Welcome to Day 4 of our new series, 73 Sports Movies in 73 Days, which is a celebration of Hollywood’s best and worst interpretations of competitive athletics on the silver screen as we await the 2013 NFL season. So far we’ve dipped into the waters of doofy rom coms, the misogyny of skiing and, of course, arm wrestling for child custody. However, today we are going to turn up the volume of the serious machine by examining gender roles in sports in the 1992 soccer “comedy”, Ladybugs.
Starring the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, the late, young Jonathan Brandis and the unparalleled and immortal Jackée, Ladybugs was the story of a man named Chester Lee, who would do anything to succeed in the rat race of the business world, including forcing his girlfriend’s son to dress as a girl in order to win a youth soccer league.
It was a story of morality and equality, but it was also a reminder that Hollywood has always enjoyed contradicting itself through crossdressing.
The Girl Power Movement of 80s Cinema
During the 1980s, a number of films were produced that promoted the rise to prominence of women not only in the workplace, but society in general. Working Girl featured Melanie Griffith breaking free of the shackles of stereotypes of women as simple-minded assistants, while Baby Boom celebrated Diane Keaton’s ability to be both a mother and a successful businesswoman in the cultural sausage party known as American boardrooms. Even Kelly LeBrock taught us in Weird Science that computer-generated models with bodies that could crumble empires were capable of having bigger, better brains than the pathetic men who created her.
Whereas 1982’s Tootsie showed us that a man who had worn out his welcome in entertainment could simply dress in drag to reclaim his previous success, 1985’s Just One of the Guys suggested the opposite – that a woman dressed as a man could ultimately prove that she was capable of doing anything that we could do, and maybe even better. (Bonus for the reveal scene that altered my life forever.)
For all of the progress that those films made, all it took was Ladybugs to burn the house down at the foundation. Like Tootsie before it and Juwanna Mann after it, Ladybugs essentially told the age-old story that men are always better than women, from the entertainment industry to sports. In this case, Jonathan Brandis changing from Matthew to Martha and dominating a girls’ youth soccer league was perhaps the cause of the nationwide decline in the numbers of girls signing up for organized sports (citation needed).
What About the Positive Lessons?
Of course, some people will ask: “What about the lessons that Chester and Matthew/Martha taught the other girls?” What lessons? As far as I’m concerned, Carmelita Chu could have been well on her way to being the world’s greatest entomologist. She should have been out studying butterflies and discovering new species, but instead she and her teammates were being built up with a false sense of success generated by a crooked businessman and a boy who was too stupid to stay on his own soccer team.
Meanwhile, we were asked to believe that these girls were gifted with self-respect, when it appears to me that they were just offered the attitudes of poor sports. In one of the more noteworthy scenes, Chester proclaims, “I’ve got a lot of balls.”
He sure did, to think that he could deceive so many people and ruin so many lives. Just shameful.
What was Up with Kimberly Mullen Anyway?
The reason that Matthew caved into Chester’s perverted idea to dress him as Martha is because he had a crush on Kimberly Mullen, who also happened to be Chester’s boss’ daughter. But how old was Kimberly supposed to be? There was no way in hell she was the same age as Carmelita, Penny or Sally, so if the Ladybugs played in a league that had a wider age range than most others, why were they unable to recruit more girls of Kimberly’s age? Take the imaginary wedding scene:
Who were those girls? Why weren’t they playing on the team with Kimberly? But let’s say for the sake of it that Kimberly was the same age as the other girls, wouldn’t her parents have had her in modeling school like proper wealthy families? This is just a tragic reminder of the misguided practices of the nouveau riche.
Who Were We Fooling?
Perhaps the answer to my last question is also the answer to this question. Because how could Kimberly not see that this:
Was also this:
Because she was special, obviously. In that case, I may need to retract my earlier statements, but I still believe that my core argument here is as strong now as it was 800 words earlier.
And What’s Up with this Jacket?
Seriously, how high were we in the 90s?
Hollywood’s Role in Cheating
Do I believe that Ladybugs was solely responsible for baseball’s steroid era and the widespread performance-enhancing drug use that occurred in sports from professional football to the Olympics? Of course not. That kind of stuff had been happening for years before this film was released, so it would be foolish to proclaim that it had any role in teaching our adult athletes that cheating was acceptable.
But I do believe that Ladybugs was responsible for teaching children that cheating was justifiable. In fact, when I think back to my Little League Baseball playing days and how there were girls that were better than me, I am now fully convinced that they were boys. They might have even been Jonathan Brandis. Who knows how far his deception went?
About the Director
Did you know that Ladybugs director Sidney J. Furie, now 80-years young, has been directing films since 1959 and was even once nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for The ICPCRESS File? And in 2010, Furie received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of Canada. Most importantly, he directed the entire Iron Eagle series, for which I assume that he was awarded every medal of valor ever created (citation needed).
I can only hope that any clips from Ladybugs were left out of his highlight reel as a means of helping society further plunge this scandalous filth from our collective memory. Only then can we move on together and once again teach our children that the only acceptable form of cheating is the use of anabolic steroids masked by the urine of wild animals.
Final Grade: 1/4 complete lack of respects
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