Tanya Pretorius

Review: Silver Linings Playbook – Bechdel fail

Tanya Pretorius
Tanya Pretorius

by Tanya Pretorius


The love story of Pat and Tiffany is not clichéd, the dialogue is great, the acting is clear, the characters are quirky and real-ly flawed, but… (sigh)

Bechdel Test. You might snort at the mention of the Bechdel Test. It’s really less of a test and more of mental note that helps put you in the right, *cough*, feminist, frame of mind. It goes like this: 1. Are there two named female characters? 2. Do they speak to each other? 3. Do they speak to each other about something other than a man. This test establishes whether the action is about the man or about the woman. And it’s always about the man. I’ve got a mere 31 Bechdel-passers on my list so far – http://www.imdb.com/list/Z_tgoKChVPY/.

Feminist role models. I take my role models where I can get them. Tiffany (yes, that’s her name) is a 3D-character. She doesn’t do the girl-giggling thing. She’s slutty and sloppy and dirty and likes that about herself. She can talk dirty. She’ll indulge Pat’s lesbian fantasies and like it. She doesn’t choose her sex partners by gender. Tiffany doesn’t quite know what she wants from Pat and seems to take anything she can get – she starts off wanting sex, then wants to be friends, then agrees to dinner. She’s grown – she used to get used, now she knows how to check in and be sure she’s getting something back. She doesn’t give a fuck about football, but ‘does her homework’ on football well enough to know when games were played, who played who and what the scores were. Ominous. I’d be nervous if she ‘does her homework’ on me. Pat says Tiffany has poor social skills because she’s direct. All these things add up to a real girl who doesn’t toe the good-girl stereotype. I like her.

Unhealthy matches. The after-therapy, just-released-from-the-mental-hospital Pat deals with stress by becoming manic, Tiffany deals with stress using vodka and sex. Neither Tiffany nor Pat are employed. On which planet is this a healthy match? They establish what they have in common in one of the first conversations they have – the various medications they’ve been on. She chooses this man based on how damaged he is. This is not a good foundation on which to invite a man into your bed, which she promptly does. I still like her, sex is OK.

Sexism. The cynic in me rails against Them sneakily using such a fabulous girl to deliver this sexism to me, because it doesn’t matter how you dish this girl up, it’s still that same old sexist schtick – she’s a carer, a nurse who chooses a broken-wing man. She’s not an actor in her own world but a server in Their world. Retch.

Take-away. The various women in this film paint this picture for you of womanhood – women make lasagna (mother), cry wol…”harassing me!” (Tiffany), lie to you to manipulate you to get what they want (Tiffany), connive with each other behind your back (mother and Tiffany) and want so much stuff that you descend into debt buying the stuff (Tiffany’s sister).

The movie I wanted to see. Swop ’em out. Don’t change ANYTHING, just make Tiffany Pat and Pat Tiffany. I read somewhere that Jodie Foster does this sometimes – she takes the role as written for a man. I kinda like that for this movie. A swop-out might even be a great addition to the Bechdel test. Imagine using it on Pretty Woman. Ha!

Anti-dote. I want to wrestle You’ve Got Mail to the top of Bechdel-passer list. Fainting? You’ve Got Mail is not perfectly feminist, I admit, but it’s got some redeeming features. Both Joe and Kathleen are in ballpark-healthy relationships when they meet. They are employed. They have whole lives outside the contact they have with each other. Their wings are not broken. They are both actor’s in their own lives. They develop a friendship via email, then extend the friendship to real life. They have a basis for investing love in each other because they have experiences together. Hulle deel ‘n sakkie sout saam. Give?


10 thoughts on “Review: Silver Linings Playbook – Bechdel fail”

  1. My all-time favourite Bechdel-passing movie has to be Kamikaze Girls. A Japanese cult movie about the (unlikely) friendship between Rococo-loving Lolita-styled Momoko and the tomboyish bike-riding Yankee Girl Ichigo. It’s a coming-of-age movie in which the two main characters figure out who they are and what they want and where they fit into the world. And not a moment of it has anything to do with a male partner — there is a dad, and a male boss, merely as bit parts. The rest of the movie is completely female-centered. Interestingly it was directed by a male (Tetsuya Nakashima) and the story based on a novel by another man, Novala Takemoto.


      1. This movie is rather obscure … I got it from Amazon … but you might be able to download if from the internet …


  2. I appreciate reading a review of the movie from a feminist-grid.

    I just saw “Silver Linings Playbook” yesterday and thought it was a fantastic film that simply went terribly wrong in the end. As someone with Bipolar, I’m looking to build a dialogue about it. As you have the chance, I’d love for you to read and respond to my review, here –



      1. Tanya, it’s on circuit at the moment. dunno where you live, but I saw it at Hyde Park New Metro in Jozberg.


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