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22 Sep 2006

John Tucker Must Die

You think John Tucker Must Die is a mindless piece of heterosexual American high-school garbage? Guess again - there's a hidden subversive subtext of lesbian terrorism running through this movie - or at least, this reviewer thinks so.

Director: Betty Thomas

Starring: Jesse Metcalfe, Brittany Snow, Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle Kebbel

I love brainless movies. But I refuse to let them to make me stupid. It's my mantra that all films - especially the brainless ones - should be watched intelligently, examining them as reflections of our post-millennial culture.

When three popular girls from different cliques discover they've all been dating the school stud played by Jesse Metcalfe (top pic), they band together to seek revenge. Bottom pic: Arielle Kebbel, Brittany Snow, Sophia Bush and Ashanti.
Which is why I can't dismiss John Tucker Must Die as just another pointless celebration of the oversexed American teenager. Sure, it's a high-school comedy, starring pretty, puffy young people, including the studly Jesse Metcalfee from Desperate Housewives, Arielle Kebbel from Aquamarine and the Grammy Award-winning pop singer Ashanti. And yes, the trailers make it look trashy - three girls fighting over a boy? Per-lease, Mary, how air-headed can you get?

But John Tucker is also, I'll argue, a post-feminist lesbian fantasy. Let me explain. The movie starts off as three popular schoolgirls - the head cheerleader Heather, the school brainiac Carrie, and the animal rights activist Beth, all realise they're all dating the same guy. This revelation happens in gym class - and the outcome is a no-holds barred, hair-pulling catfight.

It's a common device in literature and film to disguise gay desire by having both lovers outwardly competing for the same partner of the opposite sex. That means that two men who're hot for each other pretend to be chasing the same woman - or two girls pretend to be chasing the same man. It's been described by queer theorist Eve Sedgwick Kosofsky in her book Between Men, and besides, it's no accident that straight men can find a catfight titillating - with all their passionate, full-body contact, these battles aren't so different from pornographic images of lesbian sex.

But the main plot of John Tucker hinges on how the three girls make peace, working together to bring down the cheating ex-boyfriend, John himself. That means they've rejected the heterosexual model of prom dates and corsages, opting for power through sisterhood instead. Western feminism is focussed on exactly that - coming together regardless of all races and backgrounds, banding together to work against the dominant male power system, which the rich and socially influential John Tucker obviously represents.

And the girls go one step further - they pimp up the school wallflower, Kate, to seduce John Tucker and ruin his life; to be a foreign infiltrator into the world of heterosexual dating. And while she plays the confused, goody-two-shoes ing'nue the audience is supposed to identify with, I'm more intrigued by the trio of Heather, Beth and Carrie. These three are hell-bent on sabotaging the manipulative system of romance that hurt them so much. These girls trick their ex into wearing women's lingerie, even feeding him oestrogen pills so he starts weeping and complaining about hurt feelings during a game - basically, they're turning this macho, all-star basketball champion into a woman. If that's not lesbian terrorism, what is?

If that's all too theoretical for you, then consider how we're repeatedly presented with scenes of eroticism between women. A lot of this appears under the guise of play-acting - the girls train Kate to play hard to get by pretending to be John, grasping her firmly by the shoulder and butchly asking her, "What do you want to do tonight?" And in the movie's most sensational moment (the row of kids behind me screamed at this point), Beth subjects Kate to mouth-on-mouth kissing practice in John Tucker's car - and gets caught at it, too.

It's also the little moments - licking chocolate icing off each other's fingers, sizing up Kate's appearance in naughty underwear - that make this more than the typical heterosexual teenage romantic film. The girls are tracking Kate's every move and gesture towards John by video camera and interview, analysing her obsessively - in the end, it's not about them dating John, they're dating Kate.

You might think I'm reading way too much into this film. But trust me, I'm pretty sure director Betty Thomas knew precisely what she was doing - after all, she's acted as a policewoman on Hill Street Blues and featured openly lesbian characters in Private Parts and The Brady Bunch Movie. Back in 1998, she even tried (unsuccessfully) to get funding to film The Dreyfus Affair, a gay romance between two major-league baseball players. This is not a woman who films lesbian subtext by accident. And how else should we read the pro-vegetarianism banner held up by Beth and her friends in the opening scenes, reading "Chicks For Chicks?"

Mind you, I'm not claiming this movie as revolutionary - hell no; if we're just talking about American high-school movies, Mean Girls was much more vocal about condemning homophobia, and outside the mainstream, few things can beat the pro-gay, affirmative spirit of Saved or But I'm a Cheerleader.

This show's a post-feminist fantasy - it doesn't openly celebrate the ideals of feminism or gay liberation, it just takes the images of gay and feminist movements and plays silly games with them. You could call that exploitation, but I think it's a good thing.

Lots of movies contain subversive sexual hidden messages if you watch them closely - which means that unknown to our beloved government censors, there are a lot more gay movies out there than they could possibly imagine. So don't be brainless next time you go to the cinema. Figure out your own love stories.

Reader's Comments

Comment #1 was deleted by its author
Comment #2 was deleted by its author
3. 2006-09-22 23:46  
I caught this movie cos' i'm bored, and only a few people is there.
I'm Totally Shocked when two gals kissed each other..
I kinda shouted cos' too exicited..

Kate's HOT~
And seeing her frenching is even hotter..
4. 2006-09-23 02:23  
Well, i watched dis movie cos my lil sis bought it n being a teen myself, i've watched pretty much teenage comedies (knowing dat they can be really silly sumtimes yet still pretty entertaining) but i dun tink i've ever analysed a movie dis way. Lol. After watchin dis movie, i recommended it to my friends cos i found it pretty funny. I liked da playin-bball-wif-thongs-will-give-u-more-air part. It's like he can turn black to white n vice versa. Da frenching part is pretty nice but majority of teenage comedies have lil bits of scenes like dis so i wasn't really surprised. Btw, Beth is HOT! =P lol
5. 2006-09-25 16:33  
Its JESSE Metcalf honey!
6. 2006-12-18 11:29  
John Tucker must NOT die!

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