The Dude Porn of Gleaming Roadsters and White Men Behaving Badly
It’s the final lap of the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. The drizzling day has eked into night and back again as the remaining drivers — those who haven’t burst into flames or crumpled into smoldering metal knots — close in on the last of their 3,000+ miles of looping track. Behind the wheel of a Ford GT40, the apex of American automotive ingenuity up to that exact moment, our hero impels the machine past any reasonable expectations, her 7.0-liter V8 howling. But he’s bleary-eyed. The brakes are shot. And a cockamamie order from corporate has frayed his focus. As he guns the final straightaway, set to break his own speed record, only one thought roars through my head:
Ford v Ferrari is everything that’s wrong with men, packed into two very loud hours and 32 minutes.
No one asked my opinion of this movie. But since I was dragged to see it on a rare date night, and because (much to my husband’s relief) the Downton Abbey movie had already left theaters, I’m going to afflict you with my thoughts just the same.
The film tells the true-enough story of racing-champ-turned-auto-designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and his eccentric, peppery buddy Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Together, they enlist to help Ford win a 1966 grudge match against Ferrari.
From start to finish, the flick is designed as dude-porn, and my date sighed audibly at the sight of something he called “beautiful cars.” All I saw was grown men — powerful, privileged men — behaving like children: One-upping each other in boardrooms. Sideswiping each other on speedways. Sucker-punching each other on sidewalks. Men who risk their lives for the glory of barreling a few seconds faster to prove once and for all who’s got the biggest — oh, let’s call it “the purtiest toy.” At one point, someone actually says, “We’re lighter, we’re faster, and if that don’t work, we’re nastier.”
It’s like Cannonball Run, but they aren’t joking.
Let me be clear: I drive a stick (by choice), grew up on motorcycles, and love to drive fast. And while I’d rather be ogling the Crawleys’ Edwardian frocks and gleaming silver soup tureens than watching a well-oiled pit crew fueling up a roadster, I would happily watch Christian Bale unknot his shoelaces for 152 minutes. Heck, the guy once made me temporarily care about boxing, which, on a scale of unappealing sports, has racing beat by several laps.
But here’s what really punctured my tire: The only gal in the movie is a fantasy wife conceived by screenwriters who I’d wager have never actually met a woman. Her role: be gorgeous and supportive, follow her fella’s races breathlessly from the TV back home, pull up a lawn chair to watch him fistfight on the street corner, and saunter backlit into his garage bearing booze and sandwiches just when he’s feeling lowest. The only time she causes trouble is when she’s angry (livid, damnit!) that he’s not being true to himself.
Pardon me for puking in the popcorn.
Look, I see the romance and even the value in the obsessive pursuit of precision and performance. But it’s too soon to be nostalgic about when petulant white males ruled the earth. (The mere existence of a 24-hour motor race that goes around in circles over 300 times, burning through 63.7 jillion metric tons of gasoline, is proof that guys have been in charge way too long.)
Ultimately, Ford v Ferrari made me wonder what this country would look like today if we’d funneled half as much energy and money into, say, education as we have into industry — into developing thoughtful humans v. winning machines. I would have pondered deeper, but I nodded off during the film’s final race and dreamed the engines thundering in my ears were the lively roar of aristocratic British chatter at a proper Downton Abbey gala.
When that movie finally streams, I’ll subject my husband to everything that’s wrong with women, shoehorned into two hours and three minutes. Will he watch? Of course. I bring booze and sandwiches.