Obviously, I’ve been examining my movie watching habits a lot lately, uncovering the bad movies I watch in order to play the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Home Game, and the bad movies I watch because they’re fun and make me feel good (mostly teen comedies and stoner movies). But there’s another genre of film I almost forgot, despite the fact that I am totally bordering-on-obsessed: domestic violence revenge movies. Some of them are quite good—I will cut you if you try to tell me Fried Green Tomatoes is not a good movie—and some of them have J Lo in them.
It all started at a drive-in when I was 11, where my unscrupulous parents took me for a double feature of some family friendly movie I don’t remember and Sleeping with the Enemy. I’m guessing my parents expected my sister and I to fall asleep after the first movie, but I stayed awake for Julia Roberts’s harrowing tale of escape from an abusive, obsessive husband. It was my first experience with the “villain-is-not-really-dead” trope as well as my introduction to the domestic violence revenge story. In these films, the battered woman does not become a mortality statistic or end up moving on to some guy who is basically another version of her abuser because cycle of abuse/trauma/yadda yadda. That would make for a super depressing (but far more realistic) movie, am I right? No, thanks to the domestic violence revenge movie, the battered woman gets to turn the tables on her abuser, and with the flash of a firing gun, she’s suddenly empowered and freed of her tormentor.
This movie is awful, but I have seen it in parts or in whole at least 10 times.
I have also seen Enough, the unofficial sequel to Sleeping with the Enemy, starring Jennifer Lopez as a battered woman who turns into some sort of mixed martial arts expert in order to fight back against her abusive husband played by Billy Campbell.
For the record, this movie is why I refuse to believe they got the right killer on The Killing. You just know Councilman Richmond did it because DUH BILLY CAMPBELL.
But I digress. This movie is probably more terrible than its predecessor because it has Jennifer Lopez and does not have an awesome montage scene in a well-funded drama department’s costume room. (If I may briefly re-digress, I think I also just like watching Julia Roberts play dress up, because I’ve seen Pretty Woman a gabillion times, too.) Despite being inferior to Sleeping with the Enemy, I have also seen Enough an embarrassing number of times.
I don’t really have to spend a lot of time unpacking my affection for this kind of movie—my family history is full of domestic abuse, inflicted upon me as well as my mother, and probably upon other women before us. When you grow up in that kind of environment, your form of escapism gets a little skewed, maybe. There are certainly times I would have liked to turn into a kickboxing superstar, I’ll tell you that for free. (This article just took a turn for the depressing, huh?)
There are versions of this storyline that are more well done. I adore Fried Green Tomatoes so much you’d think I was a middle-aged Southern woman, and that movie has the ultimate DV vengeance story, mixed with a little racist-asshole vengeance. Secret’s in the sauce! There’s also The Color Purple, where rather than actual violence (though there are some near misses with a straight razor and a knife), Celie’s revenge on Mister comes in the form of a curse: “Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail.”
The Color Purple probably offers the most realistic version of this storyline. Celie is abused for years by basically every man she’s ever met, starting with her stepfather, and becomes empowered only by way of gaining a sense of worth from her friendship (and love affair) with Shug.
So am I alone in this guilty pleasure? If not, do you have any DV revenge movies to recommend? I’ve probably seen them, but you’re welcome to throw some suggestions at the wall and see what sticks.