Last summer a friend recommended I watch Shaun of The Dead. The idea of walking around London now, surrounded by potentially asymptomatic people, does bring to mind the scene of Shaun going about his morning routine completely oblivious to the fact that everyone wanted to eat his brains. Having spent the week since leaving college watching coronavirus spread, the idea of venturing out of the house at the moment is not particularly appealing. At a time like this, we all have comfort films we turn to that help us ignore the chaos of the world outside. Personally, you could put me in front of any Marvel film and I’d be happy. The Princess Diaries has always been a favourite. But while my friends cite The Lion King or the Studio Ghibli classics as the films that remind them the most of their childhood, mine has always been Cars.
Cars, in my opinion, is a highly underrated film. It might be a product of being an only child, raised by my racing-enthusiast father until the age of 4, but I re-watched it again recently and it genuinely is excellent. Jokes about Fillmore, the hippie VW campervan who likes “organic fuel”, went straight over my head as a child but meant that my parents enjoyed watching it as much as I did. Attention to detail, like flies being represented as tiny cars with wings, is everywhere. It’s also one of the few movies that Michael Schumacher appears in. The soundtrack is, for me, the icing on the cake – Sheryl Crow, Chuck Berry and John Mayer are just some of the names that appear alongside famous film composer Randy Newman. Few things can make me smile as much as watching the residents of Radiator Springs boogie down the road to “Sh-Boom” by The Chords.
I was talking to a male friend about our favourite films last week and he was genuinely surprised when I mentioned Cars. When I asked him what he had expected me to say, he quoted Mean Girls. While I doubt he meant this in a sexist way, it did make me think back on the number of times I’ve had my taste in movies questioned. Beyond this, most of the times when I mention that I follow Formula 1 and football, I’m challenged in a way that my male peers are not. While I know that it’s perhaps relatively unusual for a woman to be genuinely interested in following sports or action movies, the fact that I’m often met with disbelief can get quite frustrating. I’m definitely not suggesting that I’m not like other girls, nor do I want to be separated from icons like Lizzo or Michelle Obama. I’m just quite competitive and like superheroes. Having to regularly provide evidence in a cross examination of which specific Marvel characters I like and why gets annoying. I don’t mind giving my opinions on these topics (and trust me, I have a lot) so long as people are actually interested, not simply because of some convoluted requirement to prove myself as ‘one of the lads’ when I don’t even want to be.
It’s true that watching it back now, Cars relies on a lot of stereotypes for humour. Mater’s extreme Southern Redneck accent is an obvious example of this. Some easy Googling, however, told me that his accent, name and backwards driving ability are actually based on real residents of towns along Route 66, so are not completely unfounded. The Marvel films, especially the older ones, are notoriously sexist – don’t get me started on the mistreatment of Black Widow as a character throughout – but it looks as though this is hopefully set to improve.
What I don’t understand is why these films can be judged and called out as ‘not feminist enough’ or otherwise problematic when other so-called ‘dick-flicks’ are more acceptable. Everyone resonates differently with different films based on their views, sense of humour and life experience. If I’m not going to judge you for your favourite film being the fairly racist and sexist The Hangover, please let me watch Cars in peace. At the end of the day, the point of a ‘guilty pleasure’ film is that, although it might not be the highest-quality Tarantino on offer, it makes you happy. I’m not saying that no one should watch The Hangover ever again. I’m suggesting that people should be allowed to watch what they want without judgement, as long as they can recognise any problems associated with it. If someone told me their favourite film was The Hangover because it represented ‘ideal male behaviour’, I would be worried. But if someone says that they like The Hangover because, although they know it can be pretty dodgy at times, the rest of it really makes them laugh and is a good release from the stresses of life, then go ahead.
I remember going to watch Cars in the cinema when it came out in 2006. My little nursery gang rolled out to our local Vue, stocked up on pick-n-mix and my life was changed. I may have been a fairly atypical female toddler by having mini Cars figurines instead of Barbies, but I’m sure we still made up the same kind of stories when we played. Watching Cars reminds me of afternoons spent with my parents and the soundtrack being played at my 6th birthday party. It will always make me feel connected to my childhood. Whether this film for you is The Lion King, Barbie of Swan Lake, or something like Marvel, what it represents to the individual is far more important than the film itself. In times of toilet roll crises like these, we should let the pleasure outweigh the guilt.