Lesbians Love Cool Jack

Spike Lee's latest beautiful mess

She hate Lee? Well, there's certainly a lot to take him to task for, but right now this occasional hater is going through a Spike renaissance. Somehow, on the near-bleeding edge of global chaos, Lee's disjointed narratives, visual swoops, dogmatic ire, bigger-than-bigot stereotypes, and general squandering of his own quandaries are hitting me so right that She Hate Me brought me close to tears. And I was still holding a grudge over the distended and pretentious 25th Hour. But She Hate Me reminded me that with Lee, structural discrepancy is often part of the message. I'm thinking of how 25th Hour's actors never settle into their roles; how drug dealer Edward Norton has no chemistry with girlfriend Rosario Dawson, who never seems naive or canny enough to validate the plot's weak twists; the way the "club" looks like a talk show set and Anna Paquin is less Lolita than short-circuited sex-bot; about the risibility of Norton's pals smashing his face so he won't get poked in the pokey; about the time-lapse ending enshrining Norton and Dawson as race-melding breeders. But now I'm imagining that all of this confounding wrongness is meant to indict the ill-fitting roles we all play, our reductive assumptions, our dull, received ambitions.

Of course, Spike Lee movies always demand coming to terms with wrongness. And She Hate Me is a mess. The plot concerns pharmaceutical executive Jack Armstrong (a consternated Anthony Mackie) who, after being fired for blowing the whistle on his company's plan to market a fake AIDS vaccine, is pressed into service by his lesbian ex-girlfriend (Kerry Washington), who wants him to impregnate her, her partner Alex (Dania Ramirez), and lots of their gorgeous gay girlfriends for 10 grand a pop. Really, that's the plot. Though She Hate Me has been posited as the third in a trilogy about female sexuality, beginning with the director's debut She's Gotta Have It and continuing with the phone-sexy Girl 6, it also fits in well with his other tales of besieged businessmen like Bamboozled's Pierre Delacroix or Jungle Fever's Flipper Purify. As usual, Lee's "strong women" wield sexuality as a means of control. Also, as usual, his understanding of homosexuality is woefully off base--witness the parade of Sapphic librarian hotties, hood rats, and Italian beauty queens balling the grim Jack with sudden freak-a-leek fervor. Their fascination with his love toy is a wacko conversion fairy tale (sessions with indecisive customers ensure that rape fantasies are accommodated too). And of course, whatever jabs that Lee was intending for Jack's Enron-esque corporate malefactors are quickly buried by this porn-tastic twist. Same goes for a didactic interlude equating Jack's attempt to do the right thing with the historical predicament of one Frank Mills, a black security guard who died in destitution after busting the Watergate burglars. Another bizarre micro-plot that gives John Turturro a chance to trot out a verbatim Godfather impression is even further afield.

But somehow this jumble of dangling plot threads creates a mood of genuinely moving desperation. As storylines fall through the cracks while Jack wearily gobbles Viagra to pay the rent, there's a Kafka-esque menace, a sense of rending fault lines. And as with 25th Hour, maybe that's the plan. The real topic here is shifting moral sands in both business and sexual life. When it comes to gender politics and reproductive economics, She Hate Me confronts male vulnerability honestly. Lee knows that professional women who want children may not want a man in their lives. And as Jack dutifully pumps away, the director seems to be wondering how this power shift affects the erotics of sex, what it might mean if the promiscuity he preached with She's Gotta Have It were confined to an all-female closed system. He ponders how a burgeoning sperm market could change the way male self-worth is measured. And for proponents of a constitutional amendment to save hetero unions, he contrasts Jack's parents' marriage, in a period of woefully bitter détente, with the sexy and fertile same-sex partnership of Fatima and Alex. Even a weird resolution that has Jack and the women forming a smoochy parental troika leaves Jack outside the core sexual equation.

Lipstick lesbians in line for man meat (?): A scene from 'She Hate Me'
Sony Pictures Classics
Lipstick lesbians in line for man meat (?): A scene from 'She Hate Me'

That said, Spike still doesn't know women (one scene finds an embarrassingly complicit Monica Bellucci moaning that she can feel Jack's sperm meet her egg. What?), and you gotta wonder how it's still okay to show two live births and not one naked schlong. But She Hate Me is discombobulated enough to make room for tough questions, and unbalanced enough that its flashes of intimacy--backed by suspended jazz piano chords--seem like life rafts in a moral storm.

 
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