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The Rock’s Newest Movie Is Like ‘Die Hard,’ But In A Really, Really Big Building

Film

‘Skyscraper’ is out tomorrow

When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s movie career really hit a stride about seven years ago, he quickly developed a reputation, memorialized in a Saturday Night Live monologue, as “franchise Viagra”—a movie star whose addition to sequels like The Fast and the Furious, Journey to the Center of the Earth, G.I. Joe, and, most recently, Jumanji could give those series some extra resilience. Johnson performed this trick enough times that even his “original” movies have this feel. Many of his recent movies resemble generically chintzy reiterations of brand names, promoted to the A-list with his help: San Andreas is a Roland Emmerich knockoff, while Rampage (despite its video game roots) is a poor man’s King Kong/Godzilla riff. His new movie Skyscraper similarly resurrects a ’90s go-to: This is Die Hard in a building, which is exactly what regular Die Hard was in the first place. But this is, like, a really, really big building.

There are plenty of reasons why Johnson is not quite right for a Die Hard variation in 2018; hell, the most recent Die Hard sequel suggests that Bruce Willis is no longer right for the job, either. But the one that Skyscraper accidentally hones in on has to do with vulnerability. The movie tries to give Johnson’s character, Will Sawyer, some dimension, or at least reason to believe he’s not necessarily a Rock-grade superhuman. Will is a former FBI agent haunted by a mistake that cost lives, now trying to make a living as a security consultant. He’s also an amputee, having lost one of his legs during his final FBI raid. When he’s brought in to assess the security of the newly constructed tallest building in the world, he’s not expecting to break back into the building to rescue his wife (Neve Campbell) and their two kids from a fire started by terrorists. 

Of course, that’s exactly what happens, not unlike the way off-duty cop John McClane fights his way through an office building to save his semi-estranged wife after she’s taken hostage. (But, you know, bigger.) But in Die Hard, McClane’s fractured marriage adds texture to his crazy risk-taking, and some regular guy bona fides to his heroism. In Skyscraper, Sawyer’s family is a multi-part accessory. The movie avoids the now-hokey notion that the hero will prove his mettle as a family man by jumping through fiery hoops to save them, but leaves nothing interesting in its place. The fake movie kids seem like they’re there mostly because (a) they provide more endangerment opportunities than just one wife or kid and (b) Johnson has daughters of his own in real life.

This calculation may be why Johnson, engaging and charismatic as he is (and he is—few stars are so good at making junky movies watchable without much backup), doesn’t have a persona that feels as full or as human as his obvious antecedents like Tom Cruise or Will Smith. Maybe because he makes a fair number of family films (something Cruise or Smith haven’t done much of), Johnson’s characters tend to be heavily domesticated, even (or especially!) if they’re not actually married. This is treated as a cute joke in the Fast & Furious movies, where his super-agent Hobbs also coaches his daughter’s soccer team. But elsewhere in mid-period Rock, it’s just a given. In San Andreas, he also sets out to rescue his daughter. Even if he’s not specifically a family man, he tends to stay as celibate as a twelve-year-old boy: In Rampage, he shows pointedly little interest in the advances of a comely admirer.

Put together, these movies position their star as a sexless figure beyond reproach, with symbols of human trappings more than fully felt humanity—still more The Rock than Dwayne Johnson. Though it’s not fair to knock a movie for its marketing campaign, it does seem telling that the poster for Skyscraper prominently displays Johnson’s wedding-ringed finger, rather than, you know, his actual wife and kids. In the movie itself, Campbell has an obligatory moment of ass-kicking (spoiler: she fights the female baddie about who, within five minutes of her first appearance, you figure, “Oh, the Rock isn’t going to beat up a woman, so they’ll have his wife do it”), and her character handles herself well as a crisis. But not being The Rock, she doesn’t have a clearly expressed persona, so her capabilities feel like an extension of her husband. Yes, the movie wants you to think, our hero has chosen a worthy partner.

There’s nothing wrong with Johnson not making movies with fraught marriage subtext, or even with his seeming lack of interest in romantic comedy. Cruise and Smith didn’t exactly make their names on romances—though they have tried it, with relationship-based movies like Jerry Maguire and Hitch repping two of their biggest hits. Moreover, Cruise, whose Mission: Impossible building-jumping Skyscraper replicates without the gravity of genuine life-risking (and with the cheap move of audience reaction shots!), also has made movies that comment on his persona, while Smith doesn’t always play a cocky proto-superhero these days. Those are leaps that professional leaper and runner Johnson doesn’t seem so willing to make.

Skyscraper, like nearly any movie starring The Rock, is watchable, sometimes enjoyably stupid, and even occasionally well-crafted; writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber does a decent job of building up to its big trailer-spoiled jumping stunt, adding on logistical complications in a way that does briefly recall the likes of Mission: Impossible. But given Thurber’s history as a slapdash comedy director (including Johnson’s own likably slapdash Central Intelligence), it’s hard not to picture his star coaching him through the whole ordeal: “You made Dodgeball, brother! You got this! The audience is gonna love it!” Skyscraper isn’t a very good movie, but it’s made with disarming confidence. Maybe Johnson doesn’t have any real on-screen relationships because he’s too busy psyching everyone up at once.

Skyscraper is out in theatres on June 13.

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Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.