As I watched 22 Jump Street (the Channing Tatum–Jonah Hill action-comedy-bromance sequel to 21 Jump Street) my main thought throughout the movie was “If I keep laughing this hard my intestines are going to split open and I am going to go septic and die.” But my other main thought was “Whoa. Hold up. Is 22 Jump Street, the action-comedy-bromanciest of the action-comedy bromances ALSO a feminist-minded film?”
I know, I know, it sounded crazy in my head when I thought it, too. But hear me out: The film has two great female leads, Maya (Amber Stevens of Greek) and Mercedes (Jillian Bell of Workaholics). Both women have tremendous agency as characters and subvert female action stereotypes. They’re also both hilarious. Jillian Bell all but runs away with the movie, I almost DID go septic whenever Bell’s character took the piss out of Jonah Hill’s Schmidt. Her ability to insult was Shakespearean in its awesomeness.
The women in the film are feminist-friendly characters, and that’s awesome, but the men are feminist-friendly too, which is REALLY refreshing and unexpected. Often, when a male-skewing film has a “strong female lead,” it all but seems to brush the dust off its hands and say to itself ‘Well, now that whole strong-female-lead-thing is taken care of, on to figuring out how many exploding cars and fart jokes we can fit on each page of the screenplay.” 22 Jump Street absolutely trades in physical comedy and action sequences. That said, it repeatedly forces its straight male leads to figure out their lives in the context of LGBTQ and women’s issues.
Example #1- Channing Tatum’s Jenko takes a gender and sexuality studies class while posing as a college student. Later, when one of the bad guys uses a gay slur against Jenko and Schmidt (you know, the one that starts with an f, the one I don’t want to type unless I absolutely have to because it makes me feel too gross) rather than take it as an insult, Jenko gives the dudes a lecture on hate speech.
Example #2- During the climax of the film, Jonah Hill gets into a physical fight with one of the villains, who also happens to be a girl, and he has to figure out what’s worse: punching a girl or not punching a bad guy because the bad guy happens to be a girl. As funny as it is, it’s also deeply uncomfortable stuff, and 22 Jump Street consciously and actively explores what’s uncomfortable about this dilemma.
These scenes aren’t textbook examples of “feminist scenes in film” but they are wrestling with gender and sexuality in a way most action-comedies don’t even bother to, or don’t even KNOW they’re supposed to bother to,
Probably the most feminist thing about the film is the relationship between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s characters. This is a bromance that is much more romance than, your traditional bro-out. Dudes love each other hard, like fuzzy-wuzzy, mushy-gushy, cartoon hearts popping out of their eyes every time they see the other’s face love each other and their emotional relationship is the engine behind the film. Feminism is about creating equality between the genders, and in film, that means allowing women to be powerful but it ALSO means allowing men to be emotional, especially in things-exploding-everywhere genres where two men basically being in love with each other is far from the norm.
I’m not saying 22 Jump Street is THE feminist film. It’s not. Even in the action-comedy genre, a film like The Heat wipes the floor with 22 Jump Street (and The Heat is getting a sequel too, huzzah!). Still, it’s important to celebrate films in genres that aren’t known for being feminist-minded to keep a progressive agenda. Here’s to more films that, in concept, could bro me to tears, but in execution, surprise me with the strong play they made for opening up their genre.