Director: Joey Sylvester
Screenplay: Rick Karatas, Tom Archdeacon
Producers: Rick Karatas, Tom Archdeacon
Starring: Nathaniel Marston, Tom Archdeacon, Tom Arnold, Dee Wallace
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 87 min
‘Generation Sex respects the rights of girls who want to take their clothes off, as long as we can all watch, that’s ok.’ So sang The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon back in 1998. It strikes me that our attitude towards the gay community follows much the same pattern. We live in more enlightened times for sure yet we never seem more willing to accept homosexuals unless they’re mincing, flailing, squealing and generally living up to all the crass stereotypes imposed upon them. Which is why it is so surprising that Breaking Glass Pictures chose to follow their recent release of the classy gay-themed drama The Seminarian with the distinctly unclassy comedy Walk a Mile in My Pradas.
Defenders of this kind of film would no doubt cite the fact that it is not meant to be taken totally seriously. The title alone should flag this up. And yet, if you’re going to take on a serious topic such as homophobia, it might be an idea not to do it in a way that perpetuates pretty much every negative stereotype imaginable in the name of cheap laughs which desperately aspire to meaningful satire. Walk a Mile in My Pradas immediately makes its approach apparent in a sledgehammer opening scene in which a young boy is forced to write ‘Gay is Evil’ on a blackboard by a leering homophobic nun. We all know the rocky relationship between religion and homosexuality but this sort of screeching oversimplified depiction was old hat decades ago and it immediately feels offensive and stupid.
From here, Walk a Mile in My Pradas seems to set out to alienate everyone. The basic plot concerns a bullheaded straight man named Tony who is forced to work alongside a gay man named Steve (whose sexuality is easily identifiable by his Prada shoes, of course). Tony is repulsed and makes no attempt to hide this, until a heated argument at a Christmas party results in a magic angel ornament granting a wish that the two men swap sexuality. Suddenly Tony finds himself attracted to men while Steve can’t stop staring at women. Hilarity devastatingly fails to ensue.
The premise has very little promise and immediately calls to mind the cheesy 80s subgenre of body swap comedies. Accordingly, the characters are all drawn boldly and without nuance but that’s nothing to the grotesques they become once they swap sexuality. Apparently, being gay means you suddenly become a prancing goon obsessed with cooking and shoes, while being straight immediately gives you motor-mechanic skills, a passion for sports and a slovenly appearance. These ridiculous stereotypes provide the basis for almost all the comedy and the only way this could have been carried out successfully is if it were done with a knowing wink that acknowledged its own ridiculousness. Instead, it is done with the brazen ignorance of those people in your office who make blatantly sexist comments and then plead tomfoolery in the face of their obvious bigotry.
Of course, Walk a Mile in My Pradas doesn’t stop there. It seems intent on offending everyone based on more than just sexuality. There’s the aforementioned nun of course, who stands as a 30 second sketch of religion, but there is also that old comedy staple, the desperate fat woman. See her throw herself at any man she sees. Laugh as a poor unfortunate gets caught under the mistletoe with this slobbering leviathan. Slap your knee in jocular merriment as she gets lumbered with a comedy payoff amongst everyone else’s happy ending, in which a gay man sleeps with her but thinks of a man the whole time. It’s classic Hollywood mean-spiritedness but made all the more conspicuous by being in a low-budget independent film. Oh, did I mention that character is also depicted as insanely stupid, so much so that she beleive homophobia to be a fear of houses. And that is honestly built up in a way that suggests the writers thought it was the best line in the film.
So is Desperate Rotunda the most offensive stereotype in Walk a Mile in My Pradas? I’m afraid she’s pipped at the post by Predatory Gay Man, a bathroom lothario who simply won’t take no for an answer when he finds himself trapped in a toilet cubicle with Tony. It’s a horrendous scene which depicts gay bar patrons as lascivious sex monsters (we also see a middle-aged, overweight gay man who comes on strong minutes earlier, combining the two worst stereotypes in the film and throwing in age for good measure).
We’ve seen all these offensive bits in any number of films over the years but rarely with such relentlessness as in Walk a Mile in My Pradas. And here there is not even the respite of the odd belly laugh or amusing quip. The script is totally devoid of any sort of wit or charm and even its more dramatic character scenes are flimsy. An early scene aims for greater character depth by showing Tony is not all bad because he can reject the advances of a beautiful woman in favour of the fiance he loves. Unfortunately it is tremendously poorly written, acted and directed. There’s no build up, the woman simply comes on strong from the very second their conversation begins. Although the pair are depicted as old acquaintances, it’s totally unbelievable and the writing seems to be rushing to get its point across and move on at the expense of credibility.
Too often Walk a Mile in My Pradas seems to be preaching against bigotry while indulging in it too. It can’t get away with pleading with us not to be mean to people based on their sexuality alone one minute and then urging us to have a laugh at the fat, lonely girl who thinks she might be bulimic but ‘keeps forgetting to throw up’ the next. Based on this alone I’m ready to declare it one of the worst films I’ve ever seen and that’s not even touching on the acting, which ranges from barely adequate to abominable (Kirsten Lea as Sarah walks away with the dubious honour of worst performance in a film brimming with contenders). I genuinely find these kind of films dangerous, depressing and loathsome. Walk a Mile in My Pradas is meant to be light whimsy. One utterly ridiculous but comparatively inoffensive scene late on threatens to turn into Nuns on the Run. By this point, that seemed like an inviting transformation!