Playing for Keeps
I’m not sure who, exactly, but someone involved in the making of Playing for Keeps has some serious, deep-seated issues with women. It may be writer Robbie Fox, or it may be director Gabriele Muccino — an Italian man, in case that isn’t clear, or it may even be the producer and star Gerard Butler himself. Yes, with a very few rare exceptions romantic comedies are not exactly the best place to find enlightened treatments of either sex, but is goes really above and beyond in a way I haven’t seen since What Women Want.
The story is straightforward: George (Butler) is a former world-class soccer star who has, since retirement, burned through all he might have built up. He moves to McLean, Virginia (Shreveport, Louisiana), where his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) grew up and now lives with their son (Noah Lomax) and her new fiancé. He rents a guest house from a voyeuristic rich guy (Iqbal Theba) and immediately starts ducking the rent. About the only thing he has left going for him is that he looks like Gerard Butler, and that’s more than enough.
In an obvious move, he takes over as coach of his kid’s soccer team, catching the eye of all the soccer moms in a scene that seems to have been lifted from a shampoo commercial to judge by the looks they give him. Chief among them are the recently divorced basket-case (Judy Greer) who throws herself at George, the cougarish former sportscaster (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who might be able to help George with his career, and the wealthy, erratic, bribe-happy Carl (Dennis Quaid) who draws George into the bizarre psychodrama he plays out with his equally erratic wife, Patti (Uma Thurman). They’re all cardboard cutout characters, and the writing and directing do them no favors beyond standing them up around George.
All of which says nothing about the woman he really wants: his ex-wife, who has no real agency of her own. Yes, the movie flirts with the idea of consequences that the charming man can’t simply earn his way out of by becoming the right sort of person, but why would we want the female lead to have any sort of choice in the matter. When push comes to shove and George asks her to follow him to Connecticut, the obstacle isn’t that she has a life or a career of her own in Virginia — without which how does she afford a McMansion in Fairfax County, by the way — but that she has a placeholder man that needs to be shrugged off first. She literally does not exist outside of the context of a man, and she is passed to George as a replacement for the kinds of trophies he used to win for playing soccer.
So remember, kids: most women are flighty, or predatory, or just plain crazy, and those that aren’t are your well-deserved reward for quitting acting like a child before you turn fifty. Thus saith Playing for Keeps.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.