Happy Wednesday, everyone! It’s time to fulfill my second Clarion West Write-a-Thon reward, only this time, we’re doing things a little different. Huw–my friend, WaT sponsor, and unofficial Class President of CW 2012–asked for a genderbent essay, rather than a typical review. Kindly, he provided a whole list of films which I could choose from, and while several movies might have proven interesting, I simply couldn’t resist picking Maverick. I grew up on this film, after all, was 8 going on 9 when it first came out. Pretty sure it was my introduction to both Jodie Foster and James Garner, honestly. (Though not Mel Gibson. That was almost certainly Lethal Weapon.)
Anyway, thus far, I’ve really only examined action, suspense, and horror films for my Genderbent Wednesday reviews. Analyzing a western (okay, a western-comedy) and reimagining it with an almost entirely female cast?
Yep. I’m here for it. Let’s dive in, shall we?
First, there will be ALL the SPOILERS. I feel like that should be sorta self-explanatory, and yet here we are. Also, for the purposes of this column, I’m only swapping genders and not sexualities: if a character is a cis straight woman, they will now be a cis straight man. There are no canon trans or non-binary characters in this film.
A CAST OF CHARACTERS
Bette Maverick (Bret Maverick)
Zelda “Coop” Cooper (Zane “Coop” Cooper)
The Commodore (The Commodore)
The Archduchess (The Archduke)
Brother Michael Matthew (Sister Mary Margaret)
Brother Matthew Michael (Sister Margaret Mary)
THE RAMBLING ESSAY PART
Unlike other films we’ve looked at in the past, Maverick is really interesting to gender bend because–unless you’re extremely hung up on 100% historical accuracy at all times, which, ugh, so boring–there’s actually not much you need to change. Black Christmas, for instance, has an important abortion subplot that just doesn’t work in a shot-for-shot remake. John and Holly’s marital woes in Die Hard are considerably more frustrating if they’re between Jane and Holt, and The Silence of the Lambs loses a LOT in its framing of gender politics and discrimination if Clarice is a man in a female-dominated workplace.
Maverick, on the other hand, plays pretty well with a primarily female cast. There are things to be discussed here, absolutely, some specific moments that would need to change, but honestly, probably not as many as you’d think.
Let’s begin with BETTE MAVERICK, herself. (Not Betty, it’s Bette.) We meet her in medias res, and clearly, things have been going poorly so far: ANGELINA and her gang of minions have set Maverick up to hang, literally; they’ve put her on a horse, tied a rope around her neck, and attached it to a tree branch, leaving her for dead. I don’t think it’s a scene you often get in movies: a group of women stringing up another woman–though, of course, that may just be the genre, which is largely dominated by men. There are westerns with primarily female casts, but, like, not exactly a lot of them? (Which reminds me: should I re-watch Bad Girls at some point? I haven’t seen that movie in roughly 25 years and remember next to nothing about it, except that it got panned hard.)
Through irreverent prayer (and an equally irreverent voiceover), we start to get a feel for both Maverick as a character and the film’s overall tone: cheeky. Maverick is one cheeky damn movie; it never met a bit of stunt casting or self-referential humor it didn’t enjoy. (Most of this I adore. The whole “hombre” and refried beans joke, though, can just be dropkicked into the damn sun.) We then flashback in time to see Maverick riding into town. This town, of course, will now be heavily populated with women, including most of the people in the saloon. In a poker table seating seven, ANDREW will be the only man present, which is awesome. In my own experience, lots of women play poker, not just yours truly–
–but despite the fact that there’s nothing particularly masculine about the game, card players tend to be dudes on both the big and small screen. Female characters do play, of course, but I just don’t usually get the opportunity to see the gender ratio switched like this, so five minutes in, I’m already pretty happy with this remake.
This first poker scene is a good one to talk about in terms of characterization. Maverick, for instance, reveals herself to be clever (agreeing to lose for an hour so she can analyze tells), not particularly brave (immediately backing down from a fight rather than get into a shoot-out), and just generally a devious bastard (distracting that gunfighter to get the upper hand, and then arranging a whole scene to make herself look like a unbeatable badass–though we won’t know she paid her opponents to fall until a little later).
Often, winning by trickery (rather than direct confrontation) is considered more of a feminine strategy, so in some ways, Dude Maverick is actually a more interesting switch-up than Lady Maverick. OTOH, scheming female characters in Hollywood often default to So Pure and Helpless or Sexy Sex Kitten–perfectly valid power play strategies, but it’s also not quite what’s happening here. Maverick is a showboat. Maverick, much like the film itself, is a cheeky little shit–and I feel like that’s slightly less traveled territory for women. Besides, a chance to redo this movie without Famous Terrible Person Mel Gibson? The gains here seem to outweigh the losses.
Which brings us to Andrew, our love interest and only male lead.
Andrew’s default strategy is absolutely So Pure and Helpless, with a healthy side of sex appeal thrown in. He immediately introduces himself to Maverick; twice, even, though we’d have to cut the joke, as there is no male address in English that lets you know a man is married. Andrew is all charming and coquettish, very much a Southern gentlemen, even raising a slightly limp hand in the air. (Disappointingly, Maverick shakes it, rather than kisses it.) Frankly, I think this is all fantastic. It’d be a lot of fun to see a guy in this role; my only disappointment is losing Jodie Foster, who’s utterly delightful in Maverick, particularly because the role is just so against type for her.
We also get a little more of Angelina, who’s basically a pissed off bruiser dead set against Maverick from the start. She’s not a particularly nuanced character or anything, but I will say, I’m not sure Chief Henchman is a role that usually goes to, well, a woman. There are some female Big Bads, certainly, depending on the genre. (Evil Queens are big in fantasy, for instance.) You might get a female Right-Hand Woman to a male Big Bad, especially in an action film. But I’m not so sure about someone like Angelina, who’s pretty much just antagonistic muscle. She really only does three things in this movie: A) plays cards, B) beats people up, or C) tries to murder people. One notable exception, though, is when she awkwardly tries to pacify Maverick after her big staged fight scene, desperately trying to avoid pissing her off. (Maverick continues to fuck with her, because seriously. Bette Maverick is such a little shit.)
One last thing to mention here: Johnny Hardin is one of the poker players in this scene, which is notable because unlike the other characters at the table, Johnny Hardin was a real person. In terms of gender flip, that means we’d either have to substitute a real female gunfighter/outlaw (I’ll happily take suggestions; it’s too hot to Google), or just make this a fictional character. Also, Maverick probably wouldn’t call her “son” all the time.
Moving on: Andrew tries to seduce Maverick with a whole “I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m a married man, but you’re just so hot” routine that Maverick easily sees through, particularly when she catches him lifting her wallet. Again, that seduction technique is interesting because it’s centered around Andrew’s supposed innocence. You can totally get a sexy male con artist in a movie, but he’s probably gonna go for a more confident approach, you know, all deliberate charm and cocky swagger. Andrew, meanwhile, is selling this fantasy of alluring helplessness, tempting Maverick to take advantage of his virtue–and that’s just not a fantasy generally presented of men in movies.
Of course, Maverick calls Andrew out on the bad lift, as well as his fake Southern accent. Exposed, Andrew doesn’t give up easily; in fact, he almost immediately goes for Wallet Attempt No. 2. This one goes better: Maverick doesn’t realize she’s been robbed until Andrew’s gone, even so flustered that she closes the door on her own thumb–though she still quickly catches up to Andrew. And then, as Maverick unbuttons her shirt, we get this (slightly edited) exchange:
Maverick: Now it’s time for you to do something that I want.
Andrew: How dare you? I am a gentlemen. Not if you were a hundred-years-old, not if I were a hundred-years-old–
Maverick: Oh, shut up. I don’t want to go to bed with you, man.
Andrew (offended): Why not?
Maverick: Why not? I’d be too frightened. God knows what parts of me you’d steal. I’d wake up with all sorts of things missing.
This exchange (which I think works in either version) is a lead-up to Bette forcing Andrew to wash her lucky shirt. Which brings me to my next topic: GENDER AND FASHION.
A. In the original film, it’s heavily implied that Annabelle will know how to properly wash Maverick’s shirt simply because she’s a woman. This probably doesn’t work as well in a gender-flipped remake, though I’m not entirely sure how to fix it. I really don’t want to cut the scene, and I enjoy the lucky shirt gag, as it plays throughout the the film. Then again, Maverick is kind of an idiot for giving Annabelle one of his prized possessions in the first place. Maybe the favor could be for something else? Maybe Andrew manages to steal Maverick’s shirt and then shrinks it as petty revenge?
B. Bette Maverick can’t strip off her shirt and stand around outside topless, at least not without changing the PG rating. That goes for all the other Shirtless Maverick scenes, too. At the very least, we’re gonna need to give Bette a bra.
C. Fancy clothes are important to Maverick: shirts from Paris, underwear from New York, etc. I suspect most people wouldn’t blink twice at this in a heroine, even though refusing to buy new undies from anywhere but NYC is certainly an unusual and distinguishing characteristic for an MC of any gender. What interests me most, though, is not just Maverick’s wardrobe, but what this whole film might look like in terms of fashion.
Consider that scene again where Bette first rides into the small town. There are definitely men around, sure, but more women overall: store clerks, hairdressers, wagon drivers, ladies walking around, etc.. What are they all wearing? Are they, too, dressed in muted suits and vests and hats and ties? Or will they be wearing skirts and dresses? Consider Maverick herself: does she still wear suits with ruffled white shirts and fancy vests? Or would her evening wear be closer to Annabelle’s wardrobe from the original film? Would she even have a wallet to lift, or would she carry a purse?
For that matter, let’s look at Andrew. In the original film, many of Jodie Foster’s dresses are colorful and distinct. Unfortunately, Andrew, much to my sorrow, probably isn’t going to be wearing the same in a mainstream remake. So . . . does he just wear a series of nice suits? Can we make them a bunch of different colors? The more you play with this, the further you probably get from historical accuracy, but being real honest with you: from the depths of my soul, I just do not care. Partially because so many people who whine about historical accuracy are basing their “facts” on completely untrustworthy sources, and also because seriously, who gives a shit, this is Maverick. Let’s not pretend that a film which stops in its tracks for a Lethal Weapon joke is any kind of true picture of the American West, please.
Moving on. We’ve already spent 2000 words on the first 15 minutes of this review–this happens to me every time, I swear to God–so, I’m gonna try and condense some now. (Pray for me.)
A. Before taking off, Maverick runs into the ladies she paid to fall the night before. And while I doubt it’s the reversal women having been yearning for, it is sorta rare to see a gang of not-so-bright lady ruffians, especially in a western.
B. Maverick and Andrew are sharing the same wagon, along with our new player, MARSHAL ZELDA COOPER, aka, Coop. Maverick and Coop share a Significant Look, before Coop flatters Andrew by saying that if there weren’t any men, “none of us would be here.” Maverick immediately calls this out as foolish, as women are equally important to making the tiny humans, and I honestly suspect this whole exchange would just get cut. It’s a very, very old joke. A gender-flip here improves little.
C. Maverick, needling Andrew about his fake Southern accent, cheerfully suggests they might know some of the same people in Alabama. Andrew immediately switches tack, tragically insisting, “I’ve tried so hard to forget that place.” Maverick cracks up (as do I), while a stern Coop says that a man’s suffering is not a funny thing. To which Maverick replies, “There are exceptions.” And this right here, this is an example of dialogue that I would actually love to see played straight.
D. I’m just gonna admit it now: I’m not entirely clear if there’s a difference between a US Marshal and a Deputy Marshal, and if Coop is the former or the latter. (I’d thought Deputy Marshalls were chosen by US Marshals, but I’m still not 100% positive on that.) I know that there were a few female deputy marshals in the Old West; not so sure, though, if women ever held the title of US Marshall in the 19th century. Frankly, I’m fine with either for Coop here, especially since her title is rarely used anyway.
THE WAGON RIDE OF DOOM
Predictably, the wagon ride goes poorly, as the very old lady driver dies on the job, leaving their coach heading for a cliff’s side. Shenanigans ensue, but my takeaways are thus:
A. We get our first glimpse that Coop may not be quite as honorable as she initially seems, when she lies about fixing a completely functional wheel. I mention it now because, as we’ll discover much later, Coop is secretly Maverick’s mother, and I’m curious if people would balk at their “we’re totally here for each other, except when we occasionally leave the other to die” relationship. I don’t think so, given that this is a comedy where basically every character is a scoundrel, but mothers and fathers do often encounter different rules on what they’re allowed to get away with and still be considered “likable” in Hollywood. So, it’s possible.
B. Andrew, startled, lightly slaps Maverick upside the head when she appears at the window. In fact, Andrew hits Maverick several times in this movie, but they’re such ineffectual little taps that I don’t see it being particularly problematic. Especially since Maverick will also happily dump Andrew through a window or let him fall trying to climb off a wagon.
C. The dead old lady driver apparently had a long list of brothels in her wallet. We should absolutely keep this.
Soon afterwards, our trio comes across a group of helpless missionaries who have just been robbed. The specific missionaries we meet are BROTHER MICHAEL MATTHEW and BROTHER MATTHEW MICHAEL, and they hire our heroes to recover their money and goods for a 10% finders fee.
A. Brother Matthew Michael’s wedding dress (for when he eventually finds a wife) is probably not what gets stolen here. We could make it a wedding suit, if we’ve committed to creating a world where guys (especially Andrew) wear distinct and fashionable suits; otherwise, this probably needs to be something else.
B. At one point, Andrew deliberately stomps on Maverick while she’s lying down on the ground. I’m perfectly happy with most of the comedic violence in this movie; this, however, is a bit too much for me. Stepping right on Maverick’s leg would be fine, but I’m less wild about seeing a dude deliberately stomp on a woman’s stomach.
C. Andrew really should be a pretty boy. It’ll make the whole “ugly Andy Bransford” bit land best. Also, I love that Andrew has a tiny, tiny gun. (Not a euphemism.) Though I don’t know if they make holsters for guns that tiny? Maybe it’s strapped to his ankle or something? (Clearly, I know nothing about guns, either.)
D. Brother Matthew Michael faints dead away when JOSEPHINE and her tribe appear. Men don’t faint enough in Western media. I feel very strongly about this after having watched The Untamed.
JOSEPHINE AND THE RUSSIAN ARCHDUCHESS
Frankly, I’m not the best person to judge the Native American rep in this movie. On a gut instinctual level, I think it’d be best if we actually knew which tribe was on screen, not just, you know, Indians. I’d definitely want someone from said tribe in the writer’s room, at the very least. Still, I’ve always loved Graham Greene in the original film, and I think, for the most part, Josephine holds up pretty well. (Please feel free to comment if you disagree; I’m aware that I may be missing context to fully understand why something might be objectionable and/or offensive.) What I really like about Josephine is this: she’s a lovable scoundrel, just like everyone else in this movie. She pokes fun at both white people and common harmful stereotypes of Native Americans; she’s explicitly not a “noble savage” and/or some mentor type who only speaks in metaphor. She also speaks multiple languages, which is just always cool, though I’ll admit I have no idea why she addresses the Russian Archduchess in French rather than, you know, Russian. Anyway, notes:
A. I’m not sure if I see Josephine barking like a dog at Andrew, exactly, but I am all about the aggressive flirty eyebrow action. Also: “Ah, I do want him. Is he available?”
B. Maverick freaks out when Josephine pretends to steal her 22,000, which is deeply relatable content; my heart stops when I think about losing that much money now, much less however much it would’ve been back then. But I must note here that Maverick’s panic? Not exactly subtle. She falls to her knees, groans, rants incoherently, etc. Once again, Maverick’s tendency to babble and her general lack of stoicism stand out in the original film because those aren’t typically considered masculine traits; Maverick, purposefully, is kinda the opposite of a terse gunfighter. So, if a woman was cast, well. Irritatingly, those traits may not come off as particularly atypical to many, given stereotypes about hysteria and the like. Then again, it’s not like every female character in the film would be a charming babbling disaster; it’s pretty much just Maverick. This kind of thing is key: a female character who might potentially come off as stereotypical or annoying will be 98% less frustrating if she’s not responsible for representing the whole of her gender.
C. An example of a character who doesn’t really play into any obvious feminine stereotypes? The RUSSIAN ARCHDUCHESS. She’s a wealthy, racist, and thoroughly bored hunter who’s looking for a greater thrill; first by paying Josephine to show her life in the “real” West (and refusing to acknowledge any evidence of how people actually live there), and then by taking up the Most Dangerous Game: paying money to hunt and kill a Native American. (Or, in this case, Maverick dressed up as one. Which . . . yes, this part, I’m not so sure about. It’s not what I would typically think of as brownface, but I’m also definitely not the right person to judge here.)
Not much would really need to change with the Archduchess, I don’t think. Plenty of women hunt. Plenty of women–particularly white women–are racist, then and now. And unfortunately, racial violence is absolutely not something we can pretend only white men have perpetrated. So, yeah. The Archduchess can absolutely get conned out of thousands of dollars, please and thank you.
THE BIG POKER TOURNAMENT
After Maverick escapes her near death-by-hanging predicament, she makes it to the riverboat poker tournament.
A. We meet our last important character, THE COMMODORE. Again, if we assume the Commodore actually earned that rank through the US Navy (and didn’t just, say, borrow a nice jacket and a neat sounding title to go with her cool boat), then a woman couldn’t play the role and remain historically accurate, as Wikipedia informs me the first woman to enlist in the Navy was in 1917. Of course, you know my feelings on historical accuracy in a comedy western that definitely doesn’t give two shits about it. But TBH, I also care very little about the Commodore’s name and rank; so long as she’s in charge, I’m really fine with however we wanna handle this.
Also, the Commodore absolutely has to smoke cigars. James Coburn’s face when he sees Angel’s straight flush is the funniest goddamn thing, and I want to repeat that here.
B. The riverboat is now absolutely crowded with women, and I love it. There are very few men here: Andrew, of course, as the only male poker player. Also, a waitress and the occasional saloon boy on a woman’s arm. (Oh, and the couple hiding their firearms. The lady tries to protect her man by insisting his gun is hers, but when it becomes apparent she’ll be tossed off the boat, she quickly recants and blames her beau instead, heh.)
C. During their break before the final game, Maverick and Andrew have sex, which, like–come on, people, you can do that later, when you’re not in danger of being disqualified from winning half a million dollars if you’re ten seconds late. Think of the MONEY.
I don’t know there’s actually much noteworthy about this scene; mostly, I just wanted to rant about priorities. Although we do get to see Andrew (wrapped in only a sheet) run into Coop while dashing back to his room. Coop knowingly remarks on Andrew’s lovely “glow,” which really isn’t a word that often gets used to describe men, is it? This scene also gives Maverick the “vital clue” she needs to beat Andrew at poker, as she discovers that Andrew holds his breath when he’s, ah, excited. Sex tells are obviously the best tells.
D. Maverick, to Andrew: “If you can beat that, you’ve got me licked, which isn’t a totally unpleasant prospect.” I can tell you this joke went right over my head when I was nine. Now in my 30’s, I’m amused by the idea of a woman saying it.
THE LAST TEN MINUTES
Finally, everything else:
A. After Coop has stolen the tournament winnings, Andrew and Maverick say goodbye. Andrew sits in Maverick’s lap. I demand to have this scene in my remake.
B. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the Commodore immediately backstabs Coop; backstabbing is just what people do in this movie. More importantly, I am all about seeing two old women brawl by a campfire.
C. In our last scene, the bubbles in Maverick and Coop’s tubs will have to be, ah, significantly higher.
D. Andrew, peeking in at a naked Maverick and Coop, remarks that the women share such “splendid similarities.” I . . . think it might be best to cut that line.
Bette Maverick (Bret Maverick)
There’s something I kinda like about Keri Russell in the role. I’m not entirely sure why; much as I despised The Rise of Skywalker, it made me realize that I’d watch the hell out of Russell playing a lead gunslinger or bounty hunter. This is . . . decidedly not that, but I also know she can do comedy, and I think she might handle Maverick’s more sarcastic and exasperated lines nicely. I’m also potentially interested in Sonequa Martin Green, Tessa Thompson, and Tala Ashe.
Gotta admit, I have a hard time picturing anyone but Chris Pine in this role. He seems so perfect for it. I literally wrote things like “Chris Pine sits in Maverick’s lap” in my notes. That being said, it probably wouldn’t be a huge stretch for him, and I might enjoy seeing other actors here as well. Alternate possible contenders: Oscar Isaac? Timothy Olyphant? Nicholas Hoult? Jensen Ackles? Manny Jacinto? Michael Ealy? Seriously, I want pretty.
Zelda “Coop” Cooper (Zane “Coop” Cooper)
I quite like Jean Smart for the role, actually. I could see her playing all aspects of the character: the cranky marshal, the secret con artist, the exasperated mom. But I’m also potentially interested in Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis. Oh, and Katey Sagal could be interesting, too. Shit, can we just get all these actresses to lead a western, actually?
Angelina isn’t quite as well-developed of a role as the others, which means I’d hate to give it to someone obvious, like, IDK, Michelle Rodriguez. I’d rather it go to someone playing against type, who potentially could have fun with it. Justina Machado, maybe? It’d be quite the leap from Penelope Alvarez on One Day at a Time, and I just love the actress. Diane Guerrero is another possibility, though it feels like less of a stretch for her. Still, I’d really like to see her in more stuff.
Unfortunately, my knowledge of Indigenous actresses is relatively limited, and Google isn’t helping here as much as I’d like. That being said, I fucking adore Cara Gee in The Expanse, and I’d love to see her in more stuff. It’d be especially neat to see her here, in something much more lighthearted. (I just have to get used to hearing her without the Belter accent. It’s like listening to Stephanie Beatriz talk in her normal voice. Not bad, just so different!)
The Commodore (The Commodore)
Kate Mulgrew, maybe? I’m a Janeway-stan; I’m always gonna have some love for Kate Mulgrew. Honestly, Jamie Lee Curtis could probably work pretty well here, too. I kind of like them both for it.
The Archduchess (The Archduke)
Jodie Foster. No, seriously. I love the idea of her being in the remake, but I’m not super excited about her as Coop or the Commodore. I do kinda like her as the Archduchess, however, because–much like with Annabelle–it is spectacularly against type. More comedy roles for Jodie Foster!
Brother Michael Matthew (Sister Mary Margaret) and Brother Matthew Michael (Sister Margaret Mary)
Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, just cause I’m all about that Justified love. (Assuming Olyphant doesn’t get Andrew, of course.)
This casting is entirely dependent on who you get as Maverick. If we’re going with Keri Russell . . . hm, the actors I associate with her largest roles, unfortunately, are men, so they’re ineligible. Should we just cast one of the ladies from TRoS, all of whom are better than that garbage heap of a movie, no, I will never stop complaining about it, ever. Naomi Ackie? Daisy Ridley? Kelly Marie Tran?
Alternately, I never watched The Americans, but I know Margo Martindale is in it for a while. I will never, ever say no to some Margo Martindale. (Plus, more Justified love.)
SO MANY LADY SCOUNDRELS. IT’S ALL I EVER WANTED.
Seriously, I sincerely enjoy the idea of gender bent remake of Maverick. Unlike other films I’ve looked at so far, it doesn’t need to veer much from the original story in order to be effective. We’d get all the awesome ladies and con artistry and poker magic without Mel Gibson, plus Andrew could be a whole lot of fun, too.
Alternatively, if we did want to veer from the original story, well. We could add considerably more poker magic. Like, literal poker magic; all the ladies would be card-dealing magicians and lovable thieves.
(Fuck, I don’t need more WIP ideas. Stop it, brain, stop it.)