I get no joy from writing a negative review of an indie film at a film festival. The movies that play at places like LA Film Fest are often the kinds that won’t have distinguished futures or impressive theatrical runs; if anything, you’ll likely have a chance to see a few of them when they pop up on Netflix in a few months. I have no problem writing a negative review of a huge studio movie because I feel like those filmmakers and studios should know better and be held to a higher standard. But if I see a bad film at a festival, chances are I won’t even write a review of it at all, simply because I prefer to be a champion of small movies I love instead of tearing down small films that don’t have much of a chance at a long life anyway.
There’s an exception to every rule.
Flock of Dudes is about a group of thirty-something manchildren who are still living like frat bros, going out and getting wasted every night, getting into bar fights, and tricking girls into sleeping with them. In the opening moments, Adam (Chris D’Elia) is supposed to meet his girlfriend (Jamie Chung) for dinner so he can meet her parents, but his bros (Brett Gelman, Bryan Greenberg, and Eric Andre) talk him into doing a pub crawl instead, so he shows up late, completely drunk and with penis drawings on his shirt. She breaks up with him, some time passes, and after continuing with similar shenanigans, Adam finally has enough and decides to “break up” with his friends so he can get his life on the right track.
It’s a decent premise, and most of the actors do fairly well with what they’re given. I might have just let this one go without comment — except for the terrible way it treats its female characters. One of them, a secretary played by The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch, is a one-note character whose only interest is stalking Greenberg, even though he doesn’t know who she is. So that’s not great, but she’s such a small character that it’s admittedly not really worth getting up in arms about. Where the film crosses the line is in its depiction of Beth (Hannah Simone), Adam’s co-worker and potential love interest.
(I’m going to have to spoil the movie to get into why the film completely collapses on itself, so feel free to bookmark this page, check out the film when it’s released, and then come back and finish this review.)
Adam and Beth are flirting and hanging out, and they kiss on the beach. This is the exchange that follows that moment:
Beth: Adam, we should probably stop.
Adam: You know, we don’t HAVE to stop.
Beth: I don’t want to screw things up, you know?
Adam: For the record, I don’t think it screws things up. I think it makes things way better.
Beth: I just - I just don’t think it’s the right time.
Adam: Really? You’re single for once. Technically, it’s like the perfect time.
Beth: Yeah, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. Can’t we just continue to hang out as friends and see where it goes from there? I’m not ready for more than that.
Adam: Well, I am.
Beth: Are you sure? I think you need time to figure things out and I just - I just need you to give me some time, too.
Adam: I will, I totally will. I think that time is great. But I think that thing that we just did, where we kissed, is also awesome. And I think that while we’re taking that time, we can continue to hang out and do cool things, and every now and then I’ll kiss you —
Beth: Adam, look. I just can’t be at the top of your list right now. I’m sorry, but that’s where I’m at.
Adam: Well, it’s not where I’m at. I want more than that.
Stay with me, here. If Beth slapped Adam in the face after this back-and-forth, or maybe avoided him completely, I could understand that conversation being in this movie. But that’s not what happens. They go their separate ways, and at the end of the movie, Adam ends up making a Big Romantic Gesture by going to try to “win her back” (never mind that he never “had” her in the first place). During what’s supposed to be a romantic scene, he basically guilts her into going out with him, and her response is to smile and say “I missed you, too.” No sane woman would react this way. This entire screenplay seems as if it was written by men who have no understanding of how women behave (indeed, all three of this film’s writers were men).
There are other reasons I don’t like this movie — namely, that Beth also demands that Adam stay in his regressive state because she likes him better that way, thereby cutting off almost all of the dramatic weight to his arc — but the treatment of its female characters is the primary reason I wanted to mention. I already know I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this review, but because I can anticipate the comments telling me to lighten up and not take this topic so seriously is exactly why I needed to shine a light on it in the first place. It’s 2015. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for screenwriters to stop treating women like they’re just prizes to be won and start giving them some agency.