There’s a moment early on in The Misogynists, Onur Tukel’s jaunty yet coal-black 2017 comedy, where well-meaning business bro Baxter (Lou Jay Taylor) slips out of a boys’ night out to phone his wife Alice. It’s election night 2016. Trump is slated to become the 45th U.S. president, and half the country is elated while the other half is horrified.
“Give him a chance. He may turn out to be a good president,” the amenable Baxter says. His wife immediately lashes out at Baxter, accusing him of secretly voting for Trump. Tukel, who was at the Friday night VisArt Video screening of his film, told the audience that this bit of dialog came from a real-life interaction.
In a Q&A after the film, Tukel recounted that his attempt in 2016 to offer his then-girlfriend a similar sliver of hope had disastrous results for the relationship. (Tukel was also on hand for Saturday night’s screening of The Misogynists, which runs through February 27 at VisArt.)
With an unlikely combination of vitriolic glee and immense empathy for its characters, The Misogynists examines how Americans process — and are often pawns of — the forces that divide us into camps: man vs. woman, white vs. people of color, conservative vs. liberal. In a performance that deftly balances feral gloating and aching vulnerability, Dylan Baker as Cameron is the chief Trump cheerleader in a hotel room victory party of two.
“If Hilary Clinton had won it would’ve meant women in power,” Cameron warns Baxter. “They would’ve had to rename the oval office the vulva office.” Baxter’s attempts to be the voice of reason are derailed by massive rivers of booze, copious quantities of coke and Cameron recklessly brandishing a firearm.
“Trump will bring stability!” Cameron exalts while pointing the pistol at his friend.
As the victory celebration spins increasingly out of control, the hotel room’s big screen TV switches on at random moments to display cryptic images, often in reverse: a shark swimming, monkeys humping, a space shuttle backing up to return the spacecraft to its launching pad, and more.
As Cameron drops increasingly deranged pearls of wisdom like, “Sometimes you need genocide to restore balance,” and “Drugs bring everyone together,” it becomes clear that his macho, misogynist posturing is merely cover for a wounded animal; he’s heartbroken because his wife has left him. Baxter’s moderating influence may not be healthy either. His equanimity may instead be spinelessness. Baxter’s attempts to please both Cameron and his wife end up assuaging no one.
The party takes a turn when two call girls arrive. Sasha and Amber, played by Ivana Milicevic and Trieste Kelly Dunn are The Misogynists’ most sympathetic characters.
As the women prepare for the night’s main event, their coke-fueled would-be johns start chattering about all the various holes they are going to fuck “like a round of golf,” while grabbing each other’s crotches to compare hard-ons. The exchange is too much for Sasha and Amber, who throw the money they’re about to earn back in Cameron’s and Baxter’s faces and storm out of the room.
Unfortunately, Baxter has left his cell phone on, and his wife has heard the entire tawdry exchange. As he exits to repair his crumbling marriage, a hotel management team lead by a black woman — a symbol for Obama’s legacy, Tukel tells us — tries to evict Cameron. Cameron threatens them all with his gun. The security team spills out into the hotel hallway as it rapidly fills with patrons, a diverse crowd that is a stand-in for liberal America, Tukel reveals.
Despite the symbolism of these scenes, Tukel never loses sight of his character’s humanity. The closing scene is an emotional punch in the gut, with things coming to a head both for Cameron and society as a whole.
The Misogynists is sharply funny yet disturbing. Viewers are left with the feeling that civilization won’t end with either a bang or a whimper, but instead amid a welter of self-absorption and self-regard.
Tukel, joined by Charlotte Film Society program director Jay Morong, opened the floor to audience input after the screening. The ensuing discussion wasn’t as tumultuous as the film, but it still raised a few hackles among a mostly anti-Trump crowd.
Tukel mentioned that he was among those horrified by Trump’s election victory in 2016, but that he has since shifted toward the political center. Though he vows to vote Democratic in the next national election, primarily because he’s uncomfortable with Trump in charge of the nuclear codes, he questioned why people protested Trump on election night before he had a chance to enact a single policy.
Tukel also maintained that protesting Trump’s electoral vote victory is anti-democratic because it disputes the results of a free and fair election. That thesis drew fire from liberals in the audience who maintained that the election was not fair due to foreign meddling in the process, special counsel Robert Mueller’s refusal to exonerate Trump for obstruction of justice and growing evidence of the National Rifle Association’s and the Republican party’s attachment to Russian money to fund GOP campaigns.
Trump’s impeachment has also raised questions about abuses of power employed by the administration to affect the outfit of the 2020 election, amid concerns that the Republican senate exonerated Trump to cover their own embrace of Putin and the Kremlin.
Despite such concerns, Tukel deserves commendations for wading into thorny issues, and his main point is sound. We need to open up to everyone’s opinions, because without hearing all voices, truth is impossible to attain. And without truth, democracy dies.