Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Is there a Date Rape Joke in ‘Observe and Report?’

posted by Nell Minow

Observe and Report is a bleak, harsh, disturbing, violent, and transgressive movie about a mall security guard who is often delusional. Billed as a comedy, it has some funny moments, though most of the laughs come from outrageousness rather than wit. While on this site the comments have mostly focused on the nudity in the film (extended and very explicit footage of a male flasher), elsewhere there has been a lot of focus on another issue.
In the midst of a frankly and unabashedly offensive film, one moment has attracted a lot of attention. Ronnie, the movie’s leading character has gone on what he thinks of as a date with Brandi, a woman who works at a department store cosmetic counter at the mall. She thinks of it less as a date than as a free meal, and she quickly gets high on alcohol and his prescription medication. By the time he takes her home, she is close to unconscious. At her doorway, she throws up and he declares passionately, “I accept you” and kisses her. Cut to the two of them having sex. She has apparently passed out. He hesitates, and without moving, she (with strong profanity) urges him to continue. Does this, as some people say, make the sex consensual? Or, given how impaired the character is, can there be such a thing as consent? Is this scene so much more offensive than the rest of the film, which includes extreme, graphic, gratuitous and consequenceless violence and a substance-abusing mother whose biggest laugh line may be when she casually confides that she used to sleep with all her son’s friends in high school?
The members of the Association of Women Film Journalists have an online discussion about whether this scene is a date rape joke. Katey Rich of Cinemablend says:
Is date rape funny? Of course not. But Observe and Report is a movie that gets laughs when its main character hits children, does heavy drugs, makes racist jabs and shoots a harmless man in the chest at point blank range. The date rape scene is just one of many, many awful things that Ronnie does, and the scene is so powerful and, yes, funny, because it’s such a huge moment of crossing the line.
I do worry that people will see the movie and think “Oh, she’s giving consent, it’s fine!” But I don’t think that’s the point- Jody Hill and Seth Rogen are making a satire about American masculinity and specifically about this deranged character, and they don’t support half of what he does.


A male point of view from Edward Douglas of Comingsoon.net:
But the thing people are forgetting (or deliberately ignoring) is that there is a huge chunk of time that is cut out of the movie where we don’t know what happens…. yes, she’s totally trashed, but we don’t know what she says or does after they start kissing in the driveaway to prompt him to be on top of her like that… people are just assuming that she just passed out and he’s taking advantage of that. I get the impression that he’s so enamored with her that he would never make that sort of move unless prompted and he’s so messed up already (bipolar, delusions of grandeur) that his perceived feelings and confusion about what to do in that situation makes him make the wrong decision.
In Entertainment Weekly and elsewhere Anna Faris has said that she did not expect the scene to make it into the final version of the film.
“I think people are laughing because I’m not being full on date-raped,” says Faris. “I’m not sure it makes things much better,” she says, with an earnest grimace, “but we don’t need to go down that road.”
Her co-star does not share her qualms.
Nobody is more surprised that a mainstream studio like Warner Brothers would release such dark fare than Rogen himself. “I can’t believe it,” says the 26-year-old actor. “I watch this movie and I can’t believe they let us do it. My favorite types of comedies are the ones that literally make me think of the infrastructure of the company that made them. It’s like when I first started watching South Park. How were they allowed to do this? What company is funding this?”
Rogen says that the studio raised questions about other parts of the film but not about this scene.
The blogosphere is weighing in. On Huffington Post, film critic Scott Mendelson says,
As for the ‘date rape’ scene, it’s pretty cut and dry date rape, especially from a legal point of view. The humor, if you choose to find it funny, comes from A) wow… he really is a loser and B) wow… he honestly thinks that he had a wonderfully romantic evening. It’s perfectly logical in terms of how Ronnie sees the world (he of course thinks of it as a magical night). Audiences who watch the film and think ‘that’s awesome, he got her drunk/drugged up and had sex on her barely conscious, vomiting body’ have their own issues. I’m pretty sure most intelligent folks will think ‘he got her drunk and had sex on her barely conscious, vomiting body… that’s sad and pathetic’. And even if they don’t, that’s not the responsibility of the filmmakers.
Tiger Beatdown posts one of the strongest objections, drawing on her own experience as a survivor of a sexual assault. And Women in Hollywood says “Rape is not funny. Ever.”
My view is that within the context of the movie, it is not intended to be rape. When we see them together earlier, Ronnie awkwardly sort of pats Brandi on the head. It is clear that he is awkward and tentative around women in general and especially around her. There is never any suggestion of his behaving toward her in an aggressive manner. During the sex scene, his hesitation and her response demonstrate that she had consented and continued to consent. Was that consent impaired by substance abuse? Legally, probably. But in the context of the film, no.
I disagree with the comment-posters who think that the male nudity is degrading, and I believe the sex scene is not a rape joke. As my review shows, I did not like the movie and do not recommend it. It scarcely deserves this level of scrutiny and analysis — apparently much of it from people who have not seen it. There are many reasons to skip the film and it is worth making sure people skip it for the right ones.
It has been a long time since “The Philadelphia Story,” where a woman asks a man why he did not take advantage of her the night before and he says, “You were extremely attractive, and as for distant and forbidding, on the contrary. But you also were a little the worse – or the better – for wine, and there are rules about that.” Those were the days — and that is still a good standard to aspire to.



  • http://rolandhulme.blogspot.com Roland Hulme

    I don’t think it was meant to make light of ‘date rape’ either – as you correctly identified it, it was a scene which reinforced Ronnie’s pathetic ‘date’ and his self-delusion.

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