Boys on the Side

Director: Herbert Ross
Characters: Jane DeLuca (a singer) - Whoopi Goldberg

Robin (a HIV positive) – Mary-Louise Parker

Holly (a blonde) – Drew Barrymore

The Journey: The starting point of the journey is New York. The girls want to drive to San Diego, however, they never get there. They drive through Pittsburgh to Tucson (Arizona) where they are determined to stay because of Robin’s advanced stadium of AIDS.
Gender on the Road The film "Boys on the side" by Herbert Ross is an example of a ‘road movie’ which focuses on gender and depicts three different types of female characters who for various reasons decide to get to the roads. The heroines embody the stereotypes which exist among prejudiced ‘whites’, men and women, about certain representative categories of people, e.g. homosexuals (lesbians), AIDS victims, blondes etc.. The stereotypes mentioned are, however, modified by the director who adds another dimension to the problem. The female protagonists shown are more than only pure reflection of the believed female stereotypes, they are more complex. The motives which make women break through the boundaries of society, leave everything behind and drive in search of unknown ‘better’ life are also of great importance in the movie. Indeed, all the girls, i.e. Jane, Robin and Holly have strong arguments which urge them. Jane, an Afro-American lesbian singer, loses her job and a partner and is determined to try her luck somewhere else. Robin, a white HIV- positive, wants to escape her thoughts about the illness and the feeling of the near end. She wants to repeat a journey of her childhood. Finally, Holly, although unwillingly, cannot return home since she accidentally causes the death of her boyfriend Nick. Although at the very beginning of the movie the three women do not seem to have very much in common, they still manage to work out a way to their friendship. This miraculous recipe is called, at least in my opinion, tolerance and patience. What is also interesting about these women is the fact that they are never jealous, never malicious, they are not rivals at any point what seems a little beyond reality. So what are these modified stereotypes?
Jane represents a stereotype of a lesbian who has to resemble a masculine character. She is a very self-conscious reasonable emancipated and active male-female with her preference of the same sex. She is, however, not provocative. She is a rather ugly straightforward and casual person who underlines her sexual orientation and strength by the choice of her cloths. Most of the time she wears trousers, man shirts, or suits, no make-up, on special haircut. Her vocabulary is, if needed, rather rough and masculine, she swears and does not fear to fight with other men for her abused friend Holly. She is responsible, firm in her decisions and extremely protective towards the persons she loves. Jane’s tenderness and softness of her character come to the surface only after she starts to feel for Robin. Her being lesbian, however, does not seen for Jane to be of prime importance. She does not mention it first herself but we get to know about it from Holly’s mouth. Moreover, she does not even try to have an affair with any of her friends. She is a kind of person who has to feel that the object of her meditations feels the same. She would never think of forcing another woman into a relationship which is very female about her. She is affectionate sensitive and frank towards Robin. In order to save Robin’s life, Jane even asks for help a fortune teller.
Holly is a stereotype of a sweet little naive sexually attractive and charming blonde. She is a complete opposite of Jane. Her angelic and goddess-like looks (her perfect figure, lovely face, nice haircut, make-up, close-fitting cloths) attract the opposite sex. She is always presented surrounded by men. It even seems that the latter ones are as essential to her as air. She somehow attracts men who are living examples of stupidity and dullness. The only thing that is more or less positive about them is their appearance; both Nick, a drug dealer, and Abe, a policeman, are ‘handsome’ and have a ‘nicely shaped body’. The last two prerequisites seem enough for Holly to fall in love. It does not matter that she is abused and insulted by Nick, she still loves him or rather is unable to see his real face. She is in a way like a child who wants to play. As a result of her spontaneous reaction, i.e. her unfortunate hit of Nick’s head, Holly becomes a ‘murderess’. She regrets Nick’s death since she is pregnant and Nick might have been a potential father of a child. Abe, on the other hand, voluntarily puts her behind bars in the name of love and justice. Holly’s poor wit does not recognise any potential danger culminating such a decision. The stereotype of Holly is modified in that way that she gets a chance of repentance and simultaneously she is rewarded by marrying her ‘guardian angel’. She is allowed to start ‘a new life’ instead of degrading further.
Robin is a representative of a middle-class woman from a good family which is not the picture of the majority of people about AIDS victims. She is neither a drug addict nor a ‘fallen woman’. Theoretically she should not be where she is now. She is a modest subtle silent romantic warm emotional but, nevertheless, also miserable human being. She suffers physically and mentally. She is not prepared to deal with the reality. Robin feels all the fears of a fatally ill person, she wants to escape and forget all about it. This attitude seems to be the real representation of what AIDS patients go through. Robin seems to be a bridge between the two extremes represented by a lesbian Jane and heterosexual Holly. She is not a very emancipated woman and the emancipation does not seem to her of that importance as to Jane. She is on her way of pursuit of happiness which sticks in her mind as a memory from her childhood. Robin’s greatest dream, as she confesses at the beginning of the film, is to have a husband, two children and house – a picture determined by her illness and memories of her family. Her view of happiness undergoes, however, a thorough revolution towards the end of the story when she admits that she actually loves a woman and feels good with it. I am not, however, convinced whether this state of affairs is not determined by the fact that Jane is the person who stands by Robin and supports her during her last days.
At the end I would like to underline that the three types of women presented in the film do not correspond directly to the stereotypes that the majority of the society shares. I also think that the director of "Boys on the side" shows that reality may be much different from the general image of the ‘different’.

Teresa Malek

 

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