Charm, Offensive: The Casual Misogynies of Hitch

The Will Smith rom-com, ten years later, really does not hold up.

In one of Hitch's opening scenes, a man gets a date with a woman by saving a dog’s life. She (willowy) walks out of her New York City apartment building, and he (marshmallowy) is there, curled up on the street, shielding an adorable little fluffball as a car hurtles toward it. It’s all a ruse, of course—a dramatic meet-cute that comes courtesy not of fate, but of Alex Hitchens (Will Smith), romance consultant and “Date Doctor.” Playing God, with the help of a dog: That's pretty much all you need to know about Hitch.

That and the fact that—as the eponymous film, released 10 years ago today and soon to be turned into a TV show, repeatedly insists—Hitch is a really good guy. He’ll take on as his clients only dudes who are similarly good guys. He may have an arsenal full of tools with which to beguile the ladyfolk, but he'll put his weaponized charm to use only in the service of long-term romance. (“Hit it and quit it,” Hitch informs a friend in one of the film’s other opening scenes, “is not my thing.") Hitch doesn’t just love women; he likes them. And that is what keeps an otherwise extremely troublesome premise—Hitch, the scheming “Date Doctor,” is only a few steps removed from the Above the Game guy, and only a few steps more from Will Ferrell’s Wedding Crashers con artist—in moral check. Hitch has good intentions, and it is this (along with the fact, of course, that the Date Doctor is still single) that affords the film its shiny coating of rom-com.

Enter, in short order, Hitch’s perfect foil: a single woman who insists on being at once sexually desirable and uninterested in romance. Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) is a gossip columnist for a New York Post-esque newspaper. She is a workaholic. She is fine with that. The film is not. Her relationship with Hitch plays out like this: After the two enjoy and/or endure a meet-cute at a bar (Hitch-induced, obviously), Sara tells Hitch never to call her. He sends her a walkie-talkie instead. During that call (not technically a phone call, as he is—liking women as well as loving them—respecting her wishes), she says no to dinner. He persists. If not Friday, then how about Saturday? No again. He persists some more. Finally, she agrees—very reluctantly—to a Sunday-morning date.

Did I mention that she is reluctant? She really, really is. Yet she is also, we are meant to understand, reluctantly charmed. What persistence! What a compliment!

So the Date Doctor gets his date. But the, well, hitch in his plan, irony and rom-coms being what they are, is a series of unfortunate events, all of them made funny by the fact that they’re happening to—and in spite of—the romance consultant. Hitch takes Sara on an elaborate jet-skiing date, and ends up kicking her—unintentionally, awkwardly—in the head. He takes her on a private tour of Ellis Island, where he shows her the signature of her great-great-great grandfather. Who ends up being a murderer nicknamed “the Butcher of Cadiz.” He takes her to a cooking class, and ends up having an allergic reaction to the mussels—resulting in perhaps the longest hive-related gag in all of Hollywood history.

Let’s skip ahead to the unsurprising outcome of all this, which is that Sara and Hitch, helped along by their mutual hotness and some generous doses of Benadryl, end up falling in love. Which is in some ways as sweet as it is inevitable. It’s refreshing, in this age of Love Actually earnestness, to see a romantic comedy that so insistently pairs the “com” with the “rom.” Hitch is funny, and not just because it contains an obligatory depiction of a doughy dude getting his back waxed.

It’s also refreshing, it must be said, to see romance from a relatively rare perspective: that of a guy. A guy—that guy being Hitch, and also his several clients—who is insecure, and awkward, and wanting in every sense of the word. A guy who acts, at least as far as the tired tropes of the typical rom-com are concerned, very much like a girl. Here, it’s the dudes who are lonely, and smitten, and resorting to petty manipulations to get a date. Here, it’s the men who are worried they’ll end up alone. Hitch may treat romance, blithely, as a form of guerrilla warfare. At least, though, it takes the “girl” largely out of that equation.

But: It also takes the “girl” largely out of that equation! The other message of this otherwise innocuous confection is a more pernicious one: that intention, when it comes to one’s dealings with women, trumps action. That being a good guy—or, more to the point, seeing yourself as a good guy—justifies pretty much all manner of disgusting behavior. Hitch ignores Sara’s many-times-repeated insistences that she’s not interested; that’s cool, we're meant to assume, because of the good-guy principle. And because Hitch knows what she wants better than she does. She may not realize it now, but he will make her realize it. "Because with no guile, and no game,” Hitch explains to a client, “there's no girl."

This is romantic—love conquering all!—and also, from the woman’s perspective, fairly infuriating. It's logic that brings a dangerous literalness to the idea of "the object of one's affection." It’s a logic that sits on the same continuum that houses all kinds of repulsive behavior, from the uncomfortable (street harassment, aggressive pick-up lines) to the criminal.

Wait, that’s taking Hitch way too far!, you may say. And maybe it is. But consider this line—the opening line, courtesy of a cheerful Hitchian voice-over, of the movie:

No woman wakes up saying: "God, I hope I don't get swept off my feet today." Now, she might say, "This is a really bad time for me." Or something like, "I just need some space." Or my personal favorite: "I'm really into my career right now." You believe that? Neither does she. You know why? Because she's lying to you, that's why. You understand me? Lying. It's not a bad time for her. She doesn't need any space. She may be into her career... but what she's really saying is,"Get away from me now." Or possibly, "Try harder, stupid." Well, which one is it?

Which one is it, indeed. A woman telling you to go away may well be daring you to try harder. A woman telling you she's not into it is probably lying—to you, and also to herself. In this framing of things, there is literally no way for a woman to communicate a lack of interest. There is no way for her to make herself heard. There is no way, in the movie's conception, that Sara could have resisted Hitch's advances, and no scenario in which she would, in the end, actually want to. "No," in the Hitchian universe, doesn't mean "no." The trouble is that, in Hitch's world as in our own, "no" has no synonyms.