These Movies from the ’90s Shaped How You Think About Love

Sometimes it truly is best to leave the past in the past... and sometimes it's not

One of my first jobs was at a movie theater, and I loved it. I’ve always enjoyed the whole cinematic experience: settling in with a bowl of popcorn and a good story is my idea of a good any-night-of-the-week experience. When the idea of reviewing a few twenty-year-old movies from the 1990s came up, I pounced: What better way to spend your time, am I right? I mean, as someone who turned ten in 1995, the ’90s totally shaped my early views about relationships. I’ll get into it more in a minute, but for better or worse, I constructed entire marriage expectations around Bed of Roses.

From the perspective of this thirty-one-year-old in 2016, it turns out the 1990s were kind of a hot mess. I mean, the hair and wardrobes were extraordinary, and I spent a fair bit of time marveling over how culture has shifted when it comes to what we do (or do not) collectively find attractive. When it comes to relations between members of the opposite sex, things in movies then are still more or less the same in movies that are coming out right now.

Having said that, this was still… fun. Sure, some of the movies were hard to get through, and halfway through the experience I realized there were about five more I wanted to watch but didn’t have the time for, but it was kind of a laugh to roll back the hands of time and see how I feel now about movies I hadn’t seen in fifteen or twenty years.

Spoiler: it’s not pretty.


1.the truth about cats and dogs

Before I even started this movie, I was well warned by Meg that it was pretty much one of the worst movies ever made. This was disheartening, but since I also watched Jerry Maguire and lived to tell the tale (see below), I figured I could make it. But, y’all, this movie is pretty much one of the worst movies ever made. Here we go.

Plot review: The Truth About Cats and Dogs is about Abby, a vet and radio host who we’re supposed to believe is ugly but who is actually played by Janeane Garofalo and therefore not actually ugly at all; Noelle, an actress who has terrible taste in men but happens to be 5 feet 10 inches and blond so they all love her anyway; and Brian, a photographer who has an accent that is pleasing to the ear and will be our film’s sad sack. One day Brian finds himself stuck with a huge dog wearing roller skates, and he has no idea how to make the dog happy. He calls into Abby’s talk show, and the two end up hitting it off—he sends her a photo of himself and the dog, and ends up calling her at work to see if they can get together. Abby agrees but then panics, because apparently she’s so ugly she can’t even answer a coworker’s question about whether or not tulips or roses are a more romantic choice, and tells Brian that she’s (you guessed it) 5 feet 10 inches and blond. She never shows up to meet him because she’s neither of those things, but he’s persistent. Long story short, Abby convinces her neighbor Noelle to agree to pretend to be Abby so Brian will fall for her, and after a series of instances of violin playing, photo taking, and phone sex, Brian realizes he’s in love with “Abby” (Noelle).

This wrecks the real Abby, but at this point Noelle has armchair diagnosed her with low self-esteem anyway, so no one expects Abby to do anything but flail. Brian ends up at the real Abby’s house while in pursuit of the fake Abby, and tells the real Abby why he loves the fake Abby. But since these reasons have nothing to do with how Abby looks, the real Abby refuses to believe him. Brian sees a flyer that has the real Abby’s face on it, and suddenly everything clicks and he realizes what’s been going on and flees. Blah blah blah, boring boring boring, Abby and Noelle are friends, and one day Brian sends his dog to Abby’s studio on roller skates, and Abby is pulled along behind to Brian because now Brian loves her anyway, WHAT A GUY.

The moral of the story is this: Janeane Garofalo is super pretty, Uma Thurman is super pretty, and they’re both super smart, so this movie never should have been made.

Terrible thing(s) the movie taught you: That short brunettes aren’t pretty! That it’s okay to lie to man to get him to like you! That men are kind of stupid and will fall for this kind of trick and never, ever notice any inconsistencies, like your voice. Also that men just want to be with tall, skinny, blond women, and when they don’t they should get a trophy.

How the movie wins: Ehhh… the dog is cool? I just kind of want to watch Reality Bites or Dogma or even Now & Then and see Janeane be glorious again.



Okay, okay, okay. So Waiting to Exhale actually came out in 1995, which means it turns twenty-one this year. I know. I fully intended to watch 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife but could only find a low-res version on YouTube (thanks, ’90s), and I struggled to get through it. It turns out you can rent Waiting to Exhale for $2.99 on Amazon Prime, so I decided to take them up on that offer. Plus? You know this shit is legendary:


PLOT REVIEW: It had been actual years since I had seen this movie, so I prepared myself for a treat. And a treat it is, but in that ’90s kind of way. The movie is about four women: Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin. Each woman more or less plays a stereotype: Savannah is independent but still involved with a married man. Bernadine is a woman scorned after finding out that her husband is leaving her for his (white) secretary. Gloria is the somewhat overweight, kind of uptight mom who needs to get laid. Robin is the hot single girl who is looking for “perfection” (read: a family, a house, and eating out at restaurants two to three times a week) in all the wrong places (like with crackheads).

A lot of my notes include sad faces about Whitney Houston (and I actually drew a heart-eyed face for Gloria and Marvin, and then kind of hated myself for it). I truly enjoyed how fabulous Bernadine was in all of her grief and her subsequent rebirth. By far the most compelling scene for me is when Bernie meets James, a guy who is married to a woman (Lauren) who happens to be dying of breast cancer. He and Bernie end up in a hotel room, trying to figure out what they’re going to do: James loves the hell out of his wife, but hasn’t slept with a woman in over a year. First I was all “Boo hoo hoo, James, keep it in your pants, you’re an ass,” but then I started to more deeply appreciate what the characters were grappling with. For all of her swagger, it’s not like Bernadine was super pumped about having sex with a married guy. The two characters end up falling asleep wrapped up in one another (with their shoes still on).

Of course, as there is with any movie that has more than two female main characters, there’s a dance scene (to TLC’s “Creep”) next to a table littered with cake and champagne… as a dance scene always should be.

TERRIBLE THING(S) THE MOVIE TAUGHT YOU: Having a family and eating at restaurants are the only paths to perfection. That you shouldn’t eat if you’re “too big.” That it’s okay to stay hung up on a married ex even though he has no intention of ever leaving his wife.

HOW THE MOVIE WINS: I will give Bernadine five stars for the rest of my life for when she talks about how she didn’t have a backup plan because her marriage was supposed to last forever. The message here? Love your partner as fully as you want and can, but always make sure you can support yourself if it fails. You never fucking know. Also that fire scene is truly everything and if you haven’t seen it, go ahead and watch.


3. Bed of Roses

I love Bed of Roses. I mean, I love it so much that I watch it once a year, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I married a kind, gentle man who has great hair and a penchant for growing beautiful plants. I need to acknowledge all of this because you guys need to know there is no chance that I entered into a viewing of this movie not planning on totally loving the experience, because it’s just. Not. Possible. I was eleven when this movie came out and it basically shaped everything I think about love, kept my young teen fantasies firmly rooted in the land of PG (you can wake up topless in a man’s bed, but it’s okay because the sheet will cover your breasts and he’ll have left a rose for you before going downstairs to make breakfast and it will be so ~*dreamy*~). I mean, this is all just for your information, but I think it’s important for you guys to know how deep I roll with this film, because I’m not entirely sure I can discuss it in any terms other than those punctuated with mortifying giggles. But… I’ll try.

PLOT REVIEW: The movie opens with Lisa, aka Mary Stuart Masterson and our film’s heroine, who is in the middle of some kind of negotiations with some dude about whatever it is she does for work. We learn that she’s VP of a company but that this is a new role for her, and she’s really excited and wants to make this deal work. She nails it, even after faltering a bit and losing her cool, and is promptly told by her boss she needs to take the rest of the week off work to get ready to tackle this deal. This freaks her out and she spends the night crying in her window… where Lewis, aka Christian Slater, aka a stalker-ish dude who likes to deliver flowers just because, sees her and decides to send her flowers. Okay.

This is a great moment to interject that the overarching vibe of this movie is fantasy. You know, the full-on Cinderella shebang. Granted, Lisa is great at standing up for herself, and it’s clear Lewis really needs to save himself before working on someone else, but most of the notes I made were “Is this real? Could this happen? What would the characters do in real life?” (Also “Christian Slater ♥♥♥.”)

The answer? Some of it is probably not totally grounded in reality (like homegirl being totally fine with stalker guy delivering her flowers, because he makes it okay by taking her on flower deliveries for other people). But some of it, like Lewis proposing in a manner that is one of my top five nightmares (a total surprise attack in front of his family at Christmas) and Lisa’s response (Hell no, go save yourself first)? That’s solid.

Terrible thing(s) the movie taught you: That it’s okay if he’s kind of stalking you, as long as he has great hair, is really sweet, and you’re lonely.

How the movie wins: This fan video exists.


4. Jerry Maguire

PLOT REVIEW: I’m about to say something that might make you mad: Jerry Maguire is a truly bad film. I hate to pile it on Cameron Crowe, because I used to love him, but watching this movie for the first time in about fifteen years made me realize how homeboy just makes the exact same movie… over and over again. Mediocre white man needs more in his life. Mediocre white man decides to take a stand against what is holding him down and be a hero. Mediocre white man is defeated, beaten down. Mediocre white man is built up again by an inevitably blond, blue-eyed actress who is superior to him in every way but tasked with helping the mediocre white man grow and solve the film’s overarching problem (while letting the mediocre white man take all of the credit). Mediocre white man has a great scene with a good song, and mediocre white man continues his mediocre existence, but, you know, with morals. In between all of that, people of color occasionally exist as side characters and are generally written and treated as stereotypes. I mean… Elizabethtown, check. Almost Famous (my personal faaaave), check. I won’t go into the debacle that was Aloha, and I remain true to Say Anything… but, y’all, Jerry Maguire is rough.

So rough, in fact, that it took me two viewings to get through it (I turned it off the first time after the “Show me the money” scene and wrote “SELF IMPORTANCE” and “SAVIOR COMPLEX” in all caps across my notebook page). Women are dismissed and/or reduced to every stereotype that exists. You have:

  • The sassy black woman
  • The bossy, slutty white woman who is also the hot fiancé but ultimately not ladylike enough
  • The fragile, blond, blue-eyed Madonna (with token child)
  • The overprotective, nosy older sister

And you know what the Big Thing about Jerry is? He’s that guy, the guy so great at loving everyone and building everyone up… except for himself and the person he’s romantically involved with. But his partner is expected to build him up constantly with little to no reciprocation.

We learn through a series of interviews with women he’s been involved with that he clearly has an intimacy problem, but it doesn’t seem like it’s something he’s ever been particularly concerned about working on. Sure, he’s not physically or really even emotionally abusive, but he’s not… great. He’s not a partner; he’s not giving. He takes and takes and takes, tells himself it’s okay because he’s on a moral crusade, and waits around for someone else to pick up the pieces, always. There are plenty of scenes to rip apart, and I could likely devote several thousand words to describing Jerry Maguire all by himself, but I am tired of having this movie in my head and will just say this: if you loved this movie in the ’90s, do yourselves a favor and never watch it again.

Terrible thing(s) this movie taught you: I mean… everything above? But to summarize: men can have intimacy issues and still be attractive, because apparently that’s not a deal breaker.

How this movie wins: That kid is cute, y’all.



Love Jones technically came out in 1997, which means it’s nineteen and a half years old, but come on, guys. This movie is so good. From the get-go, it’s clear that women and men are equal partners in the game—the women are quite adept at fielding bullshit from the men, and serving it right back to them.

The two main characters are Darius and Nina, aka the two people who will drive you nuts the entire movie because they refuse to get it together and act like adults long enough to figure out their problems. These guys are like your two friends who are perfect for one another but insist on making it hard because they apparently have nothing else better to do. They’re surrounded by friends who, for all the eye rolls and jokes, all seem to be really into love. Sure, there are cracks about one another’s choices and a particularly serious discussion about whether or not soulmates are a thing we should all look for, but besides all of that, these are adults who are in adult relationships.

Of course, the movie isn’t complete until we’ve had a rainy scene in which the characters pull it together and try to make it work, but hey… I’m not saying I’m not a sucker for a good rainy scene. Truly, the only thing I would change about this movie is to have Darius and Nina NOT waste so much time messing each other up—but then we wouldn’t really have a movie, would we?

Love Jones is fun, funny, and a total delight to watch… just don’t build all of your relationship expectations around it, okay?

Terrible thing(s) this movie taught you: That two adults willingly entering into a relationship can get away with playing games, alternating between treating each other well and treating each other like dirt, and that you can work through your feelings for someone by sleeping with… someone else.

How this movie wins: It is just so much fun. The characters are strong and compelling, and Darius and Nina, for all of their immaturity, are relatable and realistic.

what have movies and television shows taught you about romance and love? is today’s media doing any better?

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  • Danielle

    This list is so straight!

    Does anyone else remember “The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love”? Aaaah, so good! And so important to my young queer self:

    It addressed, like, every issue in America (sex, race, class, heterosexism, etc) in an earnest and wonderful way. Plus with a young and tiny Laurel Holloman, before she became the grown-ass Tina in “The L Word”.

    And, it’s funny! Please watch it if you haven’t before.

    • Meg Keene

      I feel like I saw all the widely released gay movies in the 90s (we didn’t get art house, so we had to drive for anything, but drive we did), but I’ve never heard of this one! What we should have done for sure was Bound, though, right year, wide release. We were focusing hard on ethnic diversity, I’m afraid.

      • Danielle

        I’m from the NYC area; this movie was SO important to me and my friends! It’s funny how life can be so different depending on where you grew up.

        I can see you screened for ethnic diversity, which is great. Maybe you can have a follow-up: best/worst gay movie hits of the 80s and 90s. Hell, I’d be happy to write it! :)

        ETA: “Bound”, that sex scene, aah so good! Did you know Susie Bright helped re-write that scene ’cause the original one was so hum-drum? Yay for bisexual sexperts and movie buffs :D

        • Meg Keene

          Oh, you’d have to pry that from Najva’s hands. I lived in bum fuck nowhere CA, so we literally had to drive 2 hours to see anything arthouse. If it didn’t have a pretty significant art house release, it usually wan’t even possible. THAT is what middle America does to kids.

          • AP

            I STILL drive an hour and a half for art house movies and documentaries. My dream is to restore a historic theater into an indie/art house.

          • stephanie

            I was about to say this – I lived in the middle of nowhere, Alabama, and even after moving to a modestly sized city, the most artistic thing I saw was Y Tu Mama Tambien, and only then because it had made a big enouigh splash elsewhere. I’m sure there are TROVES of LGBTQ movies I’m missing out on.

      • Rhie

        Bound is one of those amazing movies that I want everyone to know about and watch and just soak up… ahhh I love it so much!!

      • Kelsey

        Oh my god I had forgotten how badly Bound scarred me for life when I saw it as a newly out queer person and now I cannot remember why…? All I know is my reaction to reading the title is abject terror.

        • Danielle

          Jennifer Tilly’s character has a boyfriend who is a criminal. I think he beats her up in one scene? That could be scarring for a young queer (or, like, anyone).

          • Kelsey

            That could definitely be it!

    • THAT WAS MY FIRST REACTION TO THIS TOO. To me that movie is iconic 90’s lesbian everything. oh baby Tina…

      • Cleo

        Can we talk about D.E.B.S. also? It is EVERYTHING – heist movie + school for spies + romance between a good guy and a criminal (who both happen to be ladies) + Holland Taylor.

        • Danielle

          “But I’m a Cheerleader” is also excellent! Late 90s, with RuPaul and Natasha Lyonne (swoon!)

          • Caitlyn

            YES! But I’m a Cheerleader is EVERYTHING!! I love Natasha Lyonne!

          • Christina McPants

            I showed But I’m a Cheerleader to my high school friend group AND my brothers because I loved it so much and still didn’t realize I was a lesbian for like 3 years. Oh baby Stina.

    • Ebloom

      Yes!!!! The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love was tight, though I admit I didn’t see it until I was an adult. Later I tried describing it to my boss who was not feeling it.

      • Danielle

        Your boss is obviously a jerk.

        • Ebloom

          Haha! Actually he’s wonderful. But as a black man he got stuck on the lack of airtime I was paying to the interracial aspect of the relationship. I just kept going, “I don’t remember! Watch the movie!”

          • Danielle

            It does kinda gloss it over, addressing it in a somewhat simplistic way (if I recall correctly). But I think it does that with ALL their differences (class, gender presentation, etc), because it adorably tries to address every. single. issue. in the world!

  • Sara

    I’ve never seen The Truth About Cats and Dogs, but Stephanie’s review makes me think it was aimed at being a (failed) Roxanne gender-swapped remake? Or is that a common trope now? (PS – LOVE Now and Then)

    I have a few movies that I love like “Simply Irresistable” where the guy runs away constantly and the woman just magically appears (though to be fair, actual magic is a part of the movie) and she basically wears him down. I feel like that informed a lot of how I attempted to date when I was younger (Just let me love you! Then we’ll both be happy!) before I realized how crazy that behavior was. Or the old ‘let em go’ trope of the 90’s teen romances where the girl always dumps the guy for being mean and he comes crawling back, lesson learned.

    Oh and obviously Pretty Woman which for some reason I was allowed to watch in sixth grade repeatedly and then rewatched as an adult like “THAT’S what I watched?”

    • Jessica

      On the Pretty Woman note–there are so many things kids just don’t understand. Like, seriously don’t get. It was probably like “no nudity, no violence, whatever” for your parent or caretaker.


      • Sara

        Oh for sure – I felt that way when I relistened to the Grease soundtrack as an adult too. Its amazing to see how much stuff went flying over my head. Ah the mind of the innocent :)

        And Roberta was my role model as a kid

        • Rebekah

          My mom wouldn’t let me watch Grease for years because it was too adult, somehow. The only example she gave was Rizzo’s line about being a broken typewriter – missing a period.

          When I finally watched it I expected WAY more adult content than was actually there. Bummer. ;)

      • AP

        Lol, Dirty Dancing too! The first time I saw it as an adult I was like, “I didn’t know Penny was having an abortion?!” I don’t know what I thought was happening, but it totally went over my head!

        • raccooncity

          Ok so I didn’t get the abortion storyline either, which is normal, whatever. Kids don’t know about abortion, fine. But as a 10 year old growing up in a rural town, I came to the conclusion that she had sex-reassignment surgery. To this day I have no idea why I knew about that and went there rather than abortion. boggles the mind.

          • AP

            Hahahahaha that is the best!

            Fun anecdote:
            I was probably around 11 or 12 when True Lies came out. I was watching it with my family, and there’s a scene when Arnold Schwarzenegger says something to Tom Arnold about getting a blow job. I laughed, and my mom snaps her head around and says, “You know what a blow job is?!” And I definitely gave her the “duh, Mom, everyone knows what a blow job is” eye roll. Because blow jobs are the same as blow outs, right? And a macho guy getting his hair blow-dried in a salon is funny, right? (To 11 year old me, at least.) My poor mom.

      • Meg Keene

        OH MAN, I got it as a kid. I remember finding it slightly disturbing that parents were letting us watch it. I was 10, not dumb ;)

    • Glen

      Note: both Roxanne and The Truth about Cats and Dogs are remakes of Cyrano de Bergerac (play by Edmond Rostand; good French movie version with Gerard Depardieu).

      As a child of the ’80s, I saw all of the Star Wars movies in the theater (the first when I was 3), opted to see Gandhi instead of E.T for the 100th time (my sis loved it) when I was 8, saw Amadeus at 10, and Good Morning Vietnam at 12. I have no clue what my parents were thinking, especially as I really wasn’t allowed to watch much TV (I used to go to my BFF’s house to watch reruns of Brady Bunch and The Facts of Life).

      • raccooncity

        Omg though, Amadeus? Such a great movie. It was our “the music teacher is hung over” go-to during high school.

  • AP

    I have SO many thoughts on this! I tried to watch My Best Friend’s Wedding a few months ago when it popped up on Netflix, because I have such fond memories of it from when I was about 12 years old. I ended up turning it off!! I couldn’t believe how mean, entitled, and manipulative Julia Roberts’ character was, and we were supposed to be rooting for her to break up her best friend’s engagement. I know it didn’t work out for her in the end, but the movie clearly wanted us to feel bad for her. The pitting of two women against each other over a man was just a killer. Plus, what had a much bigger impact on me as an adult watching the movie was just how *young* Cameron Diaz was, dropping out of college to marry the guy (and we’re supposed to see this as an example of her devotion to him, that he deserved someone who would play “wife” and support this career, the opposite of ball-busting Julia.) I was hopping mad by the time I turned it off.

    • Sara

      Oh I have a serious second-hand embarrassment issue so I can’t bring myself to rewatch that movie. Julia Robert was so cruel to Cameron Diaz!

      • AP

        Also the whole “if I’m not married by the time I’m [insert ridiculously young age], I’ll settle for the nearest person!” because nothing is worse than being single!

        • CMT

          Wasn’t it, like, 27? They were practically babies!

          • ep

            It was 28. Which I know because my best friend and I watched the movie early in high school and decided to make that pact with each other. Ths year happens to be the year that I turn 27 and he turns 28 and yeah…a little off-base there, 14-year-old-me.

          • rg223

            Also, 28? Why the most random number? You’re really not going to give yourself the two extra years and make it an even 30?

    • stephanie

      AHHHH I haven’t rewatched that one yet. I bet it’s awful!

    • Greta

      Yes! I rewatched this on a place the other day and it was AWFUL. I just kept thinking – all of these things are horrible, how can I possibly root for any of them?

      • AP

        I’m also just remembering that Julia made her best (gay) friend pretend to be straight for her! George was the best thing about that movie and they made him such a token. So many ughs.

    • Kaitlyn

      A friend of mine made me watch it in high school because she loved it. Even at 16, I was like “wtf is this” because the plot line was soooo terrible. I’ve refused to watch it since.

    • raccooncity

      Truly awful people. Almost of them. Coincidentally, I felt the same way about the Family Stone (another Dermot Mulroney pic), which is one of my mother’s christmas staples. Terrible people we’re meant to root for.

      • AP

        Oh God, that family dinner scene. {shudder}

    • Meg Keene

      Even at the time (I was 17), I was like “what the hell is wrong with this plot?”

  • Anna

    I don’t think the review for “The Truth About Cats And Dogs” is fair.

    The moral of the story is that Abby had hangups about herself FOR NO REASON. Lots of people think that a certain type of person is going to be perceived as more attractive than themselves. Since that is so, why not do a movie about it?

    I think it shows that Abby went through a lot of nonsense of her own creation, for nothing. You can’t blame a guy for walking away for a while when he’s been so consistently lied to! He doesn’t come back because he’s gotten over some disappointment in her looks; he comes back because he’s gotten over her lies and chalks it up to insecurity. He would have loved her anyway.

    • Cleo


      Plus, let’s talk about how hot model Uma Thurman has her own hangups and is a super nice person – unlike most of the 90s stereotypical hot girl = bitch stuff

    • Meg Keene

      Oof, I totally disagree, I found that movie so upsettingly bad even as a teenager.

  • JC

    Hi, I’m here to request a full review at a later date of The Preacher’s Wife, please!! Thanks!!

    • stephanie

      I need a solid source! All I could find was a grainy one on YouTube. APPARENTLY Maddie is even in The Preacher’s Wife…?!

      • JC

        At one point, I owned three copies…

        • AP

          My mom has it on VHS!

      • Anon

        Pretty sure you can get it on hard copy DVD through netflix.

    • Danielle

      I don’t know about “The Preacher’s Wife” but YES to Whitney Houston. “The Bodyguard” was good/bad! Awesome to see her as a beautiful diva singer, but wierd that the film didn’t address the interracial aspect of their relationship… at all.

      • JC

        That is so interesting because The Preacher’s Wife is really firmly rooted in the life of a black family! (I don’t know to what extent the movie is a caricature, and it would be really interesting to hear what others think of that.)

        • MDBethann

          The movie is a remake of the 1940s “The Bishop’s Wife,” which starred David Niven (the bishop) and Cary Grant (the angel). I don’t know whether or not that decided to do any caricatures when they wrote the script for the remake; I always looked at it in terms of its faithfulness to the original (I am a sucker for classic Hollywood and love the original). My parents have both on VHS and they always make an appearance at Christmastime.

  • Anna

    I didn’t like Jerry Maquire either, but can we please leave out the phrase “mediocre WHITE man” like his race is disgusting? Even Bill Maher is sick of it.

    • Girl really? That’s what you focused on?

    • KateA

      I mean, raging privilege is kind of gross.

      • Anna

        Missed the point.

    • Mindy

      “Even Bill Maher is sick of it”

      You say that like he doesn’t epitomize a specific type of bro-gressive white male privilege.

      • Anna

        There are white women who feel the same. I’m one of them. This is a reaction to a type of writing that has recently become very common on APW.

        Here’s an experiment. Go over the last year’s worth of APW posts, and count how many times “White” is used as a negative. It’s getting old.

        • Rebekah

          Your privilege is showing.

        • CMT

          I bet it would be zero, because they’re not using white as a pejorative. Pointing out things like privilege or the ways racism has been made systematic is not a personal indictment of you, or any of us who are white.

          • Meg Keene

            Correct. And we wouldn’t use white as a pejorative, given that the majority of the staff is (still) white. Self aware, but not self hating. So yup, zero.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I don’t think anyone believes that being white makes you mediocre. On the contrary, the phrase “mediocre white man” is meant to draw attention to the fact that we are often so much quicker to reward white men who are less qualified than women or POC (as the saying goes, you have to work twice as hard for half of what they have.) Even as a white woman, I’ve been the victim of “mediocre white man” syndrome, particularly working in old boys club environments where leadership would rather give opportunities to people who remind them of themselves, rather than the most qualified person. It’s rampant. And it goes without saying, #NotAllWhiteGuys, but it’s definitely a phenomenon, and one we shouldn’t discredit just because we happen to know standup white men (I’m married to one.)

      • JC

        There’s also the seemingly never-ending problem of treating the white experience as the universal experience. (See: Boyhood.) Any critic is right to point out race in a movie that fails to mention race, simply because that omission assumes a universality that isn’t true.

        • Anna

          Every movie is supposed to mention race? How bizarre.

          And I don’t think you solve the problem by using the word “White” in a negative tone every chance you get.

          • JC

            Any story that is all about white people and doesn’t acknowledge that it’s all about white people deserves to be scrutinized. Race doesn’t have to be the primary subject of a film to be acknowledged as a part of the human experience being portrayed.

            And I disagree that mentioning race in Stephanie’s analysis made the tone negative.

          • Meg Keene

            “Mention” race? The majority of the world’s lived identity is not white. So yes, assuming that witness is the universal default is a real problem in our culture.

            White person to white person? We’re not using white in a negative way, but you need to seriously examine the fact that you seem to think it should be always used in a POSITIVE way.

      • AP

        Also, we don’t critique Cameron Crowe movies in the same way that we critique, say, Lena Dunham projects- especially the argument that all of Lena’s protagonists must be based on herself because of similar demographics. Her protagonists are criticized for being “white, entitled, mediocre, etc.” and that is a reflection on Lena as a person. But the same could be said for Cameron Crowe, yet we don’t hear that rhetoric as often…maybe because of that mediocre white male privilege?

        • rg223

          To be fair, I HAVE heard that exact criticism of Cameron Crowe and his movies. Nearly every review I read of Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo said something to this effect.

          • AP

            I’ve heard it too, but usually more along the lines of “his tenth mediocre and entitled white guy character is getting boring,” whereas the criticism applied to Dunham is way more often “all of her mediocre and entitled white girl characters obviously mean that Dunham herself is mediocre and entitled and therefore should not be allowed a voice.” (Full disclosure: I might be one of the last five people who still watches Girls. I also love Almost Famous. Art and pop culture, plus talking about it endlessly, are totally my jam!)

      • Anna

        APW has started using the word “White” as a negative word more and more and more. I think if you counted up how many times it’s used in this manner on APW, you’d be surprised.

        It’s not like this is the first time. It’s getting sickening.

        • ItsyBit

          I guess I’m having trouble seeing how “white” is being used as a negative here? Sure, the phrase “mediocre white man” seems meant to be an eyeroll-statement, but that doesn’t mean that anyone’s saying white is bad. It’s just calling out that it’s a tired storyline, a constantly used character. And to ignore the fact that he’s white assumes (as someone said above) that the white experience is universal, or that his race doesn’t matter, which isn’t really true.

          If APW were regularly saying actual, explicitly negative things about white folks in general, I’d understand your position. But making space for non-white folks isn’t the same thing.

        • Ashlah

          White people are built up everywhere. I think we’ll be okay.

          • Meg Keene

            Just fine, I’m sure.

        • MDBethann

          As a white person, it came across to me like “white guy who is mediocre.” And yes, Jerry Maguire was such a guy with a huge ego and sense of self-importance. He was surrounded by people who were better than him in so many ways, yet he was the “hero” of the movie. So yes, mediocre man. And like many Hollywood “heroes,” he happens to be white.

    • Ebloom

      Um, as a white woman who has known *a lot* of mediocre white men, I don’t find anything offensive about calling someone a mediocre white man. This isn’t a racial slur. It’s the fact that white men can be mediocre and still succeed because they’re white men living in a society that applauds the mediocre achievements of white men over everyone else, especially women and people of color.

    • Christina McPants

      I think the problem is that the mediocre white man is held up as the universal standard, this every man experience that we can all relate to, that everyone caters to on their journey of self-discovery or growth or whatever, and revels in the community around him that he seemingly hasn’t done anything to deserve. He is expected to be the hero in his story and everyone around him are supporting characters, rather than he is a supporting character in their story. Which I feel like Jerry Maguire is this gold standard for – I remember watching that as a kid and thinking how phony that “you complete me” speech is. That he was just saying what he thought Renee Zellwegger wanted to hear to get back into her life and that it wasn’t genuine or heartfelt. Another great example is Quentin in “The Magicians” (I’ve only seen the series, I haven’t read the books). He hasn’t done anything to really earn being in the story and the secondary and tertiary characters are far more interesting than he is (which he actually recognizes at the end). Or Joseph Gordon Levitt in (500 Days of) Summer.

      Of course, I say this as someone who proudly owns a “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man” shirt and wears it to the gym.

      • ItsyBit

        “… the mediocre white man is held up as the universal standard, this every man experience that we can all relate to…”

        Yes, this. My favorite phrase that I leaned this year (grad school FTW) is “there’s no such thing as a view from nowhere.” It’s the thing that keeps replaying in my head and helps me check my own privilege. Like, even the idea of an “every man” is kind of flawed and based in “whiteness as the norm” and not being able to recognize perpetuates the problem.

        • Christina McPants

          Like, even the idea of an “every man” is kind of flawed and based in “whiteness as the norm” and not being able to recognize perpetuates the problem.

          I remember after the Hunger Games movie came out and people were surprised / annoyed at Amandla Sternberg’s casting, even though the book specifically states she’s black. It reminded me of that prevalence of white as the norm (I’d realized I’d done it in my own mental casting in books years ago).

      • Caroline Z.

        I feel like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in 500 Days of Summer was kind of lampshading that type of character (conscious of the trope and playing into it to show that the story doesn’t end up shaping itself to serve him). So that he is indeed a perfect example!

      • JC

        Ooooh that shirt!!

        • Christina McPants

          It’s so great! Super soft, too.

  • I love that you loved Love Jones, Stephanie. I have a love/hate relationship with the movie – it’s so good and entertaining but taught an entire generation of young Black kids all the wrong things about relationships. My friends and I were all in our early teens and just starting to date when that movie came out, and it totally shaped how we viewed relationships, and how to handle them. But it’s so damn entertaining!

  • Kate


  • Ebloom

    Omg, please add She’s All That, Clueless, and any other film with a makeover scene. I think I participated in some pretty problematic things with other girls my age in middle school under the influence of movies with makeover scenes, that I just cringe at now.

    • Clueless would be so good! I rewatched it recently, and I realized that everyone is supposed to be 15-16! It seems so ludicrous looking back, like there’s no way teens would be out doing all these adult things solo.

      • A.

        “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”

        (Shameless Clueless lover. But yes, it’s ridiculous.)

        • scw

          this will forever be my favorite

          • AP

            Aw, I miss Brittany Murphy<3

      • Meg Keene

        I feel like that movie holds pretty well (though I am SUPER interested in the breakdown of a makeover scene… though, shucks, I’m still a sucker for a good makeover, so….) BUT, it’s Jane Austin roots remain really smart, and the jokes are SO smart and adult. I just shamelessly love that movie.

      • Ebloom

        Right?! Another aspect of the 90s: totally adult plot lines for teens

    • BD

      Trufax – and you may already know this – but Clueless is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma (that makes me love it more!)

      • Ebloom

        I did know that! Which makes it even more interesting! I definitely see the parallels a lot more as an adult.

    • CommaChick

      I’m not that far from Stephanie’s age, but I’ve never seen any of the movies on this list. However, I watched She’s All That and Clueless so many times. Also 10 Things I Hate About You, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.

      • I LOVE 10 Things I Hate About You and it really holds up. And You’ve Got Mail is so dated with the AOL thing but still super cute.

      • Ebloom

        I LOVE You’ve Got Mail. I’m sure it’s uber problematic, but as a feminist I like to be in control of the films I enjoy and own why I enjoy them. And I love that one.

      • MDBethann

        Better version of You’ve Got Mail is “The Shop Around the Corner” with Jimmy Stewart. Or watch the musical version “In the Good Old Summer Time” with Judy Garland & Van Johnson. It’s also based on the same story as the current Broadway hit “She Loves Me.”

    • Brittany Means

      Definitely! I remember when I first saw Grease when I was like 13, my mom sat me down and gave me a big talk about how the movie is fun and catchy but ultimately it has a terrible moral because Sandy should have never needed a makeover to make Danny love her/feel worthy of him, and you should never change who you are for a boy.
      I think we can trace this all the way back to Cinderella, though.

  • Eenie

    This just reminds me of how few movies I saw growing up! 45 minutes away from the closest theater with only four screens.

    • raccooncity

      I grew up in a one screen town. As an adult, I realized that the glorious 11 week stretch where they showed titanic and I went CONSTANTLY was maybe not fun for other people in town.

  • Daisy6564

    It was a strange phenomenon for me to learn as an adult that many of my girlfriends found the movie “Fear,” (which also came out in 1996) sexy as young teenagers. I have never been able to sit through the whole thing but basically Marc Wahlberg plays an older man who dates teenage Reese Witherspoon and emotionally and physically abuses her while manipulating her whole family in to believing it is not happening. I found it horrifying then and do now. I was really disturbed when I learned that more than one of my friends thought his character was totally sexy. Talk about terrible things movies can teach young women.

    • Rhie

      I’m with you, that movie is hella creepy…

  • Christina McPants

    It’s been umpty million years since I saw Bed of Roses, but I thought she was crying because she found out that her douchebag, emotionally distant father had passed away? I also thought that was the gold standard for romance for like, years, and that if I stayed emotionally distant and damaged and tragically alone, some man would inevitable chase me and fall in love with me.

  • Brittany Means

    First, thank you for focusing on 90s movies!! 80s movies seem to be the darling of our generation and I just don’t get it (only exception: Say Anything). The 90’s are where it’s at. (They were all that and a bag of potato chips.)

    If there’s going to be a part 2, I’d love to see Save the Last Dance in there. It definitely shaped the way I see love. And Titanic!? 10 Things I Hate About You, The Wedding Planner (this one still messes with my love perceptions sometimes–“love is just love.”)

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