The Rules According to Dane Cook

The Rules According to Dane Cook

The continued success of Dane Cook as an actor stands in the way of feminism.

Here’s an excerpt from the IMDb plot summary of Employee of the Month starring Dane Cook:

Zack has not won any “Employee of the Month” awards and has no desire to except when Amy, a new cashier who only dates “Employee of the Month” winners, transfers to the store.

Here’s the premise of Good Luck Chuck, also starring Dane Cook:

Stu starts to become convinced that there’s something peculiar about Chuck’s pattern of girls getting married as soon as he has sex with them. This is only compounded when an article on a dating site tells of Chuck’s prowess. Stu eventually convinces Chuck to embrace the (now many) women who visit his practice, arguing that there’s nothing better than having a bunch of guilt-free sex.

Dane CookAnd here’s the premise of My Best Friend’s Girl, which also starred Dane Cook:

Dustin, an amiable guy, is in love with Alexis, a coworker. When she tells him she just wants to be friends, he hires his roommate Tank, a fast-talking, amoral scoundrel who has a side business: men whose women have dumped them hire Tank to take their ex-girlfriends out on the date from Hell, to drive the women back into their old boyfriends’ arms.

Each of these movies has a different director and screenwriting team. They came out in 2006, ’07 and ’08, respectively. Aside from overwhelming critical disdain (their combined Metacritic scores don’t even reach 100), the only thing these three films have in common is Dane Cook in a starring role.

At first glance, anyway.


Reading the premises again, though, you notice a striking similarity: women following magical rules enforced by Dane Cook.

In Employee of the Month, Jessica Simpson plays a cashier who only dates big-box store employees of the month. Why? Is there something about the gilded frame on the concrete wall that heats up her erogenous zones? Is she a really short-sighted social climber? No matter! Jessica Simpson’s character is not a human being with thoughts and drives. She’s an automaton who reacts to external stimuli.

(“Ha ha,” you’re thinking, “that’s not much of a stretch.” Keep reading)

In Good Luck Chuck, every woman who Dane Cook sleeps with marries the next man she dates. Really? What if that man’s a paroled murderer or an embezzling douchebag? Doesn’t matter! The universe has endowed Dane Cook’s junk with special powers – lay your hands on it and bam! Instant matrimony. The woman does not choose who she wants to marry – the universe (and Dane Cook) choose for her.

In My Best Friend’s Girl, not only does Dane Cook’s character have the same power as in Good Luck Chuck, but now he’s turned it into a commodity. He now cooperates with heartsick losers in scamming girls. A woman who goes out with Dane Cook’s repellent character will run back, hands waving uselessly in the air, to the arms of the last guy she dumped. Again, no choice on the woman’s part.

I’m not asserting that Dane Cook is playing the same person across multiple continuities (not this week, anyway). But, again, these three movies have nothing in common other than the lack of female agency in the stories and Dane Cook’s name in the marquee. It’s not the same studio of writers and directors churning out an agenda.

Romantic comedies and feminist thought have always had a shaky history. Even the strongest females in a Nora Ephron weeper aren’t truly strong until they find a man to complete them. And while there’s nothing inherently un-feminist about marriage, Hollywood does think it solves an awful lot of female problems. So if we’re toting the feminism gun today, romantic comedies are an easy target.

But even the worst of these romantic comedies presume that women can make choices. “Will she spend the rest of her life with the rich asshole or the sensitive poet?” is a cliched choice, but at least it grants the female autonomy. Ditto “her love or her career?”, “her family or her husband?”, “her youthful dreams or her mature ambitions?”, etc, etc. False dichotomies all, but they make the female character a participant in her own destiny.


Not so in the world of Dane Cook! In Dane Cook movies, women don’t even have the luxury of a cliched choice. Women are objects to be acted upon. If the male lead has yet to end up with the female lead, it’s not because of a decision she’s made – it’s because the male lead has not yet completed the necessary ritual (become Employee of the Month, figured out how to sleep with her without activating his gypsy curse, etc).

(N.B.: For readers in OTI’s largely male audience who don’t see why anti-feminist thought in popular movies is such a big deal, consider the following. Let’s say you saw a movie about two sisters who use magic to entice a man to fall in love with one of them. And at the end of the movie, the man learns that he’s been enchanted, but decides to stay with the sister he’s in love with anyway. If you said, “Holy hell, that’s creepy,” you’re right.

If you also said, “That’s remarkably close to the plot of Practical Magic, the 1998 romance starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman,” you’re also right.)

“Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence,” Ian Fleming observed in his novel Goldfinger. “Three times is enemy action.” In each of the last three years, Dane Cook has starred in a movie which turns women into objects – Rubik’s Cubes to be manipulated until the colors line up. What do we have to look forward to in the future?

  • Money Run (2009): Hillary Duff plays an heiress who has vowed to marry the one millionth person who asks for her hand in marriage. Dane Cook, Anton Yelchin, Jackie Earle Haley and Channing Tatum play suitors racing across the country to claim their prize.
  • Pygmalion 2525 (2010): Dane Cook plays a roboticist obsessed with creating the perfect female robot. He creates dozens of brilliant, warm, gorgeous androids who want nothing more than to please him, but none of them is quite perfect. Then he finally makes the perfect love-droid – only for evil Martian mobsters to kidnap her! Verne Troyer stars as Cook’s alien sidekick.
  • On Ice (2011): A virus kills every human being on the planet except a few stranded Antarctic outposts. When climatologist Brad Melbourne (Dane Cook) discovers a beautiful woman in cryogenic storage (Emilie de Ravin), he must unlock the computer code that seals her in. When she thaws out, it’s understood that she’ll want to sleep with him. de Ravin has no lines of dialogue.

23 Comments on “The Rules According to Dane Cook”

  1. stokes OTI Staff #

    That Ian Fleming quote is aces. And those movies are… eerily plausible.


  2. Alexandra #

    I love how On Ice is hilarious and terrifying and totally sounds like a really movie. Also, Money Run sounds a little like The Bachelor (the one with Chris O’Donnell, not the reality show).


  3. Meghan #

    You know, Money Run doesn’t sound heinous as long as Yelchin plays a doe eyed romantic who seeks to woo the girl even after he loses the millionth spot–and convinces her to break those rules for love. But only if they’re like childhood sweethearts or something. Then again, it’s still creepy.


  4. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    So the question is, who are these movies made for? Conventional wisdom says that romantic comedies are for women, period. But do women somehow WANT to see movies in which hot women are reduced to cartoons? And wait a second, do women want to see a movie starring Jessica Simpson? But maybe what women really want out of a romantic comedy is the spectacle of seeing a man bend over backwards for a woman. They don’t care at all about the woman. Hell, maybe there’s an argument to be made that in a romantic comedy, the woman should NOT have a strong personality, because the female audience members want to be able to project onto her.


  5. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Hooray for more feministy posts! Great analysis, all around.

    @Belinkie: That’s a really good question. It seems to me that romantic comedies lately have been more male-oriented since Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen became the guys to beat in the genre. So now, according to the movies, romantic comedies aren’t about two people learning to love each other. They’re about loser men learning to grow up (just a little!) so they can win over the perfect, unwinnable babe.

    It’s weird, though. Hollywood used to think that women only liked romantic comedies, and therefore female writers and directors were placed in the romantic comedy ghetto. Now, Hollywood doesn’t seem to care about female viewership at all. Rather, they only care about the poor boyfriends and husbands who are dragged along to romantic comedies. It’s almost as if the producers are thinking, “Women will watch ANYTHING that’s a romantic comedy, regardless of how misogynistic or bad it is, so let’s cater to the poor men in the audience by adding gay jokes and having the loser guy be the main character.” Plus it’s a good way of kicking the female writers and directors out of the only film genre they had a place in.

    Which is all very strange, because the female-dominated and female-directed Mamma Mia, while admittedly not a great movie, made soooo much money. You’d think that would spur Hollywood to make more female-dominated, female-directed non-misogynistic movies, but that hasn’t really happened. Thank god for Nia Vardalos (the Big Fat Greek Wedding star) and Sam Raimi (whose Drag Me to Hell has a female lead AND villain) or there would literally be ZERO movies this summer about the vagina-ed sex.


  6. Alexandra #

    “Hell, maybe there’s an argument to be made that in a romantic comedy, the woman should NOT have a strong personality, because the female audience members want to be able to project onto her.”

    Good point. This is certainly the case with Twilight (and, in my opinion, one of the reasons that it’s so popular).


  7. Perich #

    @Meghan: yes, but Dane Cook has to win the race. That’s why he’s in the movie, y’see.

    @Belinkie: I think a frightening number of women aspire to be like Jessica Simpson (an object of male fantasy, sought after for fashion advice and lucrative sponsorship deals, in good physical form). So casting her as the female lead in a romantic comedy isn’t a bad idea. Or it wasn’t before 2007, anyway.


  8. Garnth #

    I would point out that if you ever decide to give yourself a partial lobotomy and move to LA, those three movie ideas would be received with an almost orgistic level of enthusiasm.



  9. cushman #

    @mlawski: a few that I could think of that may have some vagina-ed sensibilities:

    -$9.99, a stop-motion animation story written and directed by Tatia Rosenthal
    -The Proposal, dir. Anne Fletcher, who helmed 27 Dresses (barf.)
    -My Sister’s Keeper, based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, where a young girl seeks medical emancipation from her parents *so that she can decide what she wants to do with her own body*
    -The Time Traveler’s Wife, based on the 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger

    and the one that stuck out most to me: Julie & Julia. Julia Child biopic starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, based on the book by Julie Powell, written and directed by Nora Ephron. (Ephron should get a lot of credit for helping to shape the romantic comedy landscape of the 80s and 90s… wrote ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and wrote and directed ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and its weaker Doppelgänger, ‘You’ve Got Mail.’)

    (doing everything in my power to not go off on a rant about dane cook and his unwarranted meteoric rise…)


  10. perich OTI Staff #

    @cushman: don’t let us stop you from ranting. Like the Guardian, comment is free!


  11. kalafudra #

    As one of the (apparently few) female readers of OTI, I just wanted to say thanks for this post [and I’d enjoy a lot more “feministy” post – I also have suggestions if needed ;)].

    I think that the “women want weak characters so they can project themselves into them” argument has some issues. I know at least that I enjoy strong female characters and I rather live the story through them than through some cardboard cutout of a character.
    But the problem lies more in the fact that girls learn at a very young age to see the world through male eyes and to experience stories through a male character – children books have mostly male protagonists [and when the protagonists are female, the books are usually only for girls and boys wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole] etc. That means that you can make movies with weak female characters (who more often than not are not even characters at all, but prizes for the guy to win if he makes the right choices) because women will just switch to the male character as their entry point.
    [Which is not to say that men are unable to experience a story through a female character.]

    At least that’s my theory.


  12. cushman #

    @perich: can’t do it. doctor’s orders.

    @dan: how is that horrible? they were just showing off what little assets they had. jessica alba = an attractive woman. looks good in underthings. dane cook… not funny, not a good actor. what else would they put in the trailer — “from the writer of ‘Sabrina: the Animated Series'”?


  13. stephanie #

    those last bits are really super, sir.

    anyway, the point is, dane cook really should not have stepped outside the realm of standup. (MAKE NO MISTAKE, viewers, i’m not so much a fan of that either, but it is light years better than any acting ‘career’ and has its moments.)


  14. Gab #

    ::raises hand:: Vagina-ed!

    I have only seen _Employee of the Month_, so it’s the only one here I can speak of. When watching it, I didn’t realize it was classified as a romantic comedy, though. Its focus wasn’t really on the guy’s desire to be with the girl, but the antics he pulled in his goal to beat his competition. He doesn’t really think about HER so much as the other man involved. I would classify it with _Office Space_ before _Must Love Dogs_.

    To touch on what Mlwaski said, I too have noticed the trend for movies to be about a loser that gets the girl, even if he doesn’t really seem to deserve it. _Saving Silverman_ comes to mind, but again, I wouldn’t call THIS a romantic comedy, either, for it too focuses on antics and not the relationship.

    I do think Apatow’s movies are romantic comedies, though. They spend a lot of time hashing out the dynamic and relationship between the main characters. And so perhaps in attempts to imitate, others make movies about loser men that want a woman they initially can’t have and get so focused on the trees that they don’t see the forest. As such, it is sort of leading to the death of romantic comedy. A slow, painful death.


  15. Simber #

    I’m about to overcomplicate it. I apologize in advance…

    >”Jessica Simpson’s character is not a human being with thoughts and drives. She’s an automaton who reacts to external stimuli.”

    You know what that made me think of? A 50 Cent video…
    There’s a lot of sexually laden imagery aimed at men where the rules are that men are driven by their sexual needs and don’t need an excuse for wanting sex, because ‘boys will be boys’.
    So in 50 Cent videos men are seen as the “automatons who react to external stimuli”, and women are seen as the autonomous individuals who can decide if they ‘turn down’ or ‘give in’.

    So either:
    a) Matthew Belinkie is right and men as well as women need a blank slate protagonist (in line with the passive nature of most culture consumption)
    b) there is a deep desire in movie audiences towards inertia ;-)
    c) popular culture is working as a laboratory on problematic issues like free will, responsability and out more base desires.

    Or all of the above, of course.


  16. John Perich #

    @simber: I’m actually going with (B) in the above list. How many popular movies can you list which hinge on a character either embracing their destiny or returning to a past life they thought was behind them? Inertia’s a very attractive force in pop culture (no pun intended).


  17. DaveW #

    Inertia: It’s not just for physics anymore!


  18. mlawski #

    @Simber: Great. Now we’re going to have to rename the site Overcomplicating It. Thanks a lot.


  19. Trevor Seigler #

    I’m waiting for the eventual Cook-Michael Bay co-production, Armageddon 2012:

    An asteroid is headed towards earth, its course unalterable unless a crack team of professional miners goes up and plants explosives to break the mega-rock into miniature pieces that burn up in the atmosphere. But the only thing that can really save the earth is to send Dane Cook up to date-rape the asteroid, realize that no, he really does love it after all, and try to win it back, all before it leaves a Jupiter’s-big-red-dot-size crater where the United States once was. With Andy Dick as Mission Control, Carlos Mencia as the NASA Scientist, and Gary Busey as the President. Rated R for “Rip Your Eyes out of Your Fucking Skull Awesome!”


  20. cgatto #

    Who actually took that much time to write up all of that? Holy waste of life, Batman. Who cares about the similiarities between roles that Dane Cook plays in a movie! And who cares if you think he shouldn’t have branched off into an acting career. He probably got a helluva lot of cash for doing them, so what is complaining about it going to do?


  21. DaveW #

    @cgatto: methinks you’re missing the point of this site…


  22. MaxPolun #

    This seems to be simply fulfilling a common male fantasy, one that even I (who considers himself a feminist) can find sometimes appealing: a woman who will love you if you do some quantitative task. This fantasy is all over literature and especially mythology (think sleeping beauty: anyone who can awaken her she automatically falls in love with). Actually if you (over) think about it, this is really the dominant image of love in our culture: the hero gets the girl, not because he makes her laugh, or because they are compatible (in fact often they are strikingly incompatible, having different backgrounds, desires, personality types. No that these can’t be surmounted), but rather because he deserves her.

    What Dane Cook movies do is drop all pretense of it being the woman’s desires to be with the hero, and makes the implicit rules ridiculous. I’d almost say that these movies deconstruct the “The Hero gets the Girl” cliche, excepts that it’s Dane Cook, and these are terrible movies.


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