In his latest article, “Women Are Not Capable of Understanding Goodfellas,” Kyle Smith argues that the film’s focus on the male ego makes it impenetrable to nearly half of the world’s population. This too-narrow reading proves that Smith himself doesn’t understand Goodfellas — a movie richly complex in its explorations of family, toughness, the need to belong, the fear of death, the invincibility of money, the endurance of the American Dream At Any Cost, the price of loyalty, the pain and joy of ego (regardless of whether a man or woman is the owner), and the pleasure/disillusionment that happens when our childhood dreams come true.
Smith apparently enjoys it mostly because guys shit talk around the poker table.
His argument is patently moronic. For one, it presupposes that Smith understands the movie on a deeper level than editor Thelma Schoonmaker (talk about male ego, eh?). For two, it also presupposes that ambition is somehow gender-indexed, which suggests that Smith may have never met a woman before.
It’s also trolling, and I get that, but I believe it deserves a response more intelligent than, “Get the fuck outta here,” although that can definitely be included.
The problem with Smith’s assumption that a population numbering 3.5 billion can’t quite grasp a gangster movie beyond the obvious idiocy, is that his own reading never gets below the surface level. The film’s fantastic animalism is worth focusing on, but the film is more than mere lizard brain escapism – its endurance and consistent re-examination is proof of that depth.
It’s in failing to see that depth, not fully maintaining the empathy needed to look beyond the smoke-filled, whiskey-soaked lounge to the grating, bare penitentiary, that shows Smith is only seeing half of the movie. Like a college freshman convinced that being Tyler Durden would rule, Smith’s claim that women can’t understand Goodfellas is a direct product of his not understanding Goodfellas.
Even if the ego present in the film is somehow solely relegated to men, Scott Weinberg has an excellent counterargument to Smith’s view on that front:
Goodfellas is about the male ego. Find me one adult woman who doesn’t deal with mens’ egos 73 times a day.
— Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg) June 11, 2015
It’s a robust, desperate, manic story, but for Smith it’s a fun lark of playing made-man. He’s turned Goodfellas into Entourage.
So, the bottom line here is that the themes and ideas in Goodfellas are universals, even though they present themselves in specific ways. It’s also a well-rounded film where no single idea can lord over another – there is bad and good in everything depending on what side of the card game you’re on and how many gray hairs you have on your head. Is Goodfellas a film about regret and ruination or about gleeful power and good times? Yes.
It’s arguable that people (men and women both) who revel in the kind of power fantasy that Goodfellas presents will connect to it in a different way than everyone else. However, the concept that the film is somehow impenetrable to everyone who doesn’t pretend to be Henry Hill in their cubicle is the intellectual safe haven of those who are threatened by the movie’s complexity.
To be fair, it’s probably not true that Smith is incapable of understanding Goodfellas, it’s that he hasn’t shown any evidence yet that he gets it.
Still, I also assume he’s at home right now in a silk herringbone sport coat, watching A League of Their Own and not understanding a single fucking word of it.