A Megan Fox Comparison: Why ‘This Is 40’ Isn’t an Improvement on ‘Transformers’

A Megan Fox Comparison: Why ‘This Is 40’ Isn’t an Improvement on ‘Transformers’

Jan 24, 2013

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This is 40 still

Megan Fox is on the new cover of Esquire. The tease: “Megan Fox (You’re Welcome.),” followed by a second subhead stating: “Did we mention Megan Fox?” The magazine frames the story as more of the same: Megan Fox being hot. But as the Internet learned last week, that’s a jumping point for ludicrous hyperbolic praise that flows in and out of religious imagery ranging from Aztec sacrifices to the Antichrist.

Celebrity is a ritualistic sacrifice writer Stephen Marche heartily endorses as he calls Fox’s facial symmetry “shocking” and “sublime,” while listening to the actress talk about feeling “powerless” as a sex symbol: “I didn't feel powerful. It ate every other part of my personality, not for me but for how people saw me, because there was nothing else to see or know. That devalued me. Because I wasn't anything. I was an image. I was a picture. I was a pose."

Megan Fox on EsquireHe positions Fox as a savior of Hollywood, the necessary “bombshell” the industry must consume to keep its sexual creativity in a world where beauty is trumped by "plain Janes" like Lena Dunham, Adele, Lady Gaga and Amy Adams, who are successful and seriously respected because they’re “homely or cute.” (It’s becoming a mantra for the writer, who has also written about the “sobering” “rise of women and fall of men.”) Fox is an endangered buffalo, he argues, one who can help inspire the business like the “hugely fecund women” inspired classic European art. Marche calls her “the last American bombshell,” the person who needs to be saved from the corrupt world. Her son’s name is Noah, and as Marche spots a Byztantine icon of Christ in her home, he can’t help but tout her as the piece of the world worth saving: “Noah and his family are the only ones who escape the general destruction of the corrupt world.”

As the writer places himself in the shoes of the Aztecs hungry to use another’s beauty for their own interests, Fox fights against it. She is, in his words, “trying to contain it [her sex appeal], channel it, and make it work for her, not others.” She’s said she doesn’t want her son to see her in a bikini. She’s trying to revamp her career, to find a pot in the world of comedy and drama.

When she’s on the cover of Esquire in a sheer bra, featured in a piece where concerns about being objectified fail to – even slightly – temper the flowering praise heaped upon her, is her career really being revamped? Is Marche just clinging to the past as Fox turns over a new leaf? Fox traded in Transformers for Jennifer’s Body, Jonah Hex, Passion Play, Friends with Kids and This Is 40. The feminist horror film joins Fox’s sexuality with wicked horror, while the next two bank on her first being a prostitute, and then a winged paramour caged and fetishized for men’s lust. Jennifer Westfeldt’s comedy allowed her a little more character development, then  Apatow descended with the role that’s supposed to make her a comedienne. But comparing her breakout to her latest so-called career switch, is Judd Apatow’s view of Fox an improvement on Michael Bay’s? There’s no question when it comes to wars in print; Fox called Bay Hitler and started a war of interviews, while Apatow put Fox on the cover of his “All-Star Comedy” issue of Vanity Fair. On film, however, it’s a different story. (Spoiler Warning: the rest of the piece will discuss the narrative arc of each film.)

Transformers still

When we think of Megan Fox in Transformers, it’s hard to picture anything but the snapshot of her in the warm light, her back arched as she looks at the engine of a car. The picture went everywhere and anywhere, over and over, as everyone gushed about how hot Fox was. Superficially, she appeared to be nothing more than a sweaty, sex-infused paramour to titillate a geeky kid trying to top a stint in Charlie’s Angels with something more masculine. One small image, however, hardly translates the depth of her character.

Megan Fox’s Mikaela is introduced in the classroom – a cute girl watching Shia LaBeouf’s Sam ramble on about family mementos. Next we see her with her boyfriend, overlooking a macho exchange before trying to tempt her boyfriend to let her drive his car. “Why doesn’t my little bunny just hop into the backseat,” he urges. Mikaela laughs: “Oh God, I can’t even tell you how much I’m not your little bunny.” She ditches the guy, meets Sam, and though she talks about her weakness for muscle-laden dudes and stretches out under the hood of Sam’s car, it’s to look at the engine and try to fix it, admitting that she knows a lot, and “Guys don’t like it when you know more about cars than they do.” At the end of their night together, she wonders if Sam thinks she’s shallow. His reply: “There’s a lot more than meets the eye with you.”

Though her looks are mentioned by various people Mikaela and Sam meet over the course of their adventure, it’s often secondary to her action. We find out she was raised by a car thief and got a record trying to protect her dad. She slices the arms off a Transformer menace and saves Sam, and she asks questions when everyone else looks on dumbfounded. When the big, explosive finale kicks off, she runs off, hotwires a tow truck, straps an immobilized Bumblebee to it, and speeds backwards through the city, driving into the fight to lend a hand: “I’ll drive; you shoot,” she states. When the world is saved, she makes out into the sunset with her new beau.

Fox’s beauty is never far from anyone’s minds in the film, and certainly not Michael Bay’s, but it doesn’t define her. Her total character arc outlines a young woman whose looks lead to unfair snap judgments. She’s hot, but she’s also inquisitive, fearless and knowledgeable. After her “pop the hood” titillation, she’s just another hero in the story.

Megan Fox on Vanity Fair coverThis Is 40 is another story. Every single moment is framed by Fox’s sexiness, and little else. Desi is immediately revealed as the sex object at Debbie’s clothing store. After quibbling with her coworker, the camera slowly pans up her bare legs stretched on a ladder. Below, Paul Rudd’s Pete smiles as he takes in the sights and then tells Debbie (Leslie Mann) that Desi isn’t wearing anything under her skirt, unless “she has underwear that has a picture of a vagina painted on it.” Soon after, she’s caught on the store’s webcam having sex on the counter.

At every turn, the film insists that we remember that Desi is sexy and that her character is only concerned with partying and sex. Coworker Jodi (Charlyne Yi) grumbles: “Everything that comes out of her mouth is a lie. Everything that goes into it is a d**k.” When asked to wear the shop’s clothing while working, Desi immediately strips to her underwear in full view of the store and the glass windows leading to the street, chatting half-naked and letting Debbie jiggle her breasts while gushing: “They really are amazing.”

When she attends Pete’s 40th birthday party, the men drool over her as she plays in the pool in a little black bikini. “They look like pedophiles,” their wives joke. The older men’s pervery is then replaced by the next generation as Jason (Jason Segel) and Ronnie (Chris O’Dowd) try to lay claim on her, the former winning because, in Desi’s world: “A quiet Cancer almost always has a huge penis.”

Where Mikaela is a once car thief whose auto prowess lets her help save the world, Desi is literally a prostitute whose only defining characteristics are her body, sex and an interest in astrology and partying. One is sexy, but gets to have her sexiness put on hold as she uses her toughness, and the other has no interaction that isn’t about her allure. Shockingly, compared side by side, Bay comes off as the filmmaker with subtlety.

Does the genre switch really make all the difference, especially when one character is much more of a caricature than the other? It seems less like Megan Fox is trying to rebrand herself and more like she’s just trying to avoid filmmakers she clashes with. Not one has let her evolve beyond her Transformers role, and some of her subsequent roles are even more sexually charged. The media hasn’t switched gears in its approach to the actress either, and she still headlines men’s magazines and poses half nude. (And even less dressed than earlier Esquire covers, right.)

Earlier Esquire coverWhen Marche goes on and on about Fox talking in tongues and receiving messages from God, one can’t help but remember the New York Times piece on the actress. “She created a rebellious, frankly sexual persona and talked her way into the limelight,” they explain. She tells them: “When I sit down to talk to men’s magazines, there’s a certain character that I play. She’s not fully fleshed out – she doesn’t have her own name – but she shows up to do men’s-magazine interviews. There’s something so ridiculous about always being in your underwear in those magazines, and you know the interview is going to run opposite those pictures. So, there’s a character that talks to all of them.”

But the most interesting truth – as much as anything in Hollywood and its environs can be true – isn’t about the work she’s choosing, or how men approach her beauty and sexuality. It’s the relationship between herself and Marilyn Monroe. As she explained to Esquire, she’s been getting her tattoo of the icon removed, trying to distance herself from Monroe’s many issues and demise. Though understandable, removing the tattoo cannot remove the pair’s similarities.

The more that’s learned about Monroe, the more her image is confused. The image of the simple-minded sexpot has been replaced by a closet intellectual with a high IQ who cunningly manufactured an image Hollywood would eat up. Neither extreme seems exactly right and like most black-and-white dichotomies, the truth is certainly somewhere in the grey that rests in between.  Likewise, Megan Fox is a character just as much as Desi or Mikaela. She might be wildly spiritual and speaking in tongues, or curling up at the end of the day with Brian Austin Green, laughing at the lustful men who take her “self-deprecating humor” and sarcasm seriously.

"We should all believe in leprechauns. I'm a believer...”

If we’re going to buy that Desi is an improvement on Mikaela, why not?

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