern-day America.
Mitch is given a truckload of characteristics that I consider negative, and that is probably not the greatest thing. However, he’s also shown as a fully developed human being, not just a stereotype – and perhaps I am naive to think that Samuel L. Jackson probably had enough clout in 1996 to avoid taking roles that he would consider degrading. However, I just don’t feel like my racism detector is developed enough yet to assess the overall impact. It seems like an edge case, where I would defer to people of color or white folks with more of a cultural studies background than I have, especially given the lack of any other living people of color in the movie.
Oh yes, I did just say “living.” There is one other person of color who plays a prominent role in the film, albeit without a speaking part. To avoid spoilers, let’s just say that it’s not unusual for white men in power in the real world to place the blame on people of color for their misdeeds, so you shouldn’t be shocked that someone thought to use it in a movie. An article called Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People on the website Everything2 lists the movie on its Recommended list, presumably for this plot point.
(Several pages of Google searches for the movie’s title plus the word racist or racism didn’t bring up much more, except for an academic article I’ll need to track down. Technorati has nothing. That’s the thing about reviewing older movies – there wasn’t enough blogging back then!)
Overall, unless I find out something more sinister about the treatment of race issues, I give this movie four stars. Love it. Love Samantha, love Mitch, love the scene where she jumps out the window and uses a machine gun to punch a hole in the ice and save both of them.
And how much do we love Geena Davis for See Jane?
- The Long Kiss Goodnight by Gategrrl at The Hathor Legacy
- how to fight like a girl
- May I Recommend A Film? at CUSS and Other Rants
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.