Category Archives: Films

The Bully and The Victim

I’m a bit of a film aficionado, if I do say so myself. This by no means implies that I am a film buff, film snob, or film star wannabe. It just means that I love to watch films. Generally, this rule is pretty loose – I’ll watch any film available (my parents can attest to this and my hogging of Sky Movies). I’ll watch anything from Legally Blonde to Footloose to Thor – from Bridesmaids to Paranormal Activity to whichever Die Hard we’re on now. And, as a rule, I’ll enjoy them enough to watch them through to the end without (much) complaint.

I also have an interesting but annoying habit of being able to directly quote films after watching them once (and having a photographic memory of what happens in said films). Even if they are rubbish films.

So, back to my story. Of late I have watched two films of questionable quality; You Again, starring Kristen Bell, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Betty White; and Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, starring (believe it or not) a pre-Nowhere Boy Aaron Johnson, and based on the teen book series Louise Rennison (Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging being the first – a personal favourite read of mine back in the day).

Admittedly, the sight of Aaron Johnson was enough to get me through this dated and poorly-acted British film-flop (even if he was just 18 in the film) …

… And I’m not entirely sure how I got through You Again.

Both plotlines deal with two of the major character personalities in writing and cinema. These characters pretty much go hand-in-hand … The Bully and The Victim.

This is probably one of the most powerful character duets you could ever use in your writing – they are a written tour de force.

The Bully and The Victim story is well versed – it knows what it’s doing, okay? You can pretty much let them do what they like and they will succeed. This is because they create such strong emotion in people.

Even if you don’t relate personally to the Victim – which most people do – you will empathise with their plight.

Take You Again, for example. This is the Bully-Victim story in overload. Kristen Bell – tortured by the head cheerleader in school – comes back to her hometown years later to discover her older brother is marrying said head cheerleader. So ensues the typical high jinks that make up poor comedies (overused slapstick, screaming, and some form of humiliating dinner scene), and the touching-yet-realistic reconciliation, just in time for the Happy Ever After.

But the crux of the story is how much this cheerleader made Bell’s life hell. How much it’s affected her in later years, and how much strong feeling it generates when Bell is faced with her nemesis once again.

Ignore the horrifying rubbishness of the film – the fact that I sat through it allows me to say this with utter authority of course – let’s look at the Bully-Victim story here.

Kristen Bell’s character was the laughing-stock of the school – clumsy, ugly, probably too clever for her own good. Generally running under most people’s radar. Until the School Bully picks up on her. Joanna (played by Odette Annable) is the typical head cheerleader type; beautiful, popular, probably not top of the class but a comfortable middle ground intelligence, with enough aesthetically pleased attributes to grab the attention of boys. And Marni (KB) gets just enough attention from Joanna to have her life made a living hell.

Let’s face it folks, if you weren’t bullied at school, you were probably one of the kids thanking a variety of deities that you weren’t the victim, and making sure you laughed in the right bits to avoid the bully’s wroth.

But whether you were the victim or getting the hell out of the way, you can very easily relate to Marni’s torture. It hurts, because you remember what it felt like to be the butt of the joke, the ugliest kid in class, the one with the smallest boobs (or in my case, the biggest, which curiously is just as bad). Maybe you had braces, or dandruff, or maybe you didn’t get your growth spurt until you reached 16. Whatever the reason, you hurt when you see what Joanna does to Marni, because you felt that pain too.

In Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 14-year-old Georgia (played by Georgia Groome) is harassed by the bully too. This bully has long blonde locks, fully developed boobs, and not a spot in sight. She also has the boy of Georgia’s dreams. This angst-ridden could-have-been-funny-if-it-weren’t-trying-so-hard film is full of the hairy, scary and humiliating adventures of a 14-year-old girl.

Relate much?

In my head I’m just a 16-year-old with an extra few years of self-loathing piled on top and money problems. I still have lumpy bits, horrendous breakouts of spots on my chin, and I still can’t get the guy. And there’s still the girl with the perfect complexion, perfect hair and – oh wait – the perfect man. The only difference here is; Georgia learns to love herself for just who she is – wise advice, and please do love yourself – but I’m still getting there.

Whatever situation The Victim is in – whether facing down an old enemy, or fighting for Mr Right, or simply just trying to survive school – you can feel that too. That is what makes the Bully-Victim saga so strong; you have a baddie that your readers love to hate, and a goodie that your readers desperately want to win – because they feel like if this Victim can win, then they can win in their own Bully-Victim storyline.

It’s David and Goliath, Perseus and the underworld, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Lindsay Lohan versus the Mean Girls … okay, maybe too far.

Whatever story you align this character duo to, you can see what an emotive and strong Power Couple they make. Christopher Booker called it overcoming the monster, I call it The Bully and The Victim.

My writing is always full of Bullies and Victims. I can’t help it – I love an underdog story. Maybe it harks back to my Victim days of being pushed down stairs or watching the Popular Girl walk off with the “man of my dreams”. Maybe I just want the Victim to win every now and then in my writing. If I could go back in time, I would stand up for myself. Swing a couple of punches maybe. But I can’t go back in time, I have to keep moving forward. So here’s how I swing my punches:

  1. I work. Hard. I work at what I love.
  2. I write. I write and write and write, and I write stories about the goodies beating the baddies.
  3. I dye my hair dark because I can.
  4. I drink wine with my friends and watch rubbish films, knowing that if – or when – I do find my soulmate, I might not get the chance to have this kind of experience again, and I’m okay with that, but I’m not letting it pass me by just because my eyes are on the horizon looking for my Aaron Johnson.
  5. I’m not going to my school reunion. No, not because it makes me feel old (it does). Not because I’m still single and living at home (hey, there’s a lot of people like me out there). But because I don’t need to. I don’t need to look back.

Films are rife with Bullies and Victims. And I sort of love watching these stories play out, because it’s exactly what I’ve been saying – I relate hugely. I get emotionally attached to the film, I invest time and hope and feeling in it. I do the same when reading these stories – they can be agonising when the Victim suffers a set-back (as inevitably they do), but I can’t put the book down. I have to know: can the Victim overcome the Bully? Because, if they can, then I have some hope overcoming my Bully.

And there you have the essence of The Bully and The Victim. They are your life, however you want to perceive it, playing out on screen or on pages.

Do you have a Bully-Victim story in your writing? Did you even realise that they were there before you started writing?

What’s your favourite Bully-Victim story?

And, how are you standing  up to your Bullies?

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Some Life Lessons from “Pretty Woman”

You’re perfectly allowed to be horrified at this statement:

I have never seen Pretty Woman before.

I know. I’m a 24-year-old girl and I’ve never seen it. To be fair, according to D at work, I’m quite uneducated when it comes to films (you should definitely follow her on Twitter because she’s ace). So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

Anyway, go get back to the point – I’ve now watched it. And I have discovered a few life lessons from this film, which I thought I would share with you all.

1. Richard Gere is the Perfect Man
I have a massive crush on Richard Gere – I think An Officer and a Gentleman basically ruined my love life because no one will ever match up to Richard. Ever. And I think Pretty Woman just proves it. This guy not only looks hot in uniform BUT he willingly hands over his credit card? Like I said. Perfect. Man.

2. What you wear matters
Once I got over the shock of realising just how many 80s fashions have snuck back in (and how many are in my wardrobe) I started to pay real attention to the outfits. Mainly because they’re integral to the plot. Firstly, if you want to be seen as a hooker, wear thigh-high shiny pleather boots (and for extra realism, keep some condoms in them). Secondly, if you want to be “accepted in to society”, wear hats and gloves with some matching shorts-and-blazer combo with shoulder pads.

Anyway, the real transformation comes with the introduction of The Red Dress. The call-girl becomes a woman, and this is probably the moment that Richard Gere falls irrevocably in love (hint: it started at the polo match and now it’s incurable).

So, the Pretty Woman tip to take from this: look like a hooker and the man of your dreams will pay you for the night… look like a woman and the man of your dreams will fall in love with you forever and ever and ever.

[Can I also add in my opinion on this – my favourite outfits of all were the spotty dress at the polo match and the white blazer dress she wears coming back from shopping … and I couldn’t help but snigger every time Julia Roberts ruined the “beautiful woman” image by stomping. I only hope it was intentional.]

3. Keep surprising people
Never stay predictable. I don’t mean go on a psychopathic rampage (because gore just isn’t attractive and prison visits are not the most romantic setting), I just mean that you shouldn’t be afraid of being yourself and doing what you want to do. And that means, every now and then, surprising your potential soulmate. Keep some dental floss in your bag like Julia Roberts, or admit to liking cheesy zombie films even though your favourite colour is pink, quote some Buffy or Big Bang Theory over first date cocktails, or start a conversation on the origins of the human race. When your potential soulmate meets you, you’re going to have to make it memorable. Maybe have a pet badger or something?

4. Keep your distance (or: The significance of kissing on the mouth)
I’m not saying the literal implementation of the “no kissing on the mouth” rule, I’m going for a more metaphorical interpretation. Like the whole “no kissing until the third date” or “no sleeping with someone you met less than 12 hours ago” rules, there’s a lot to be said for holding back for a little while. Unlike all these romantic stories, your potential soulmate may only remain a potential soulmate, and your real soulmate might still be out there (try Serendipity for a bit of are-they-aren’t-they love mangles). What if you jump in feet first and realise down the line that you’re going for the wrong person (typically this happens at the altar, which makes things hugely embarrassing). So just hold back for a while, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and don’t kiss until your third date…

5. “Haters gonna hate”
I’m going to admit that I’m a little ashamed I even wrote that. But I failed to think of anything wittier. So there we have it. Those people who don’t like you now? They’re not going to like you in the future. Sorry. They’re just not. Julia Roberts was rejected simply by the way she looked. The best bit? When she goes back and throws it back their faces. You are better than those people who don’t like you. Honestly. So, by all means, rub it in that you’re better than them. Just keep in mind, they’re always going to hate (and it’s a massive cliché, but it’s only because they’re jealous). Just remember that it’s not worth the time and effort to try and make them like you – just spend your shedloads of money elsewhere and then drop by to make them realise they made a massive mistake!

6. Old films are the cure
I have long believed this. Old films can cure any ill. And do you know how I know? Because, not only have I experienced the curative powers of Charade and Some Like it Hot and Dr. No first hand, but Julia Roberts also uses the wonder of the old film in an attempt to cure Richard Gere of his workaholic-ism.

Vivian: Let’s watch old movies all night… we’ll just veg out in front of the TV.
Edward Lewis: Veg out?
Vivian: Yeah. Be still like vegetables. Lay like broccoli.

I also love the image of broccoli lying around.

7. Nothing wrong with being spoiled
My absolute favourite scene in Pretty Woman is when Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts shopping and makes sure she gets absolutely spoiled. This film, as well as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, proves without a shadow of doubt that there is nothing wrong with spoiling yourself every now and then (just avoid getting your head chopped off). So, when you have Richard Gere’s credit card (because he’s off somewhere doing something manly in a uniform, whilst bonding with a puppy and singing about some razzle dazzle) I think you are completely, and utterly entitled to spend it all on you. What can I say – we’re worth it!

8. Have a special song
This is not just something from Pretty Woman. This is from every romantic film ever. You and your potential soulmate must have a special song. How else are they going to seduce you from the garden when you’re ready to leave forever, all heartbroken and stuff? Think John Cusack with a boombox in Say Anything… or Heath Ledger dancing along the steps in 10 Things I Hate About You, and now add in Richard Gere standing out the sun roof of a limo in Pretty Woman. So, have a decent romantic (meaningful) song in readiness to win the heart of your loved one around.

9. You only realise your true feelings once they’ve gone
It happens over and over again. You fall in love, you don’t realise you’re in love, you fall out with your soulmate and they prepare to leave, but then you realise that you really are in love with them and have to stop them getting on that bus/plane/boat/train and leaving you forever. So far, not even Pretty Woman has given me the solution to getting around this tricky situation. Which is why I have learnt tip number 10.

10. Always have a limo on hand
– – – Sub-note: always live on the top floor
There is nothing attractive about turning up to announce your undying love all sweaty and out of breath. Also, you will probably have to move pretty quickly because you’ll probably leave this to the last minute and have to rush to the bus station/airport/harbour/railway station. So the next trick is to always have a limousine on hand to take you there (remember to make sure said limo has a sound system suitable to play your special song [see life lesson no.8] unless you’re planning to take a boombox with you).

The sub-note is for the soulmate you are going to find. Make sure you’re on the top floor. If you haven’t got one foot on the bus/train/boat, and if you’re not going through security of the airport lounge, then you definitely need to have a top floor apartment. It’s far more romantic to look out and down to your soulmate – complete with limo and special song – looking up at you and imploring you to stay; and then you have to run down into their arms. It’s terribly romantic.

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