Aug 28, 2009

It's all about the women

So we're about halfway through our Mad Men marathon and my main feeling is this: the title is wrong. Its not about the men. Its all about the women. Forgive me if everyone already knows this. Maybe every single reviewer out there has said this until its a cliche — everyone knows Mad Men is about the women — duh — but here are my thoughts.

Partly its to do with period. We are back in the era when men bestrode Madison Avenue like colossi, while the women plot and plan their way through the maze. This makes the female characters, at a rough estimate, about ten times more interesting than the male ones. It's a man's world — they're the fish out of water. Then men are all boorish cardboard cutouts whose sexist zingers fizzle upon launch. They never quite seem to fill the space marked out for them. I was reminded of Phillip Semour Hoffman's saying that the hardest thing about playing a male priest in the fifties was getting the entitlement right: the fact that he could walk into a room and if Meryl Streep was sitting in his chair, she would eject herself from it immediately. He remembered thinking: holy heck, Meryl Streep! and wanted to apologise.

Most of the male acting is a bit like that: they haven't really inhabited the bullish body spaces of these men. They don't fill their suits. (Only John Ham does that.) But the women are all great, from the conniving Christina Hendricks, whose sails through each scene, bosom thrust forward like a ship's prow, to the the mousy secretary with a trick up her sleeve, played by Elizabeth Moss, to the peppermint-voiced January Jones, who delivers a fascinating study of a woman locked into her beauty — both bored and a little puzzled by the power she has been arbitrarily ceded. I've rarely seen someone play a beautiful woman so well, which is to say, not a woman who is beautiful because she happens to be played by a movie star, but a woman whose beauty is a stubborn actual fact, out there in the world, like a third thumb.

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