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The Unlikely Feminist

Regular readers of my film writing may recall that that there is no aging, iconic actor whom I currently hold in lower esteem than Jack Nicholson. There's no question that he is one of the towering figures in American film over the last forty years. But there's some question, I think, just how much of his work in the last ten or twenty years is little more than him trading on his own outsized persona with varying degrees of self-parody. The single thing I find most distasteful about Jack in his dotage, however, is his increasingly grotesque need to tell us, over and over and as loudly as possible, just how much young tail he's getting.

There was the public cunnilingus on an ice cream cone in Something's Gotta Give, an act that would be gross if performed by a twenty-year-old, but seems almost a cry for help when performed, with such undisguised relish, by a 66-year-old man. And, of course, there was--well, pretty much everything in The Departed: the accosting a young woman about whether she'd "gotten her period" and then sharing a whisper we're meant to understand as more obscene still; the faux-masturbating with a dildo in the porn theatre; the granddaughter-aged girlfriend who promises to "straighten him out"; the repeated references to what an easy time he's always had getting "pussy"; the scene in which a naked Jack shares cocaine and sex with a couple of naked young hookers-- a scene which he reportedly pleaded with Scorcese to film but of which, thankfully, only a few non-explicit seconds made the final cut.

Yes, yes, he's playing a "role"--but anyone who's followed his career even loosely knows that the role he's playing is himself. (And, indeed, most if not all of the "sexing up" of the Frank Costello character in The Departed was evidently at his own behest.) Jack is--I suspect even he would concur--a desperate sexual exhibitionist (at this point, real or imagined), and if you don't find that pathetic in a 70-year-old cinematic icon, well, I guess we just part ways there.

In any case those were my thoughts, earlier today, when I was disappointed, though not surprised, to see this:

He grins his canine grin, leans forward, raises the world's most famous eyebrow and recites it with relish: 'It seems to me that my life has been one long sexual fantasy,' he pauses, leers for effect, 'but more of that later...'

The night before I meet him he has led a crush of fans and paparazzi from [The Bucket List's] opening in Leicester Square along Piccadilly to The Wolseley restaurant, where he had a dinner date with friends. His strategy for dealing with the crowds is, he suggests, to give them exactly what they want, to 'be Jack' - by which he means the shades, the grin, the hint of recklessness. In one photo in the papers this morning Nicholson's famous mouth hung open like a sea creature as he turned from climbing into his limo to snog the wife of an autograph hunter; the young brunette was puckered up and apparently ready to be swallowed whole....

Given relationships that have brought five children from four partners, and countless other romances ('I like each year to date a nice range of women,' Nicholson says, and, 'I only use Viagra when I am with more than one'), it would be an understatement to accuse him of having trouble with commitment....

Nicholson makes an unlikely feminist, but that's how he explains himself to himself.

I was, however, somewhat more surprised, later in the day, to see this:

In a surprise announcement on this morning's Rick Dees show, Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson endorsed Hillary Clinton for president....

"I'm thrilled to have Jack's support," Hillary said. "I'm a big fan and a friend of Jack's. Having us on the show this morning gives me a chance to thank him."

The obvious thing to do here would be to insert a Bill Clinton joke. But, really, what's the point?

--Christopher Orr