- YEAR: 2003
- DIRECTOR: Jane Campion
- KEY ACTORS: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo
- CERTIFICATE: 18
- IMDB SCORE: 5.3
- ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 33%
SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ Rewatchability is difficult because I’ve only seen it once but I do want to watch it again so, yes, rewatchable!
✔️ And it does pass the Bechdel Test. Frannie and Pauline may be the only two named female characters but they talk about a lot!
✔️ My God, I definitely want to fuck the cast! They’re just so fucking hot and having seriously hot sex…wow…
✔️ I can also give it a mark for inspiring fantasies. Obviously, a lot of these fantasies existed before I watched this movie – voyeurism, exhibitionism, female dominance, great oral sex – but I now have much more fuel for that fire…!
❌ But I can’t give it a mark for sex positivity. They kill women who like sex! They say the f-word!! (Not fuck). No amount of female masturbation and female gaze can really discount that. Sadly.
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
[Content warning: violence against women, murder]
When thinking about my next Movie Stars post, it really didn’t take me long to choose to focus on Meg Ryan. Appointed America’s Sweetheart by Nora Ephron at the time of When Harry Met Sally, I can’t really believe that I’ve been writing this blog for over two years and have only written about one Meg Ryan film as she has been in so many great films and is the undisputed queen of 80s and 90s romcoms! And while this post is going to be less about my crush on this particular movie star and more about their career in general, there is a lot to say about Meg Ryan, the patriarchy and male gaze. In short, I am fascinated by Ryan and her career.
For me, she has a classic career path for a woman or female presenting actor in Hollywood – she started as the romcom sweetheart, playing lovelorn good girls who are looking for the one, but later, when she tried to take on more sexual or gritty and serious roles, they weren’t nearly so well received and she sort of…drifted away. Now older, there simply aren’t any roles for her and so Ryan has not made a decent movie for ages. The incredibly awkward Parkinson interview while promoting In The Cut suggests that she doesn’t mind taking a backseat, but it feels like such a waste.
Looking at her filmography, Ryan made a movie every year from 1986’s Top Gun through to 1998 and some of these are among the most successful romantic films of all time – When Harry met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail – plus more that I absolutely adore but are perhaps less well known or less critically successful – DOA, Innerspace, Courage under Fire, French Kiss, City of Angels. She’s wholesome. Loveable. Adorable. She’s all those other words that you might use to describe a golden retriever.
But after 2000, this prolific run stopped. Do you think it’s relevant that Ryan turned 40 in 2001? Or is it that she chose to become more explicitly sexual in the new millennium?
An early 2000 movie was Proof of Life, a pretty average film that has become notorious for the affair Ryan had with co-star Russell Crowe. Ridiculously but perhaps not surprisingly, my recollection of this affair has been tainted by the misogynistic coverage at the time – I’d thought that Ryan and Crowe had had a passionate affair that had ended her marriage to Dennis Quaid, who was an innocent victim of her indiscretion. But in reality, Quaid sounds like a scumbag, frequently cheating on her (although Ryan later denies this) and admitting that he struggled with how his wife’s success had eclipsed his. Cool, cool, cool. Not only was their divorce was in progress when Ryan met Crowe and was finalised before their relationship became public, Quaid was also dating other women at the same time without any consequence, which feels like a pretty clear example of how women are held to different standards. Crowe was simply Ryan’s rebound guy – and, honestly, good for her for getting to fuck 2000’s post-Gladiator Russell Crowe! Who among us would have turned him down back then?!
But this ‘scandal’ undoubtedly impacted Ryan’s career: ‘Meg Ryan’s entire career was based on her squeaky clean image…For many fans, a scandalous affair with Russell Crowe didn’t seem to fit with this wholesome version of the actress.’ Ryan described herself as becoming a ‘scarlet woman,’ a process that she claimed to find ‘incredibly liberating,’ describing how she felt ‘utterly free’ now that she was no longer American’s sweetheart. Free to take on roles such as this! Which would be amazing and perhaps worth all of the bad press if it weren’t for the fact that they essentially ended her career.
Which is why I haven’t run a poll for this Meg Ryan post, as I intend to do for most other movie star deepdives – her 90s romcoms are so beloved that even the most sex positive polling group were unlikely to vote for a relatively unknown sexy movie over, say, Sleepless in Seattle, and I really wanted to write about In The Cut! This movie was made after Ryan was labelled with that red A and definitely represents a new direction for her. It’s a feminist erotic thriller with a female director based on a novel by a female writer that interrogates the female gaze, all while Ryan gets it on with Mark Ruffalo and WOW this sounds like an absolutely perfect movie for me and WHY does nobody ever talk about it! I wanted to write about this movie both because it sounded incredible but mainly because it tells us so much about who and what succeeds in Hollywood and, frankly, what the Patriarchy allows women to do.
Because Ryan never liked her wholesome persona: ‘I understood it was a compliment about being lovable…but it also felt like ideas were being projected onto me that had nothing to do with me. The girl next door to what?’ She wasn’t that golden retriever; she’s a fox! But she wasn’t allowed to be a fox. She wasn’t allowed to be sexual and dark because critics and cinema-goers weren’t ready to give up on bouncy and smiley Meg Ryan.
And it is such a shame that this darker or less fluffy side of her was so poorly received because In the Cut is a fascinating and hot movie, and Ryan is so good at being sexual and damaged and I wish we’d seen more of her acting like that. The team from the Fatal Attraction podcast wondered if Ryan had hoped that this new career direction would lead to Oscar-worthy roles, and it must have been devastating for her that this simply didn’t happen.
In the Cut tells the story of Frannie (Ryan), an English teacher who is tutoring a student in a bar when she happens to see a shady stranger getting a blow job in the basement, and she stays to watch. Later, pieces of the girl giving head are found outside Frannie’s apartment and she is introduced to murder cop, Malloy (Ruffalo), who is investigating the serial killer taking these women apart. Of course, Malloy and Frannie fuck and it’s amazing, and Frannie is drawn further and further into danger, ignoring her better instincts in service of life-changing sex. The ending and the outcome of the thriller aspect don’t feel that important, except to say that this feels like another movie where fucked up people find solace in each other, and I loved it!
But sadly, In the Cut does have problems – it follows the same old trope of being a slasher film where women who like sex are the victims of horrendous violence, which is just boring now and accepted as being kind of misogynistic, and it was also such a cliche that she is an English teacher, a safe and good career for a women, to juxtapose shockingly with her new sexual explorations. And from a technical perspective, I found some of the cinematography choices to be jarring or distracting. I loved the use blurring and odd angles or depths of field during the sex scenes but, to me, they felt overused and became distracting at other times.
It’s also notable that the conclusion of the thriller aspect of In The Cut really doesn’t feel important. In this erotic thriller, the thriller part is simply an excuse to make something erotic! And I don’t care about the killer. Was it Malloy? Was it an inexplicably uncredited Kevin Bacon as a weird stalking ex? Or was it Malloy’s partner, a character who felt absolutely unnecessary, other than to be the surprising villain at the end? And it saddened me that there was a surprising amount of laddish banter between Malloy and his partner that included homophobic slurs, fatphobia and quite a lot of misogyny. Was the f-word that freely used in 2003 or was it designed to shock? Either way, it’s aged badly.
None of this matters though because the sex is incredible. Fuck, this movie is hot!
I have had a crush on Mark Ruffalo for a long time. He combines a somewhat overwhelming physical presence with a gentleness that always makes me think of hugging a friendly bear. Strong, potentially dangerous; but soft and could encompass me in his arms. I‘ve always thought that he must smell incredible – musky and masculine – and now I’ve seen a flash of his cock and heard him talk crudely about sex, telling someone that he can be whatever they want him to be, and there’s a chance that he might now be my favourite Avenger.
And I loved loved loved the feminist perspective on this affair. As much as I’ve become familiar with the male gaze, I don’t know that I’ve properly understood the female gaze before but the desire that Campion put up on screen was absolutely something that I recognised and something that I understood and wanted, and it was so powerful to watch. Roger Ebert talks about how Frannie ‘willfully sleepwalks into danger, dreaming of orgasm,’ and while I’ve not nearly been in a situation that dangerous, I can emphasise with sex so good that it makes you make riskier decisions than you would otherwise, orgasms so powerful that you can’t think clearly and have the power to distract you days later. And it is rare to see women on screen being so overtaken by desire. Men are often led by their dicks but women are supposed to be more demure, more submissive and needing persuasion. Or they’re fully objectified dominatrix, pandering to a different vision of male desire. But Ryan/Frannie isn’t either of those – she’s a woman who likes sex. I wish she didn’t have to also be so obviously damaged, but I loved that this was a movie about women who enjoy sex and talk about having sex ‘for the exercise,’ rather than treating it as something sacred.
And it’s more than that. It’s so important to show sex on screen that would provide pleasure for people with vulvas, which is why I disagree with the Fatal Attraction podcast opinion that there was too much masturbation in this movie. It only feels like too much because we so rarely see it otherwise. In comparison to, say, Blue is the Warmest Colour, the sex in In the Cut really feels like sex that would pleasure a vulva – Frannie masturbates face down, grinding her clit against the bed in a way that isn’t at all like porn but is how women tend to wank; Malloy gives her oral sex from behind, something I’ve rarely seen in mainstream movies; and when they do have penetrative sex, not only is condom use explicitly clear and not questioned but Frannie tends to grind down and ride him as she wants and his orgasm seems to be a by-product of her actions, not the target. To me, this was especially obvious when Malloy was handcuffed to the pipe and Frannie was grinding down on him. This was her pleasure; not his. This was what she wanted. And it was intoxicating to watch.
This was where the cinematography choices in In The Cut that I complained earlier about really did work. The blurring created a haze that made the scenes feel sex-drunk and allowed nudity without objectification. The unsteady camera use and rapid cuts created a sense of chaos that meant that moments of stillness or clarity were jarring and incredibly powerful. I’m particularly thinking of a chaotic scene in the police station when the juddering, unfocused filming stopped still on Malloy looking at Frannie and it made my stomach flip like when you look over to see your crush is already looking back at you.
I was also fascinated by the idea that In The Cut simply exaggerates the danger that all women face when having sex with someone new. As a Newstatesman article suggested, the sex between Frannie and Malloy ‘is underscored by the frightening and intoxicating possibility that her voracious lover is, in fact, a serial killer…Then again: isn’t sex always underscored by such possibility?’ In her article, Phillipa Snow talks of the ‘ambient, omnipresent air of sexual threat that exists in traditional heterosexual dynamics’ and how In The Cut ‘is equally masterful in the way it manages to make an argument for its forthright, feminist heroine being turned on by that tension.’
Part of the power of sex is how it requires us to be vulnerable, to take risks and be naked in the presence of another person, and part of the problem with the Patriarchy is that this risk is hugely unbalanced in favour of men. The events surrounding Sarah Everard’s murder earlier this year is just the most recent example of how all women, cis and trans, and AFAB and non-binary people are in danger of violence from men – from police officers and strangers, but also from sexual partners. Again looking to recent events but choosing fiction this time, Promising Young Women made this abundantly clear.
So if Frannie is escaping from her demure old life to explore an overwhelming and overpowering desire, it would feel dangerous even if her partner wasn’t a potential murderer. How many of us have semi-joked that we hope new dates aren’t serial killers, and yet we go anyway? This acknowledgment of pervasive risk and danger, and how it can add to the thrill of an encounter, showed me an understanding of female desire that we just don’t see in movies about women made by men. It’s why I understood Kevin Bacon’s role as her stalker ex and why I wasn’t surprised that Frannie’s student turned violent towards her – in her world, men are violent and obsessive and dangerous, so why should she expect that Malloy would be any different? Why would he ever feel like a risk too far?
Malloy himself is so interesting. To steal a phrase, he ‘oozes sex.’ Obviously, Ruffalo is an attractive man but the choices made in this movie seem to go out of their way to make him unappealing. He’s crude, he’s not a great cop, he’s got that ridiculous moustache, but he has such chemistry with Ryan and has such a powerful screen presence that he becomes even more electric. It’s a trope of its own that the classically ‘less attractive’ man ends up being the best lover and partner – Harry in Sex in the City is the first example to spring to mind – but it’s a trope that does appeal to my feminist instincts. It emphasises that the attraction isn’t only physical, that it is more than skin deep, and that words can be fucking seductive, especially when Malloy, to quote Ebert, ‘is the kind of man who talks about sex in a way that would be offensive if he didn’t deliver so skillfully what he describes so crudely.’ Be still my beating heart…
As an aside, is there any better description of giving good or bad blowjobs as being dependent on the giver’s ‘sense of cock?’ Malloy may be crude but, damn, I want to show him that I have a good sense of cock!
God, I loved this movie! In The Cut contains everything I’d want from a movie – erotic thriller or not – and it makes me wish even more that it was better as it has to join the list of bad movies that I love, rather than undisputedly great movies. But I know that I wanted it to be perfect so that I could get on my righteous high horse about how no one cares about female desire and the work of creative women is sidelined and it shouldn’t be because – look, it’s excellent!!
Except that I do know that it’s a symptom of the Patriarchy that women have to meet a higher bar than men to be considered successful and I should be (and am) angry regardless of whether In The Cut is a perfect movie. I just don’t understand why it has been so completely forgotten – it’s a perfectly adequate erotic thriller AND IT’S SO HOT. It’s about exhibitionism, about how ‘sometimes even when you’re in danger you can still feel horny,’ and the sex is beautifully filmed. It’s an important feminist movie and yet I’d never even heard about it until I started reading about feminist movies and erotic thrillers. In The Cut isn’t even streamed on any of the mainstream services in the UK at the moment! (FYI the DVD is cheap and a worthy investment).
So please watch this film and talk about it, even if you didn’t like it, because it really shouldn’t be forgotten.
NEXT WEEK…a Ralph Fiennes themed guest post!
🍿NEW MOVIE POLL 🎥— Livvy (@sexlovevideo) June 11, 2021
Very excited to announce that @EA_unadorned is writing me another guest review – and he wants to write about Ralph Fiennes. I’ve seen very few of these so which movie should he write about??