Branching Out: The Town

by Melissa Silverstein on September 28, 2010

in Actresses

I spend most of my checking out as many films by and about women I can. But I believe it is equally important to check out other types of films to understand what works, what doesn’t and why certain films are resonating with audiences over others.

I am a fan of thrillers and liked Gone Baby Gone so I decided to check out The Town directed and starring Ben Affleck. I think that Affleck is a better director than he is actor. He just comes off as wooden especially when he is partnered in scenes with Jeremy Renner who looks like he is about to explode in every instance. I’m so glad Renner is more visible now since The Hurt Locker because he is so exciting to watch.

For those who don’t know the story it’s about a group of guys who steal for a living. The film intimates that these guys became robbers because that is in their blood. It’s passed down from fathers to sons.

I enjoyed the film but it suffers from the same problem lots of these films do which is that the women get serious short shrift.  There are very few women in these guys lives.  Rebecca Hall gets the better treatment as a bank manager who becomes the object of Ben Affleck’s attention. Hall is one of the strongest actresses of her generation and if you want to see her give an outstanding performance as the lead of a film, see Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give.

But what they did to Blake Lively pissed me off. This young woman has gone from vibrant soccer player in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the sequel to drugged out young single mother in The Town (via TV’s Gossip Girl).

And what makes me even angrier, I’m sure this is a part lots of young actresses wanted. Who wouldn’t want to be in a movie like this? Great opportunity? Right? I wish that young women would look at a role like this where she is drunk and high the whole time and think twice about it being a good part.

She wears very little clothes, too much makeup, too big earrings. You know what I mean. The part that bothered me the most about her character is when she is asked about her relationship with Affleck’s character she says that she has been with him her whole life (even though her daughter is not his child.) How is it possible for have them to have been together that long when she is in actual life 15 years younger than him. Did they start dating when she was five?

UPDATE: I was informed through a twitter friend (thanks @lulamaybelle) that she saw an interview with Blake Lively and Lively said the character was written as a 37-year-old woman and that she was desperate to play her.  Has anyone seen the script?  I don’t know about you but Blake Lively surely does not look like she is playing a 37-year-old woman.  Who do you think you’re fooling?

This makes me even angrier.  So now Hollywood is casting 22 year olds as 37 year olds and says that they are 37 year olds in the film but they really look like 22 year olds.  Grrr.  Here’s the link to Lively talking about the character.  (She says the part about playing a 37 year old at about 3 min)

Even with all the issues I had with the film (and most films have many issues that make me insane, even ones by and about women), I still thought it was a good film and I enjoyed it. It’s great to see a new generation of directors finding their voices. I just wish that people had been as interested in seeing Drew Barrymore’s film Whip-It as they are in fellow actor Ben Affleck’s film. Whip-It was just as good and just as interesting — to me at least.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris September 28, 2010 at 10:45 AM

It’s quite sad. Actresses really want to be a part of these sorts of films that they know will get a lot of attention even though the roles are nothing special because it’s all about the boys as usual.

Jill September 28, 2010 at 1:28 PM

“How is it possible for have them to have been together that long when she is in actual life 15 years younger than him. Did they start dating when she was five?”

Right on! I can’t cast a 23- 25 year old in a daughter role, cause Dad is gonna look like the date by Hollywood standards. So I have to age down the daughter and age up the dad. Make sure we have a nice wide spread, so there’s no doubt about the relationship. Meanwhile they have people playing mother & son roles together who are the same age.

The other problem is that it’s really hard to tell if most of these young women can act, because the roles suck. But hey, at least they got Blake Lively out of those six inch heels and Rebecca Hall is wonderful.

ska-triumph September 28, 2010 at 3:45 PM

Melissa,
First of all I gotta thank you for all that you’ve done and are doing. Of course you have many compatriots on the front line of female/women representation in front and behind the camera. And your commenters are intelligent and wide-ranging, so I’ve never had the urge to comment.

But here, I’m a bit confused and/or concerned. As a mid-30s guy, I certainly didn’t expect Ms. Lively’s character to have or do, among the testosterone-laden family, beyond what she represented: an example of young, single mom in an inner-city/corrupted/insular community. A younger archetype of Amy Ryan’s character in GONE BABY GONE.

So I didn’t see a problem with her Krista and Affleck’s Doug having a casual sexual relationship. She’s “known” him all her life because she’s the younger sister. He likely was – and always been – her first, true (and convenient) love/lover/crush. I envisioned much of the backstory as I watched. Shoot, she may have lost her virginity to him.

The real insult is how little screen time she got; this role showed that Ms. Lively has range outside of the TV show and early films that built her status. She was near unrecognizable in the film; and (by default) had more spice between the lead females.

SPOILER? What was frustrating plot-wise is how she – very, very late – empowered the FBI into the final act. She wanted to go away with Doug; she had simple, fierce desires that read clearly and “played the role.”

Thanks for your insights.

marina September 28, 2010 at 7:51 PM

I like your blog and what you stand for. However I disagree about this–what’s so wrong about her playing a “drugged out young single mother”?? It’s a part. A role. Not all female characters are (or should be) strong feminists. Of course I understand that mainstream movies portray many women negatively. But the actress is playing a character. Not all characters are strong and independent. Feminism is supposed to grant all women the right to choose what they are going to do. If you don’t agree with that choice, she still has the right to make that choice.

Anu September 29, 2010 at 6:57 AM

I haven’t seen the film yet, but what bothered me the most in the previews I’ve seen has been excellently pointed out in Jezebel’s article and user comments on this film
http://jezebel.com/5644054/the-underwritten-virginwhore-women-in-ben-afflecks-the-town

Could Hall’s and Lively’s characters be a more obvious example of that boring old Madonna/whore dynamic? And from what I’ve read, this movie also has one of my biggest on-screen pet peeve – a creepy stalking that turns into a romantic relationship (Affleck’s and Hall’s characters).

Dianna September 29, 2010 at 3:14 PM

I appreciate the advocacy for improving respect for women in Hollywood. As an aspiring actress myself, I’m grateful for you and the many women you highlight in your posts who speak out about the difference–STILL, in 2010–between how men and women are cast, paid and overall treated in the Business.

On the one hand, it’s a shame that women actresses specifically have to “ugly up” to win recognition and perhaps a pretty gold statue. I want one of those, I’m not gonna lie. On the other hand, I admire Blake Lively for wanting to expand her horizons and stretch herself as an actress. She has played strong, healthy and confident characters so why not go the opposite route and see what she can learn? Yes, the part was originally written for a 37-year-old woman. Ms. Lively felt so strongly about it that she fought for it. She got an audition and her work impressed Ben Affleck & Co. enough to rewrite the role for her. So she was NOT cast as a 37-year-old woman. The part was rewritten to be a younger character, which is not the same thing.

Of course, it’s a shame that all sorts of roles are being written for younger and younger actresses, but that is a larger issue and I can’t argue that it sucks to feel time running out for one to really start a career.

On a more positive note, I really loved your interview with Katie Aselton, writer/director for “The Freebie”. And actress, too! It was inspiring and exciting to read about someone making a project happen for themselves instead of waiting for the phone to ring. Thank you for highlighting her hard work and sharing her insightful comments on your blog.

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Michael September 29, 2010 at 5:29 PM

Sorry, but aside from the valid criticism that a 23-year-old is cast as the love interest of a man near 40 meaning there are actresses in their 30′s who would have been more appropriate not getting work, this is a waste of keystrokes.

Do you understand this is a role she’s playing and a supporting role at that? She’s neither the lead anymore than she’s a single mother drug addict with violent felon brother and ex-boyfriend any more than she’s Serena on Gossip Girl. She’s not meant to represent all women any more than violent sociopath Jeremy Renner is meant to represent all men. Both are actually there to flesh out and support Ben Affleck’s character. Choosing this role is clearly her trying to break out of the type-casting people like you would like to do to her as that girl from “Traveling Pants.”

There are valid issues concerning women in Hollywood. This is not one of them.

F September 29, 2010 at 8:30 PM

this is the most awfully written piece i’ve ever read on jezebel. wtf?

first off, they’re not doing ANYTHING to blake lively. it’s a movie role. there’re plenty of unflattering roles for men. and it’s not taken out of context, there are (unfortunately) women like her character in real life with less fortunate circumstances.

secondly, it was ORIGINALLY written for a 37yr old woman. they probably altered the scripts for lively. she is not being casted as a 37 yr old woman.

you should direct your anger to high school musical and its sequels. and have you missed the part where blake lively is a shallow, boring, yet beautiful woman in high society in gossip girl?

i hope you were not paid to write horrible review.

Cat September 29, 2010 at 9:37 PM

Have you ever left whatever liberal arts utopia you live in? Obviously you’ve never been to Charlestown (past the monument) or any marginalized, low income white neighborhood outside Boston. Is this article an assault on character acting?

As girls from an Irish/Italian mill city near Boston, my friend and i left The Town and actually, we both IMMEDIATELY remarked that Lively was too wholesome and precious to play such a girl. Girls we knew! Gordon Gekko wasn’t clothed in a Celts jersey, Saint Christopher medal necklace, chinstrap beard, and work boots. Why would the daughter of a local criminal be in JCrew?

Melissa Silverstein September 30, 2010 at 7:47 AM

I think there has been confusion about the age of the character. I for one and confused. When I listened to Lively talk on the Regis and Kelly show she said that the part was a 37 year old woman. It sounded to me that she fought for the part and I didn’t get any indication that they aged down the part. If they did age down the part the line about her being with Ben Affleck her whole life is still troubling because then they clearly were dating when she was a wee toddler. If she played a 37 year old that is another story. I can’t tell.

The point of the whole piece and one that has seemed to have gotten lost is that both her character and Rebecca Hall’s character were underwritten and this whole movement of giving women short shrift has gotten on my nerves.

Melissa Silverstein September 30, 2010 at 7:51 AM

She still has the right to make the choice and I have the right to write that I would love to see a different type of female character in this film. Do you think that the stereotypes of the male characters are as harmful as the stereotypes of the female characters? Part of the problem is that there are 4 guys so the stereotypes are spread out among the guys. In this film we have just 2 women. When you have more female characters you don’t have to put all the stereotypes on a single individual. Does that make sense?

Jill September 30, 2010 at 9:48 AM

Ok to be fair, at least there were two parts in the film that two actresses would actually want, which is more than you can say for most films. There would probably be less focus on the female roles in a movie like this, if there were more women directing and better roles for women in general. This all goes back to who and what gets funded, which is really not Ben Affleck’s fault. What Ben, Matt, Jennifer G etc… can do if they care, is agree to star in/produce female directed/written films. It’s done for guys all the time. That’s how careers get launched. That’s how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have a career. Someone got behind them.

anna April 23, 2011 at 11:26 AM

I don’t understand why this should bother you. Blake Lively is an ACTOR. This is what she does! She’s not always going to be cast as a “vibrant soccer player.” That would be type casting. Which is stupid. She’s out there trying out new parts and new characters. She should get praise for doing new things instead of boring audiences with the same characters over and over again.

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