Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation is a smart but amateurish documentary about the portrayal of women in the media and how it affects young girls growing up with its influence. As such, it’s a movie worth making. Despite the last ten years or so of the “metro-sexual” and the increased appliance of beauty standards to men as well as women, the balance is still way off (not to mention moving in the wrong direction – shouldn’t we be making women feel less insecure instead of making men more insecure?).
While ridiculous ideals of male beauty have become more commonplace (why does Dane Cook – a fucking stand-up comedian – need to be photographed with his shirt off?), they are still the exception to the rule. A man can become a famous movie star despite looking like Jonah Hill as long as he’s funny. For women in the movies, being talented comes in second to looking like Mila Kunis. And we’re lucky that Mila Kunis is at least funny. Sometimes we end up with Jessica Alba, who is not. Though it must be stated that this is partially due to women and men having different criteria for attraction, the lack of fairness is neither intellectually nor morally justifiable.
The problem with Newsom’s film is the fact that the two dashed off paragraphs I’ve just written are more nuanced than her arguments. She presents her footage – her evidence, if you will – in such a narrow context that her interpretation is only one that can fit. There is no discussion of the ways in which many women willingly and knowingly perpetuate this status quo, nor is there recognition of the post-Queer Eye male corollaries or the growing influence of third wave feminism and “post-feminism.” If it weren’t for the fact that Newsom uses clips from recent television shows and movies, this film could have been made in 1999.
The unnecessary frame on which the film is hung has to do with the director’s own daughter. She, apparently, is the inspiration for Newsom’s interest in the subject, as if none of this would have occurred to her – or could have occurred to us – otherwise. This is a middle school presentation tactic, falsely and perfunctorily attaching the thesis to a half-baked human interest angle. It leaves the viewer with the impression that this is the pet cause of someone who has an otherwise comfortable life. What Newsom has to say is important. It’s just too bad she couldn’t get out of the way of her own message.