For those unfamiliar with the Bechdel test, it derives from a 1985 comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out. In the original comic, a character explains to her friend that she only watches films that include a) more than two women, b) those women talk to each other, and c) they talk to each other about something other than a man. What started as a tongue-in-cheek comic book punchline ended up taking on a life of its own; the Bechdel test is now a means of measuring the way women are represented on screen. From clichéd rom-coms to testosterone filled action flicks, there’s no shortage of films in which women are objectified and sidelined; it’s thought that on average, only half of films pass it.
Which is why, when Brad Pitt first appears in Thelma & Louise, clad in double denim and a cowboy hat, grinning from ear to ear, it feels OK to revel in the relative ridiculousness of his role. He takes on a part that’s traditionally left for women: his character has seven minutes of air time, in which to provide light relief, a sex scene and to be objectified by the protagonists. It’s rare to see a man play this kind of subsidiary part; he struts around topless for a bit before Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis – the real heroines – continue on their way.
Thelma & Louise was Brad Pitt’s first big(ish) role in a mainstream film, and a unique introduction to Hollywood. Pitt was charming and charismatic with sharp blue eyes, floppy hair and a disarming smile; he quickly became untouchable. His rapid ascent included seminal lead roles – Fight Club, Snatch, Ocean’s Eleven – that would go on to become cult classics. But it wasn’t just directors and film executives taking note. By the late nineties Brad Pitt was a bonafide celebrity. His face was a regular feature in gossip magazines, which meant photographers began to hound him constantly – an activity which has continued to the present day. In a recent interview with comedian Marc Maron, Pitt talked about his relationship with the paparazzi, knowingly anointing himself as “trash mag fodder”.
Things were exacerbated with a slew of high-profile relationships; Pitt dated fellow actor Christina Applegate, indie heroine Juliette Lewis, Dallas star Shalane McCall and was engaged to a pre-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow until they split in 1997. But the relationship that brought the most speculation and scrutiny was, of course, Jennifer Aniston. Brad and Jen were the quintessential It-couple of the late nineties and noughties, and magazine sales would peak when they’d peddle out a new story about the couple. In 2005, after five years of marriage, Brad and Jen announced their split. Next, Pitt's rumoured affair and subsequent marriage to Angelina Jolie took centre stage. When ‘Brangelina’ divorced after twelve years together in 2017, Jennifer Aniston was suddenly back in the limelight, with unwarranted and unsubstantiated claims that a reunion was on the cards.
The Brad–Jen–Angelina love story triangle has now entered its fifteenth year, and though the outlets have changed, the stories haven’t. With the rise in celebrity blogs and the proliferation of Instagram, his every move is still just as well-covered as it was at the height of the Brangelina saga. At this week's SAG Awards Aniston and Pitt were seen “reuniting” (read: having a brief exchange in a corridor) and already the internet is awash with headlines that aren’t centred around the fact that both Aniston and Pitt actually won a SAG Award, but over the fact that they both showed up to collect them; ergo they will probably remarry imminently.
Can Brad Pitt escape the curse of celebrity? His recent Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood draws attention back to Brad the Hollywood Stalwart. This year he'll remain behind the camera, working with Plan B Entertainment, his production company, which is responsible for funding films including the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight. Their roster for 2020 sounds equally exciting with adaptations of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2013 novel Americanah, starring Lupita Nyong'o, as well as the beloved book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which follows a 15-year-old autistic protagonist. Surely these are the stories we should be talking about? The new decade marks 15 years since Pitt's split with Aniston, and while we may root for simpler times when Trump wasn't president and Brad was still with Jen, it's finally time to move on.
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