When a director has to do damage control interviews about the footwear choices in his latest movie, something has gone horribly wrong.
As the fourth installment in everyone’s favorite franchise about theme-park massacres, Jurassic World is acceptably entertaining. It may not be as good as Jurassic Park, but the combination of Chris Pratt and dinosaurs was enough to tip it over the $500 million mark on opening weekend. However, it could have been a lot better if not for Bryce Dallas Howard’s incredibly distracting shoes.
From beginning to end, Howard’s character Claire Dearing wears a pair of beige pumps with three-inch stiletto heels, inexplicably impervious to ankle injuries while running across concrete, fields, and muddy jungle floors.
Opinions differ on whether this is a typical example of Hollywood sexism, or if Claire was a total badass for surviving the entire movie in stilettos. Either way, one thing is objectively true: It was super unrealistic for them to stay on for even 30 seconds of running through the mud, never mind the entire second half of the movie. They’ve become such a talking point that Chris Pratt even tested out a pair of similar shoes on The Late Late Show last week.
“For me, the heels were a metaphor,” Howard told The Daily Beast. “The thing that would have been considered the biggest handicap for her ultimately ends up being her strength. And that’s those heels.”
Director Colin Trevorrow told io9 that Howard insisted on keeping the shoes, saying. “She felt like surrendering the heels felt like surrendering the femininity of the character.” He added, “I feel that I’m revealing my own ignorance in not having anticipated how that was going to become a subject of discussion, the way that it has.”
Taken on its own, Claire Dearing’s costume tells us a lot about her character. Her chic, all-white ensemble is ideal for someone spending the day showing investors around a lab, and its overall design subtly references vintage safari suits—a topical image for the manager of Jurassic World. Later in the movie, she ties up her shirt and rolls her sleeves in a visual callback to Laura Dern’s character in Jurassic Park.
So, it’s not a “bad” costume. It bolsters Claire’s characterization in a thoughtful way, and provides a fitting contrast to Chris Pratt’s gruff park ranger appearance. The problem is what happens to that costume once the shit hits the fan.
Bryce Dallas Howard’s comments about embracing femininity are all very well, but it’s not as if Hollywood is suffering from a dearth of feminine heroes. Characters like Ellen Ripley (Alien) and Sarah Connor (Terminator) are still very much the exception, not the rule.
There’s a long history of female characters wearing high heels and either falling over while fleeing danger (terrible) or magically staying upright through some kind of superhuman shoe-wrangling ability (also terrible, but for different reasons). By enforcing Claire’s “femininity” to such an implausible degree, she ends up looking like an idiot who risks her own life for the sake of keeping her heels on. More to the point, many viewers found it distracting because there is simply no way she could do this without injuring herself or losing a shoe.
Jurassic World was fun – but the girl being in heels the whole damn movie nearly ruined it for me.— Sarah Mac (@SarahPMacD) June 15, 2015
Saw Jurassic World. Good CGI but Bryce Dallas Howard spending the entire movie running thru the jungle in heels is one of its many problems.— Bodhi (@BodhiShow) June 15, 2015
Claire gets more character development than Owen Grady, mainly because she begins as a prissy, control-freak businesswoman and eventually learns to loosen up and feel more empathy toward the dinosaurs and her nephews. Visually, she transforms from prim ice queen to having her cleavage on display for the final third of the movie. Meanwhile Owen Grady is a competent, heroic badass from the start, looking like a latter-day Indiana Jones throughout.
In many ways, Owen and Claire feel like a perfect example of how Hollywood depicts male vs. female sexiness. Claire shows that she’s ready for action by taking her shirt off and performing death-defying feats while looking fragile and wearing stiletto heels; Owen has nothing to prove, because everyone already knows he’s awesome. Also, his costume has taken up approximately zero discussion time during the Jurassic World press tour.
As Jada Yuan points out in her takedown of Jurassic World‘s dubious Girl Power attempt at feminism, “Blockbusters don’t have to be overtly feminist to be good. They just have to be overtly not sexist.” Jurassic World fails this test, partly thanks to the cliched rapport between Owen and Claire (“’70s-era sexist,” tweeted Joss Whedon after watching one of their scenes), and partly because of the shoe thing.
The sad part is, they could have kept Claire’s devotion to femininity and got rid of the damn shoes. It’s not that hard. We already know from her hair, makeup and costume that Claire is invested in her appearance, and having her run through a muddy forest doesn’t change that. Just include a scene where she takes off her shoes (so practical!) or loses them (so realistic!) and finds some kind of replacement. Emergency DIY is a classic action movie trope, and at least then Jurassic World would be on a par with Romancing the Stone.
Photo via Jurassic World