“Get Hard”: A Hard Look at Sexuality, Gender, and Race in Contemporary Film

Movie Review Blog

The film analyzed in this review was “Get Hard”, released on March 27th, 2015. A bromance through and through, this film is about a well off white man (James King, played by Will Ferrell) who works on Wall Street. He is quite wealthy and has an attractive fiancé- he seems to have achieved the much alluded to American dream. His life becomes uncharacteristically turbulent when he is accused of corruption and embezzlement and is sentenced to 10 years in a high security prison, San Quentin. He has 30 days to get his affairs in order before his sentence begins. During this time, James elects to hire the African American man who cleans his car (Darnell, played by Kevin Hart) to teach him about prison- as he assumes he has been to prison. Darnell, thinking this proposition is ridiculous, accepts as James offers him enough money that he would be able to afford to send his daughter to a safer school. Hilarity ensues as Darnell teaches James about prison from the stereotypes and rumors he knows about prison. Inevitably the two become great friends and James survives prison using all of his new found knowledge.

This film was directed by Etan Cohen in his directorial debut. This is quite apparent as the film is quite blasé and relies heavily on tired, old stereotypes typical of the bromance genre. Heterosexual male bonding is the underlying theme, with homophobic humor added in to keep the protagonists’ heterosexual identities clear. Women are demoted to minor roles where they are given little if any character development, mostly stuck in stereotypical roles. This film uses tired, overused bromance clichés to make a profit. It includes the typical elements of heterosexual male bonding, homophobic humor, minimalization of women, and insensitivity towards race relations.

This is a “bromance” through and through. The combination of heterosexual male bonding with explicit (and implicit) homophobic humor described by Hansen-Miller & Gill (2011) saturates this film:

“Homophobic humor [found in bromance films] serves consistently to disavow and deflect the homoerotic potential among characters or between male audiences and those on screen. The use of humor for this purpose in cinema is well documented, alongside other standard ‘devices’ such as the presence of an attractive woman to ‘reassure’ viewers of the protagonists’ heterosexuality. However, instances of homophobic humor in the films invite further analysis as they become remarkable for their intensity-which gives the films an almost hysterical feel- and their heavily ironized status” (Hansen-Miller & Gill, pgs. 44-45).

Even the film’s title (“Get Hard”) is a nod toward poking fun at homosexuality. While receiving “prison training” from Darnell, James frequently thanks him for “making me hard”. In one scene Darnell convinces James he needs to learn how to perform oral sex on men in order to survive prison. They visit a restaurant frequented by gay people and James solicits a man for sex. He agrees to perform oral sex on this man but ultimately chickens out after a very awkward and squeamish almost-sex scene. The running line is that homosexuality is foreign, undesirable, something different from traditional masculinity, and therefore something to be ridiculed and disgusted by.


The representation of women in this film also provides an interesting look into current cultural representations of women. James’ finance, Allisa, could potentially be viewed as post-feminist. In one of the first scenes of this film, Allisa corners James in their house, brings him into their bedroom, and undresses for him down to her complicated and sexy lingerie. She then starts making out with him and attempting to smooth talk him into buying a new house to raise their (future) children in. She uses her sexuality to get what she wants- which, as it turns out, are pretty traditional things (big house, kids). “Women are not straight-forwardly objectified but are portrayed as active, desiring sexual subjects who choose to present themselves in a seemingly objectified manner because it suits their liberated interests to do so” (Gill, pg. 151). From this perspective, it can be seen that Allisa chooses to present herself as sexual in order to pursue her own interests. All we know about this woman is the way she looks and that she is manipulative.

In considering other women in “Get Hard”, this film definitely does not pass the Bechdel test. None of the handful of women in this film are developed at all. Female characters are mostly limited to stereotypes- James’ Mexican maid, his traditionally attractive, gold-digging fiancé, racist white biker chicks, black girls who are adept at twerking. Only one female character goes against stereotypes- Darnell’s wife, who appears put together, level-headed, and to be a good mother. She goes against how black women have been traditionally portrayed in film. As Jacqeuline Bobo explains, black people have traditionally been written into the “exotic other” role:

“The characteristics of the myth of the exotic primitive are these: (a) Black people are naturally childlike […] (b) Black people are oversexed, carnal sensualists dominated by violent passions; and (c) Black people are savages taken from a culture relatively low on the scale of human civilization” (Bobo, pg. 216).

Darnell’s wife goes against these stereotypes. In addition, she does not fit the traditional mamy/temptress dichotomy where black women are either desexualized or over-sexualized.

The film attempted to portray the stereotypical black experience (thugs, drugs, time in prison) and contrast it to a “normal” life. Undertones of colonialism are present in this film. James uses Darnell for his (assumed) knowledge of prison knowledge, much as colonials used African resources for their own desires and goals. Darnell represents the strange “other” who is both threatening but useful for the different resources it offers (Bashore, Desai, & Mackenzie).

Height and dress highlight class separation

Height and dress highlight class separation

I saw this film at the AMC theatre in Roseville. It is a large building adjacent to Rosedale mall. This entire area is highly commercial-based. Located in Roseville, this theatre sees many suburbanites- adults on dates, high school students. My ticket at $8 was more than I would have liked to have paid but was not a surprising price. The showing I attended was in the evening on a Tuesday. Some individuals were very comfortable in the space and treated the public as private. One couple located in the back row chose to give each other foot rubs during the movie. By the end of the film, one individual had laid down in the back across several chairs. People laughed out loud at jokes and during comedic scenes. People seemed to be relatively respectful with regards to cell phone usage and talking. This may have been attributable to social mores.

Prior to the trailers for soon to be released films, an advertisement was shown for refreshments. Animated red balls, which moved and made comical noises, which apparently were meant to be viewed as “cute”, were shown going to the movies and getting soft drinks out of a special vending machine, apparently one of which was located in the theatre. They were also seen happily eating popcorn. After this advertisement for refreshments, approximately 6 previews for upcoming films were shown.

Watching a movie in a theatre personally made me more involved in it. I have paid to be here, I am here on purpose, and there really aren’t many distractions. Therefore, I am very observant of this film. If I were to watch this at home, I may be multitasking and not devoting my full attention to this film. Being in a completely dark space encouraged a singular focus on the film and the voyeuristic gaze inherent in film viewing. Approaching this film from the mindset of a critic who intends to analyze the content was definitely different from the average movie-going experience. The film was undeniably funny, but any examination finds problematic representations of sexuality, gender, and race.

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