Monday, February 1, 2010

On Male Bonding and Bromance -- Reflections on "Sherlock Holmes"

One of the biggest fads in movies currently is that of the "bromance." For those of you who are uninitiated to the concept -- it's a combination of the words "brother" and "romance." In other words, it's a type of movie about being gay without being gay. This is, of course, not a bad thing, and there have been plenty of bromances that have been excellent. Superbad, Role Models, Pineapple Express, and I Love You, Man immediately come to mind.

Sherlock Holmes, a modern take on Doyle's classic detective, is definitely a bromance. Take away the rather cardboard cut-out female characters in the movie and you have a movie about two men in denial about their sexuality.

There is a lot to like about this new Holmes. Robert Downey, Jr. plays him with zest, and never holds back. You can tell that he enjoys every one-liner, every tip of the hat to the Sherlocks that came before him, and every moment of screen time he shares with Jude Law as the curmudgeonly Dr. Watson. The movie doesn't waste time with any needless origin story or exposition about how Holmes and Watson hooked up; it begins at the end of long, arduous case and quickly establishes our characters. In addition, Guy Ritchie's (the director) camera work is frenetic and fun, giving the typically stuffy tone of British Sherlock Holmes' films a more James Bond-esque feel.

The premise of this movie is simple: Holmes and Watson stop a Satanic killer from murdering a virgin and get him sentenced to death. But the villain is mysteriously resurrected from the dead and begins fucking with Holmes by continuing his killing spree. There's also a subplot about the bad girl Holmes loves (Rachel McAdams) who is working on behalf of a third party for his own nefarious reasons.

The plot and mystery of the film, though, take a back seat to the bromance at play here. Holmes and Watson are constantly bickering with each other. Watson is trying to move out of 221B Baker Street in order to establish a residence with his fiance. Holmes is nonplussed and seems invigorated by the challenge of fucking with Watson. At a dinner with the fiance, Holmes uses his uncanny skills of observation to reveal sordid tidbits of information about her in an attempt to cause Watson to question her love. Throughout the rest of the movie, Holmes keeps tempting Watson to stay in the detective game, even though all the resigned doctor wants to do is have tea and crumpets with the fiance's family.

It's this element that lends the movie strength and character. Easily things could have just slid into auto pilot and given us a by-the-numbers action/adventure/mystery flick; instead, we get a character piece with a pleasant enough story. I saw the movie a few days ago, and all I really remember are a couple neat plot points and the characters. If you leave the movie remembering the characters, it must be pretty good.

I've been thinking about the bromance lately and why it is so popular in movies now. Over the last 10 years or so, with the widespread acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, traditional male and female roles are being challenged to an even greater degree than after the women's liberation movement of the '60s. Men have always been perceived as macho and tough. Look at the movies of the 80s and 90s: Die Hard, True Lies, Pulp Fiction, et al. These were movies with virile, strong men -- decisive, edgy, tough talking. Now, look at the men we're seeing in today's films: Peter Parker, of Spider-Man, who's a total dweeb; Peter Bretter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, who exposes his penis as a sign of complete male vulnerability; and Seth and Evan in Superbad, who can't imagine living lives separate from each other. Men in film today are sensitive and more effiminate.

With the role of the dominant male being neutered to a degree, men are beginning to realize they need other men to feel whole. Having a good buddy is as good as having a woman to love. In fact, maybe it's even preferable. In Sherlock Holmes, Watson seems much happier when he's with Holmes than when he's with his fiance.

Personally, I'm enjoying this change in the movies. It makes for more interesting characters, such as the new interpretations we get in Sherlock Holmes, which, if I haven't said it already, is definitely worth seeing.

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