Fred Savage: Horrible romantic advice from Wonder Years to Ladies Night
Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years
Last Friday, the news broke that one-time tween-dream Fred Savage will direct Charlize Theron in the upcoming female buddy-pic Ladies Night. The film is being described as Bridesmaids-esque, which means it will most likely be another mildly funny, wholly predictable rom-com attempt at proving that women can be just as marginalized and scatologically juvenile as their male opposites. This is nothing new for Savage, who spent six seasons on The Wonder Years misleading pubescent audiences into thinking that awkward, insecure, pint-sized whiners who get picked-on will always win over the taller, prettier girls they've been obsessing over.
And probably creating a few stalkers along the way.
For skinny, unpopular outcasts like myself, The Wonder Years's Kevin Arnold was a transcendent hero. He proved that you didn't need muscles or decent clothes or even the absence of regular public beatings in order to land a girl as siren-like as Winnie Cooper. This was years before any of us discovered Morrissey or Hot Topic, which taught us to identify ourselves through our rejection, back when kissing a girl ten thousand times out of your league was not only a possibility, but an ultimate goal. And Kevin Arnold gave us the battle plan for that goal.
In season 4's "The Accident," Winnie Cooper spends the first twenty minutes repeatedly explaining to Kevin that she wants nothing to do with him. They were once an item, but that was a long time ago -- and now Winnie is into guys "with driver's licenses." This challenge motivates Kevin to step up his game, butting into her fun with older kids at the roller skating rink and showing up randomly at her house, only to be rejected with increasing vitriol each time. Winnie was once annoyed with Kevin, and now she downright hates him. But when he learns that these newly-minted drivers crashed a car while cruising with Winnie, he rides his bike to her house and waits for hours on her doorstep for her to return from the hospital.
"Winnie doesn't want to see you right now," her mother explains to him, while the lady of the hour waits in the car, not wanting to even speak to Kevin.
"The only thing left to do was go home," narrator Daniel Stern explains. "Only I didn't. I couldn't." So ol' Kev pretends to ride his bike home, only to return moments later, climb a tree and sneak onto the roof of Winnie's house to peak in through her bedroom window, where she lays half asleep.
I'm not sure this even needs to be said, but: THIS IS WHAT A STALKER DOES. The first twenty minutes of this episode read as a Dateline warning against predators. But it doesn't end there. While Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" slaps a thick layer of sentimentality across the screen, Winnie slowly opens her eyes to notice a voyeur peaking in through her bedroom window. Kevin makes eye contact and whispers, "I love you."
Continue reading for more bad advice.
And where it all goes wrong, my friends, where these writers unintentionally created a generation of emotionally confused boys who thought that you must pursue, pursue, PURSUE until a woman understands what she really wants (you), comes when Winnie Cooper smiles back at Kevin and reinforces his decision to stalk her with the words, "I love you, too."
You run into a similar problem with guys/girls-behaving-badly comedies like The Hangover and Bridesmaids and, most likely, Ladies Night. These are the type of mass-culture golden calves that distract idiots into thinking things like all men want is giant tits bouncing around TV on big-game Sunday, or all women need is a ring around their finger, a bun in their oven and a good highlight job. You'd think that we wouldn't be as impressionable to pop-culture identity-branding as adults watching Hall Pass or Knocked Up as we were when Kevin Arnold showed us the virtues of being a peeping-Tom in the '80s, but I can't count the number of soft-skulled boys I know who have quoted these movies while guzzling down Jager-bombs, then later complaining about their nagging wives/girlfriends dragging them to Pottery Barn.
We're probably in for the same kind of mindless, gender-baiting wackiness with Ladies Night. Celebrity blogs are all quoting the same press release, which describes the plot of the film as centering "on a woman who, when confronted with her longtime boyfriend's inability to commit, decides to have one last night on the town with her girlfriends before uprooting her life and moving to New York." This is just a shot in the dark, but I'm guessing that when these spunky, hormone-enslaved ladies get together, some hijinks ensue -- and that mischief leads the fragile Theron to discover that she deserves a man who treats her right...and makes a lot of money.
Without these shallow interpretations of love and relationships, we'd be a lot better off. I know it's unfair to judge Fred Savage for taking part in such a fucked-up, no-means-yes lesson as a child, but continuing on with this same stereotyping of gender dynamics is not only a completely boring and useless endeavor, but harmful in its societal implications. And it probably creates stalkers.
Not that I would know anything about that.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.