[T]he film inadvertently sidelines the value of real world femininity as something that has to be shed in order to attain power. Women run the world, but they do so by aping the signifiers of real world masculinity, and the man who refuses to reject his own masculinity is the one who ends up finding true love.
“I Am Not An Easy Man” is something of a hidden gem. The Netflix original French-language romantic comedy debuted back in April and has mostly stayed under the radar since, but its absurdist comedy, genuine commitment to its premise and relatively sharp messaging warrant a closer look.
After a bump to the head, Damien, a “male chauvinist pig” with all the attendant benefits of male privilege, finds himself stuck in an alternate universe in which gender roles are reversed and society is dominated by women in all facets of life. When he becomes romantically entangled with Alexandra, a female chauvinist in her own right, and a well-regarded novelist looking for her next great idea, he struggles to see his place in a world where his desires are not paramount.
Mostly the film really works. In the few short scenes before Damien’s injury he is quickly established as the worst kind of brute. He is callous and vulgar and regards women as little more than objects who exist for his own amusement and sexual titillation. As a result, his initial shock at waking up to find himself in a world run by women is entertaining and hilarious. He cannot conceive of the new social norms he has walked into and begins to feel as though he is losing his mind.
The film’s exploration of the parts of culture that might change with women in charge is its greatest strength. It is thorough in its excavation of the ways in which men dismiss women in the real world and in flipping them on their head. Things that seem mundane and unremarkable to our eyes become ludicrous and absurd when applied to men. The examples are as numerous as they are entertaining. When Damien gets a job as Alexandra’s assistant, he wears a suit jacket and shorts to work. The image is tailor-made to induce chuckles and snickering, until you realize that it’s not really any different to the skirt suits women wear everyday. Strippers in gentlewomen’s clubs are buff young men with long hair and immaculately toned physiques. Men are presumed to prefer sweeter, less intoxicating alcoholic beverages like mimosas. Fathers harass their sons for grandchildren they can look after, lamenting their bachelor status. Women do not shave, and men are expected to be entirely hairless, permitting of course, a tidy landing strip of hair in the middle of their chests.
Damien stumbles through it all as the women he encounters mock him for his “masculist politics” insisting that they just loooove men. They have husbands and sons! It’s a clever inversion that never ceases to amuse. Importantly, it also acknowledges that power corrupts, and doesn’t forget to show examples of the ways women also abuse their power over men, including street harassment, sexual harassment in the workplace and systemic discrimination within the world’s institutions. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there’s no reason to believe that in a world in which women have always been charge, they would be any less inclined to the kinds of abuses men are so prone to today.
That said, the central romance is a little unclear when the film’s politics are really examined. In this world, femininity signifies strength, the power to work and bear children and the natural dominion of women, while masculinity is marked by the ability to nurture, care and submit. Alexandra is as misogynist as any man, only it is men she views as inferior. To her, “masculinity” is a important trait that men should cherish and cultivate while they leave the difficult work to the women. But her attraction to Damien is presented as a direct result of his refusal to conform to these ideas. Still convinced that his place is at the top of the hierarchy, Damien resists this new world at every turn, lamenting the lack of women in short skirts and stilettos and cleavage for him to gawk at in the street. It is these “wild ideas” that draw Alexandra to him, both as a lover and as the subject of her new book. For Damien too, Alexandra’s appeal is that she is essentially, just like him. She does not swoon at his touch or pine for his return. She treats him exactly the way he has treated women all his life, and this make her unavailable to him in a way that other women aren’t. In the end, it still comes down to the chase.
In this way, the film inadvertently sidelines the value of real world femininity as something that has to be shed in order to attain power. Women run the world, but they do so by aping the signifiers of real world masculinity, and the man who refuses to reject his own masculinity is the one who ends up finding true love. Adding to that, the film’s final twist suggests that Alexandra too has a lesson to learn about men’s place in the world, while giving Damien a massive bout of goodwill in its final moments.
Despite the muddled message, the film is truly worth it as it wrings every last possible drop of commentary from its short runtime, doing its best to make up the shortfall of the ending. It is funny and charming and the two leads do a lot of work to make vile characters sympathetic and almost endearing. You will lose nothing by giving this fun film the time it deserves.