Women-directed and produced “Hot Pursuit” has its moments

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It’s still a rarity that women-led and directed comedies are made by major film studios. So Hot Pursuit, starring Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon, is, in theory, a movie women should want to support. The comedy (directed by Anne Fletcher) follows Reese as a Texas cop named Cooper who has a very specific job: She must help transport Sofia’s character, Daniella Riva, to Dallas where she will testify alongside her husband against a drug kingpin. Of course, things go completely wrong and Cooper and Daniella end up on the run, hiding from cops that are supposed to be good guys but turn out to be a part of the problem.

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At the beginning of the film, we first meet young Cooper (not played by Reese) as she sits next in the back of her father’s squad car. When he arrests a transgender woman,  Cooper tells her, “You’re beautiful.” In a booming male voice, the trans woman responds, “Thank you, baby,” and Cooper makes a face. It was disappointing and just not funny.

As the affable but determined cop, Reese gets a gay joke tossed her way almost immediately once she meets Daniella, too, as Daniella calls her Officer Lesbian.

“The dude. I’m a dude,” Reese said during a press conference about the film. “I knew [Sofia would] be beautiful so I decided I’d be the dude. I kind of like playing weird characters anyway.”

Toward the end of Hot Pursuit, Cooper dresses in drag to attend a quincinera undercover, and she bears a strong resemblance to Justin Bieber. But the most talked-about moment about the film so far seems to be the kiss Sofia and Reese share when pretending to be “lesbian lovers” in hopes of escaping a gun-toting trucker. In the comedic scene, Sofia gives Reese’s ponytail a strong yank back while going in for the kiss.

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“That was Sofia’s idea,” Reese said of the kiss. “Yeah it wasn’t in the script. She did that.”

“We wanted to figure out what was sexy and what was stupid and silly without being off-putting for women,” Anne said. “Like what is the funny part of this and we started throwing ideas around and that ponytail was available for the grabbing.”

“It was bouncing around and it felt like the right thing for me to do. It was right there,” Sofia said. “There’s things you can’t fake. The audience is intelligent. You cannot just fake a ponytail pulling!”

“I had whiplash for three days,” Reese said. “She just grabbed my ponytail and started ripping my head back.”

As for the kiss, Sofia joked it was “delicious. She smells like a strawberry.”

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In an interview with PrideSource, Reese was asked about the faux-lesbian element of the kiss. “I think gay people are able to play straight roles; straight people are able to play gay roles,” she said. “The whole point of being an actor is to transform. If people don’t understand that we need to be malleable in our sexuality, then I think they need to lighten up.”

In the same interview, both Reese and Sofia say they have lesbian friends who they think will enjoy the film as much as straight women will.

Reese: I have a ton of lesbian friends, and I think any kind of woman who relates to us or enjoys the movie – that’s awesome!

Sofia: Half of the time I don’t know if they’re lesbian. It’s just normal. It’s not like they’re like, “Hi, I am a lesbian and I am a fan!”

Reese: (Laughs) The whole movie is: It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your sexual orientation is, what you do for a living, what your ethnicity is – women are women, and we all have a lot in common.

The Daniella/Cooper relationship is very much love/hate. Their friendship ebbs and flows as they struggle to understand each other’s real motivations and decipher truth from lies (the lies are mostly on Daniella’s behalf). Most of the jokes are at Cooper’s expense, which is off-putting. Nonetheless, Hot Pursuit passes the Bechdel test, as Daniella and Cooper’s exchanges aren’t solely focused on men.

“We had the idea to make a movie that just wasn’t about romantic involvement. It wasn’t about men or chasing men. And as soon as you strip that away, you can dig deeper into the female characters,” Reese said.

“Their characters are so well-developed and these women are so amazing to be around,” Anne said. “And women have so much more to us than just the romantic element. I love romantic comedies, don’t get me wrong, but one of the things I always fight against is that men don’t save women. Cooper learns a lot of stuff from Daniella to free herself and open herself and take chances and don’t maybe follow the rules all the time.”

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And while Cooper does have a love interest in the film—a guy named Randy—he has a very small role. His original part was even smaller, Anne said, but when they tested Hot Pursuit with audiences, it came back that they wanted more from that relationship.

“I felt—and I think they did too—we felt really confident like we told this part of the story,” Anne said. “This is Cooper’s journey. Then we put it in front of test audiences and they were like, ‘What happened with Randy?’ And we were like, ‘Aw man!'”

“I think they more wanted it—they just want Cooper to be happy,” Reese said. “They don’t want to know who Randy is: ‘Did she have sex?'”

Hot Pursuit is far from perfect but the positive intent for women-created, produced, directed and starred mainstream films is there. If a movie like this fails at the box office, it sets a standard for other films from and about women and the fallacy that these kinds of movies don’t make money because no one wants to see them is perpetuated. 

“I think if anything, it’s a positive move for women moving forward and opening the door,” Anne said. “I’ve said that the population is more than 50 percent women, and our money is as green as anyone else’s. Making movies for us, about us, you know, from us I think is a smart business move on somebody’s part.”

“I think the most important things, too, women out there need to know is you have to show up and buy tickets because if you want to see something different, you have to support the women writing and directing,” Reese said. “We need people to come to the movie theaters. The better this movie does, the more movies they are going to make like it.”

Even with the success of predecessors like Mean Girls, Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, women are constantly having to prove their worth in the multi-million dollar movie making industry. Hot Pursuit has its moments, and Reese Witherspoon is both adorkable and hilarious in her role and truly commits to the physical comedy required. Despite its imperfections, it’s a fun film that is family-friendly enough to take your mom, sisters or friends to on Mother’s Day. (Just make sure to explain after that we typically save the hair pulling for the bedroom.)

Hot Pursuit opens tomorrow.

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