The wrong move: Netflix’s latest Happy Madison flick swaps crude humour for rape culture  

 With sickening consent blunders overshadowing its trademark cringe-worthy comedy, Netflix’s new, ‘The Wrong Missy’ makes all the wrong choices. (Image Source: Netflix)

By Helen Karakulak | @helen_karakulak

At the time of writing, Director Tyler Spindel’s, The Wrong Missy takes out the top spot in Netflix’s ‘Top 10 in Australia Today’, proving how little it takes to make a seemingly successful comedy.

This Netflix original and Happy Madison production follows protagonist Tim (David Spade) as a texting blunder leads him to invite his worst date ever on a company retreat to Hawaii, rather than his dream girl with the same name.

While on the surface it’s seemingly another Happy Madison creation devoid of any depth, self-respect or quality acting, The Wrong Missy crosses the line from cringey comedy to rape culture contributor.

At approximately 20 minutes into the film, after being joined on his flight by the mistakenly asked Missy (Lauren Lapkus), Tim is force-fed a dog tranquilizer by her, knocking him out for the commencement of the flight.

When he comes to, Missy is giving him a non-consensual hand job as she greets him with a smirk, delivering the line, “How’s that for a wake-up call, hmm?” Lapkus’ expression in this scene makes the strong implication that a man should be happy waking up to a non-consensual sexual act from a near-stranger.

Spade’s initial grasping of Lapkus’ hand to stop her as he wakes with a stern and confused, “Good Lord,” unambiguously outlines the non-consensual nature of this act. Tim’s concern immediately goes to the public setting and those around him on the airplane that could be looking on. Missy boasts of her accomplishment, bragging, “I was quiet like an assassin”. Surely the likeness to an executioner would jolt some recognition of this behaviour being morally wrong? Apparently not, despite further conversation leading Tim to find out that she’s been at it for 40 minutes while he was unconscious. Again, delivered as something that should be celebrated.

Writers Chris Pappas and Kevin Barnett continue to normalise non-consensual sex a mere 15 minutes later. In this instance, Tim is once again woken by Missy on top of him, as a result of a misunderstanding as she claims Tim was talking in his sleep saying he wanted her.

Both situations put protagonist Tim in a date rape situation where he wasn’t able to consent, or didn’t feel comfortable withdrawing his unconscious consent.

Using such scenes in a comedy implies that this is mere ‘crude humour’ and not a sexist portrayal that degrades the assault of men.

Sexual harassment is no joking matter, nor is it an infrequent occurrence.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS) 42 per cent of men experienced an incident of sexual violence from the age of 15.

Since the 2016 PSS survey was conducted, the ABS have reported a consistent increase in sexual assault.

2018 ABS Recorded Crime data indicates a 2 per cent increase of recorded sexual assault victims from the year prior, bringing the national total to 26,312 people.

It’s important to keep in mind that this staggering number is merely cases that were reported.

According to ABC News’ Digital Story Innovation Team and their display of “Rough Justice”, Australian police have rejected approximately 12,000 sexual assault reports on the basis of ambiguity where it is deemed sexual assault is not believed to have occurred.

This indicates the ambiguous nature of consent as a prominent issue in our society, an issue that is certainly important to include in popular culture to raise awareness or understanding.

Had the subject matter of consent been acknowledged, let alone handled with any sensitivity whatsoever, then perhaps this scene could be over-looked, and I could spend some-hundred words critiquing the plot’s lack of consistency or cringeworthy use of slapstick instead.

However, this is not the case.

Framing date rape as comedic is not only insensitive but normalises and brushes over the inappropriate nature of the practice centred in so much of Lapkus’ and Spade’s performance.

While, The Wrong Missy is hardly the first film to convey sexual assault under the guise of humour or romance, its release comes at a time where we should know better.

One of the merits of popular culture is its ability to encompass attitudes and socio-political landscapes through creative texts. Such texts can be seen to inspire, express or provide context to real-world events.

A notable example is Constance Grady’s discussion of John Hughes’ 1984 film, “Sixteen Candles”. Published on Vox in 2018, Grady makes a compelling argument of the cultural understanding of assault in the 1980s, offering context for accusations against Brett Kavanaugh dating back to a similar time and setting.

In doing so, she states, “Some of the most popular comedies of the ’80s are filled with supposedly hilarious sequences that portray what in 2018 would be unambiguously considered date rape.”

While I agree with Grady’s now two-year-old sentiment, the 2020 film The Wrong Missy must make us question whether mass audiences are informed enough to detect date rape unambiguously.

The copious number of tweets tagged with the film’s title praising its comedic value would indicate that even in a ‘Me Too’ era, rape culture prevails.

Now, you may wonder whether it’s worth expecting much from a Happy Madison or Netflix original production, both having a reputation for creating cringeworthy and problematic content.

The impact popular culture has on its audience has long been researched, deemed one of the fundamental forms of communication and expression people depend on.

With this being the case, writers, directors and performers have the ability to cause more harm than entertainment when presenting what they deem to be sexual norms.

In doing so, The Wrong Missy insults audiences’ intelligence by recycling out-dated rape jokes in its attempt at crude humour, expressing more than ever a need to hold creators to a higher standard.

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