Through an increasing emergence of sexual allegations within Hollywood, the #MeToo movement and passionate women’s marches across the country, the topic of gender equality has finally been pushed into the hot seat. Reflecting on the dynamics between men and women today and the troublesome gender perceptions and roles that dictate society, insightful French director Elenore Pourrait’s film “I Am Not an Easy Man” could not arrive at a more opportune moment. Pourrait’s thought-provoking work quite literally flips established gender conventions, aiming to explore the problematic nature of gender from a new perspective.
Misogynistic, cocky and unbelievably self-entitled, Damien (Vincent Elbaz, “The Hundred-Foot Journey”) has the world at his fingertips. Within the first five minutes of the film, observing Damien’s relentless ogling and innuendos aimed toward women at work and on the streets, viewers get a pretty clear message that he is basically the epitome of a womanizer. Damien’s world is unexpectedly flipped upside down, however, when, after hitting his head in a “Freaky Friday”-esque moment, he awakes to an alternate universe that, much to his shock, is dominated by women. Gender conventions now reversed, women fill male roles in society and act on par with male stereotypes, wearing suits, engaging in casual sex, acting tough and emotionless, etc.
While struggling to adjust to his rude awakening, Damien soon finds himself falling for Alexandra (Marie-Sophie Ferdane, “Les Heures Souterraines”), a powerful writer who is practically the female version of Damien from the old world. Hung up on Alexandra, who quite literally “wears the pants” and is quick to objectify Damien in their back and forth, emotionally muddled relationship, Damien gets a long overdue taste of his own medicine.
Pourrait’s hyper-masculine, stereotypical portrayals of Alexandra and Damien and over-feminization of male characters exemplify the notion that though clearly inaccurate and skewed, gender expectations still influence assumptions about how men and women should act. In the alternative world that Damien is immersed in, men embody all of the classic female clichés that men have branded women with in the real world: overly emotional, child-caring, homemaking and obsessed with exterior appearances. By contrast, with all the women in power, females take on male conventions, treating their husbands like boy-toys, concealing emotion, cat-calling in the streets and radiating auras of female supremacy and authority.
One of the most poignant demonstrations of this authority occurs when Alexandra’s boss asks Damien a question along the lines of, “What are you so mad about anyway?” Voice filled with condescension, she notes that, provided with the benefit of endless free drinks and flattery supplied by women, men have no real reason to complain. Her perceptions reflect strongly on the broader truth that in the real world, this is a question often fielded by men toward women who dare to express their dissatisfaction. As part of the privileged majority, Alexandra’s boss has the luxury of blinding herself to the unfairness that Damien encounters. She is uninclined to acknowledge his struggle as legitimate, just as men in the real world can turn a blind eye to female demands for equal rights.
Though there is a slight faltering in the chemistry between Damien and Alexandra, the punch delivered from the remainder of the film’s message is strong enough to override this hiccup. Along with its emphasis on the difficult task of breaking down stereotypes, the film explores an especially relevant concept of ‘easiness.’ Both Damien and Alexandra are in search of ‘easy’ interactions with people of the opposite sex, engaging in no-strings-attached sex and over-sexualizing their partners. The difference is, however, that for women, being easy is synonymous with scandal and inappropriateness, but for men it is celebrated as an indication of sexual prowess. This is exactly what the essence of Pourrait’s film is getting at. It is only in a fictitious, female-run world that Alexandra can get away with casual hook-ups unscathed, because in reality, her character would be condemned for not adhering to social norms. Through demonstrating an undeniable imbalance in opportunity and entitlement among men and women in a falsified world on screen, “I Am Not an Easy Man” compels viewers to remove their blinders, realize the implications of a male-controlled culture and grasp the necessity for change.