Spike Lee’s films run hot and cold. She Hate Me is one of his chillier “joints.” His views of lesbians, politics, and money in She Hate Me, seem like the ramblings of an insulated, precocious teenager.
Two For One
R for sexuality, nudity, language
She Hate Me is actually two movies in one. Bookending the film is the story of a corporate conspiracy at a drug company (whose corporate logo is, for some reason, a reel of film). After an FDA rejection of their new product, Jack (Anthony Mackie) catches company execs, including one who supposedly reports to him, shredding documents. Jack blows the whistle on them, and the next day, is fired. Between now and his congressional hearing, the second movie takes place.
In this other plot line, Jack’s ex-fiancee Fatima (Kerry Washington) shows up at his place with her new girlfriend. They both want to have babies, and they want him to be the father. Between Lee, screenwriter Michael Genet, and Mackie, Jack’s reaction is well-thought-out and believable, although it’s hard to get past the thought that this situation is an adolescent fantasy. Two hot lesbians need a man, and then don’t want him to stick around in the morning. On top of that, these hot lesbians are willing to pay him ten grand a pop (so to speak).
Not only do Fatima and her girlfriend want his seed, they bring half a dozen other hot lesbian friends who also want to get pregnant, each with ten thousand dollars. Granted, the next half-dozen lesbians (and next, and the next) aren’t as hot as the first batch, but they are all willing to pay Jack to knock them up.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, a third plot involving the Watergate break-in rears its head, mostly as an allegory, but with enough screen time and substance to confuse most audiences.
Can You Relate?
By now, you might be getting offended at my use of the term “hot lesbians.” That’s how I felt watching the movie. Of the lesbians I know, none of them act as sultry or slutty as the ones in She Hate Me. Granted, none of them are African-American New Yorkers, but I can’t imagine any of them relating to these characters, who seem not just like stereotypes, but like objects as well.
Likewise the political story is hard to relate to. I do admire whistleblowers and revile corporations that retaliate. But as told in She Hate Me, the story is too immature and naive to be believed. Woody Harrelson plays the CEO as a racist, sexist, two-dimensional prick, whose evil doesn’t even seem to come from self-interest, but rather from the interests of an angry screenwriter and/or director. And the naive congressional hearing at the end of the film is believable only if your sole exposure to politics is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This committee listens intently, doesn’t interrupt, and has an open mind about the testimony at hand. A glimpse of C-Span will show you just how fantastic this polite, concerned panel of investigators really is. (Come to think of it, even Mr. Smith was more cynical than Lee’s closing act.)
Having read some behavioral genetics, I wondered whether She Hate Me might be some sort of a fantastic political allegory, a reverse 1984. American corporations get away with ruining the lives of whistleblowers, but humanity will thank them in the end with reproductive success and financial rewards, and political vindication. But Lee didn’t really pursue this theme beyond the plot, and even if he had, it’s still not a very believable story.
Spike is Spike
There’s actually a lot more going on in the film than I have mentioned. John Turturro plays a mafia godfather. The fed from Lee’s 25th Hour (same character, same actor) is on hand. Jack’s parents might be breaking up, but his father’s diabetes complicates their relationship. Jack accompanies his best friend (inspired by Jack’s financial success) to a sperm bank. Speaking of which, intercut into the film are jokey, cartoon sperms with Jack’s face expressing first enthusiasm, then determination, and finally exhaustion. And finally, there’s the period, nine months later, when Jack’s offspring start being born.
While these pieces add texture, none help explain or glue together the different parts of the plot. Is this a Kafa-esque comedy? Are we supposed to be inspired by the eclectic absurdity of it all? Or is Lee just losing touch?
Until I’m convinced otherwise, I’ll vote for the latter.