I’ve been unabashedly fascinated by the character of Amy Dunne since I devoured Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl on a Florida beach in the summer of 2012. Since then, I’ve been met with a mixed reaction from those who have guffawed and ranted by the possibility that I could be in awe of a sociopathic, psychotic murderer. Most of these reactions have been from either men or those who watched Fincher’s movie and never read the book. It’s likely these aforementioned men read my “All hail Amy Dunne” tweets, saw a tall, thin, blonde in my profile photo, and immediately hit the unfollow button. I’m not a crazy chick secretly plotting my boyfriend’s demise, nor is Amy Dunne my inspiration and hero when it comes to daily life, but she has brought to light and labeled the relatively unspoken but prolific concept of the “Cool Girl.” The validity and social accuracy of Amy’s Cool Girl speech doesn’t deserve to be negated or disregarded because of who she’s revealed to be, and no female should be ashamed to admit she relates to Amy’s “Cool Girl” speech just because she’s the one who gave it.
So what is the Cool Girl exactly, and where did she come from? In an interview with Vulture, author Gillian Flynn discusses her inspiration for the famous speech, citing the Cameron Diaz character Mary Jensen in There’s Something About Mary for her inspiration as the ultimate Cool Girl, an archetype created by men that evolved into the standard that all women should strive for to create the ultimate fun, relaxed atmosphere that would lead to the perfect, happy relationship. Since Mary graced our screens in 1998, we’ve witnessed a surge in the presence of the Cool Girl in movies, from Kate Hudson as the sexy, carefree, basketball loving Andie Anderson, who pretends to act like a halfway normal female to show what not to do in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, to Mila Kunis in most of the romcoms she’s starred in that last few years. Friends With Benefits and Forgetting Sarah Marshall both feature Kunis as the hot, foul mouthed, fast talking chick that prides herself in being one of the guys, and I speak for many women when I say it worked on us too. I wanted to be her for a solid three years, right before Jennifer Lawrence took over as the ultimate Cool Girl off the screen.
With so many examples of how we’re supposed to act, and so many horror stories and caution tales of how unappealing it is to actually, God forbid, get mad at a guy for being selfish or thoughtless, what woman wouldn’t fall into the facade of trying to conform herself into Cool Girl status? After all, Amy said it best when she said Cool Girls never get angry, but she sure does manage to enjoy sports while scarfing fatty foods and maintaining a perfect physique. Amy’s Cool Girl rant is a refreshing affirmation that we aren’t alone in feeling the pressure to tweak ourselves to appeal to the opposite sex, because these are the standards that have been set as the norm, so who can blame them for wanting nothing less than the Cool Girl? So yeah, in 2012 when I read that speech for the first time, and then again last weekend when Rosamund Pike’s buttery voice rounded it all out with “that bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much”, I did a little fist pump, because she’s right.
We’ve all tried to be the Cool Girl, whether we know it or not., and her portrayal of the ultimate Cool Girl is spot on, and just as exhausting as she describes, and the fact that her effort is rewarding by a husband who quits trying only to move on using the same moves on the next Cool Girl validates her disgust at the very least. The only problem with Fincher’s representation of Amy Dunne is the lack of depth and background he gives Amy and Nick’s relationship and her exhausting efforts as the Cool Girl. She’s painted as the narcissistic Stepford wife that creates a fake miserable and abusive relationship rather than a woman who goes to unrealistic lengths to be the Cool Girl that constantly puts on an act to keep the fire burning in a relationship that is never quite enough for the shallow, selfish Nick Dunne. Instead of portraying the fully realized notion of the Cool Girl as she’s thoroughly described by Flynn in the novel, that portion of Nick and Amy’s relationship is condensed into a few flashbacks that only emphasize Amy’s cold, calculated manipulative nature, creating a more distinct line between villain and victim.
Fincher has been criticized more than a few times over the years for his treatment of the female characters that inhabit his movies (one of our own Contributors touches on it in his analysis of the popularity of Fight Club), and his collaboration with Flynn for the adaptation of Gone Girl has sparked much debate on the story’s representation of both feminism and misogyny. Gone Girl is not automatically feminist because it was written by a woman, and it’s not instantly misogynist because the story is driven by a woman who continuously exacts revenge on the men in her life. The collaboration of Flynn and Fincher has actually produced a movie that manages to possess qualities of both without a fixed point negotiation.
Although the movie largely depicts Amy as a murderous sociopath out to deliver drastic, diabolical retribution to the men who have wronged her, the book doesn’t draw those distinct gender lines. Fincher cuts two female characters that add diversity and depth to Amy’s motives. The excision of Amy’s female stalker, Hilary Handy, removes an element of the story that proves Amy doesn’t always aim her revenge at men, and the compromise of Amy spitting in her new friend’s drink doesn’t come close to having the same impact. The film also cuts the character of Desi’s mother, along with some of the set up that fleshes Desi out as much more of an unstable and dangerous threat rather than a semi-obsessed victim Amy preys upon to get herself one step closer to what she wants.
In this way, Fincher’s Gone Girl sacrifices the impact of the original concept of the Cool Girl to further paint the picture of the lengths Amy will go to in order to win. It becomes more about Nick and Amy’s cat and mouse power struggle than anything else, which still makes for one hell of a ride. And Amy might have won without playing fairly, and Gone Girl might have successfully scared all of you away from the concept of marriage, but guys, when you finally stop having nightmares and muster up the courage to enter the dating pool again, just remember, no one loves chili dogs that much.
All Images: Gone Girl 20th Century Fox