For those of you who don’t know, Goodfellas just might be my favorite movie of all time. Bad day? Goodfellas will cheer me up. Good day? Goodfellas. Now it’s a great day. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading this and go watch it. In short, it’s a gangster film directed by Martin Scorsese. And God, what’s not to love? The narration style provided by Henry Hill and Karen Hill is a joy–a beautiful mix of hope, nostalgia, justification, and honesty. The movie is funny,interesting, extravagant, and the cinematography is to die for (famous tracking shot anyone?). And the soundtrack… I listen to it constantly. Okay. Goodfellas is my favorite movie of all time. So when I saw it trending on twitter I was excited to retweet quotes and screenshots from fellow fans. But those hopes were quickly crushed when I saw what all the Goodfellas fuss was about:
A controversial post made New York Post critic Kyle Smith entitled, Women are not capable of understanding ‘GoodFellas’.
The title of this post is perfect because its “an absolute”–a hallmark of any flawed argument. The way this is phrased means finding even one woman who understands Goodfellas makes the argument fall apart completely, which the internet has already taken care of. I know what some of you are thinking: “well that’s just the title, clearly designed to get clicks.” This is true. But the content is no different. Smith actually has no qualifiers in his “*argument.” He continuously makes appalling claims such as
“Women sense that [the characters] are irrelevant to this fantasy, and it bothers them.”
“To a woman, the “GoodFellas” are lowlifes. To guys, they’re hilarious, they’re heroes.”
Not only only does this stereotype everyone, it’s also an extremely surface level reading of the film.
*Note: I have placed the word argument in quotations because it really isn’t an argument. It’s a series of naked claims.
Smith offers no evidence. There are no quotes. There are no studies cited. Nothing. His only evidence is this pathetic anecdote he opens with:
The first time I saw “GoodFellas,” on a rented Blockbuster videotape in 1991, I was in a daze as the final credits rolled. If I had been a cartoon character, I would have had stars dancing around my head like Wile E. Coyote. I turned to my girlfriend and said, “What’d you think?”
“Boy movie,” she declared — and I knew our relationship was doomed.
Just kidding. (We split up because I was a jerk.) But women don’t get “GoodFellas.” It’s not really a crime drama, like “The Godfather.” It’s more of a male fantasy picture — “Entourage” with guns instead of swimming pools, the Rat Pack minus tuxedos.”
Allow me to put Kyle Smith’s blatant sexism aside for a moment and examine this article as if a student or peer handed this to me for edits. The problem with this (aside from the sexism) is that Smith is really arguing that Goodfellas is a male fantasy. He provides evidence for this: the cheating, the lavish life, the “ball-busting,” the way these men do whatever they want, the fact that they never really talk about their feelings. However, this is also flawed because he fails to acknowledge that by male fantasy he means a hyperbole of socialized gender norms. But a quick edit can correct this generalization. In fact, this argument (the one about the film, not about women) could be really interesting, especially when you consider the downfall of Henry Hill. If we follow this line of thought, what is Goodfellas trying to say about masculinity? Personally, I always thought of the film as conveying the futility of the American Dream, but the gender norms approach is interesting to think about.
But do not be blinded by the pockets of semi-valid (albeit, low-level) commentary Smith makes about the film because Smith is not actually making an argument ABOUT THE FILM. Remember, his thesis is “[W]omen don’t get good Goodfellas.”
THIS IS NOT ARGUABLE because it is impossible to provide evidence for or against it. No one can look at a text and analyze it to determine whether or not an entire group of people are capable of understanding it. Also, since when is liking something equal to understanding it?
In short, THIS CANNOT BE YOUR THESIS, KYLE.
Not only is making sweeping claims about an entire gender, race, or any group of people offensive, wrong, and illogical, but it’s also not what we are here to do. Poor Kyle Smith’s high school English teachers… they spent all that time saying “your argument needs to be about the text” but nothing got through.
When I first heard about this article, I was appalled as a woman. But after reading the article, I was deeply offended as an English major. Kyle Smith, this is poorly written and serves no purpose aside from spewing your sexist thoughts into the internet abyss; what on earth do you think this adds to the field of film critique/film studies?
And to top it all off, Smith concludes by inviting us to wonder “What would “GoodFellas” be like if it were told by a woman?” But before I can think about how uncomfortable that question is, he answers it for me:
“Meet an at-risk youth called Henry Hill. Victimized by horrific physical abuse from an early age, and traumatized by the responsibilities of caring for a handicapped brother, he fell prey to criminal elements in his rough East New York neighborhood in a time when social-services agencies were sadly lacking. At an impressionable age, he became desensitized to violence when a gunshot victim bled to death in front of a restaurant where he was working. His turn to the mafia was a cry for help — a need to find a family structure to replace the one he had never really known.
And who would want to watch that movie?”
The funny thing is, anyone who has watched Goodfellas has already watched that movie. Smith is merely describing the movie from a more aware and analytical point of view. In fact, this section mocking women’s perspectives is the most well written part of the article. But I suppose it’s a film summary that might go unnoticed, ironically, by men like Kyle Smith who look at this cinematic masterpiece and emerge with this interpretation: