Woman of the Year (1942)

Rates: * * * 1/2

Why Did I Watch It? Classic film club selection.

Cast, crew, etc.

Two newspaper writers tangle in print over the importance of sport to American society; a good natured boy-man Sam (Tracey) sticks up for it, overachieving megabrain Tess (Hepburn) thinks its a bit overrated. It is a conversation I have my friends regularly, played out in a 1940s rom-com.

The two eventually meet, spar, fall for each other, and then rush into marriage. But will these two stubborn, strong willed people make any compromises to make their relationships work?

An issue with this movie, viewed from 2020, is that it is mostly leaning on Hepburn’s character to do the compromising. While it is refreshing, and fun, to see a female character as accomplished as Tess in a film from this era – she speaks 20 languages, has travelled all over the world, has her finger on every pulse – as the film progresses it does start to take sides against her. The fact that she doesn’t want to have a child of her own, yet anyway, and can’t make a simple breakfast are definitely implied to be faults in her character.

While Sam is shown to be a bit selfish, and a bit of a momma’s boy (he runs straight home to his mother’s house after the characters have a bad fight), in the end his lackadasical middle-of-the-road ordinariness is championed. Which is a shame.

The film would have been much better if it were more balanced. You could do a version of this where Tess figures out she should ease up a little bit, while still doing most of the awesome things she does, and maybe Sam realises that reporting on sports for decades is a bit of a waste of his talent. Like, time to lift your game, son.

Still, for all the dated sexual politics, I enjoyed this quite a bit. The first part, which is just the characters bantering and then falling for each other, is terrific. The actors, as you would expect, have great chemistry, and the script is full of the crackling zingers they really just don’t write anymore. And watching Hepburn talk and think rings around everyone she encounters is a blast.

The film then goes very serious in the middle which, as mentioned, makes it lopsided, but this part is also a bit of a slog. The film turns VERY serious as a refugee orphan gets involved, and the shift in tone is jarring as the fun drains away. It tries to regain the light and breezy tone for the finale, but these final scenes are probably the most problematic of the whole film. Making fun of one of the characters is just a terrible idea, and this film just can’t work, unless Tess is shown to be awesome. Her awesomeness should inspire Sam, rather than her climb down to his level.

A surprisingly weird mixture, for something that I thought was going to be more like ‘His Girl Friday’. Almost more interesting to chew over afterwards, than to watch. And when you’re doing this, tragic to think: we are still debating these same gender issues 80 years later.

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