Will this be the year of the recessive movie male?
It’s much too early to tell with any certainty, as it only takes a few powerful contenders to set what seems to be a mood for an awards season. In the last round, it only became clear with the Producers Guild of America nominations in early January that, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour aside, white men were in cinematic eclipse, as films like Lady Bird; I, Tonya; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Get Out; and, of course, The Shape of Water put other demographics in the spotlight.
But so far, this year’s pre-season tell-tales point toward an even more pronounced shift away from male dominance in films that are likely to score points on the prize circuit. (Never mind the narrow weekend box-office victory of The Equalizer 2 over Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.)
That had to catch your eye in Eighth Grade, A24’s well-received picture about a struggling, digitally deranged young girl (Elsie Fisher) as she claws her way through adolescence. She’s charming. So is her single father, played by Josh Hamilton. But he is, after all, a completely passive character — loving, supportive and really just a foil for his daughter, who occupies the screen, and screens within the screen, throughout.
In Bleecker Street’s Leave No Trace, similarly admired by the critics, another father, played by Ben Foster, is the remnant of a once-strong male who was damaged by undescribed wartime experiences. As the movie unfolds, he fades. By the end, his teen daughter (Thomasina McKenzie) is emerging from her chrysalis to become the strong, complicated, fully formed woman that many of the films viewers would hope to be.
In October (and featured in a theatrical trailer currently attached to Eighth Grade) comes the granddaddy of all receding movie males, known as Norman Maine in 1937 and 1954, John Norman Howard in 1976, and here as Jackson Maine, played by Bradley Cooper in Warner’s latest version of A Star Is Born. Whatever the character’s name, the underlying story remains the same: A tottering Svengali falls in love with a young female understudy, (now played by Lady Gaga) who soon outshines him. She rises to the empyrean. He fades to black, in what proves to be a perfect fable for 2018.
Also popping onto the trailer circuit is the latest rendering of Mary, Queen of Scots, this one from Focus Features, with Saoirse Ronan as the Catholic Mary and Margot Robbie as the Protestant Elizabeth. “Sisters,” rivals and both very powerful — the trailer tells us so — neither leaves much space for a dominant male. “How did the world come to this? Wise men in the service of women!” one befuddled courtier gasps to another in the promo.
There are more. Bill Nighy is there to support Emily Mortimer in The Bookshop. Keira Knightley is far out front in Colette. And we don’t have to worry about co-star Armie Hammer or any other man stealing the bench from Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex, due from Focus on Christmas.
So keep an eye on that recessive male. He might be a dominant theme in 2018.