Made in Dagenham: Let’s hear it for the women!

Sometimes, with all the demonizing hate-filled Republican propaganda that fills our airwaves, sometimes one wonders why it is again that unions are relevant. They have been portrayed as terrible things that are ruining our lives. (Just don’t look at the big corporations that are pulling the strings to make those statements…)

How far have we gotten from the struggles for the 40-hour week? Or the hard-fought-for half hour lunches and ten-minute breaks, legal by law, yet in this new corporate world where everyone is doing five people’s jobs, hardly still maintained. Does anyone even remember that it was the unions that fought for these things? For these rights for us working stiffs?

Or has this bad word “socialism” (since that other trumped-up bad word, “communism” doesn’t really work anymore, appearing hopelessly dated) really colored everything for so many? So many who voted their corporate keepers back into power, though they decried the influence of the big bad banks? Just makes ya sick, sometimes.

Well, here’s an antidote to the corporate-cash big money Tea Party election we just stomached. Here’s a pleasant reminder of exactly what unions can do, and why we need them so, in these crazy times. “Made in Dagenham” takes place in England, in the mid-60s. It’s a true story.

Sallie Hawkins, a sure Oscar contender, is one of the strike leaders. Miranda Richardson has a noble turn herself. (Both were in attendance at the AFI screening.) This film is easily one of my favorites of the year.

Women, working at a Ford plant as machinists, start out the movie wanting to be the same pay grade as men, to be classed as “skilled,” rather than “unskilled.” Simple enough. Fair enough.

They encounter many obstacles along the way, not the least of which is that they aren’t taken seriously because they are “just women,” after all. We won’t even talk about the other shop violations which they don’t even talk about in the movie: the water pouring down on the workplace, the fact that many women work in their bras because it’s too hot in the shop (those rights are things American workers fought for, and are still enforced).

But the big battle for the women ultimately becomes: “Equal pay for equal work.” That is what they fight for. Don’t wanna spoil the movie. I’ll just say that it had a positive ending in Britain, and many other countries because of the women of Dagenham.

It made me uncomfortably squeamish, though, to realize that here in America in 2010, women still make only 74% of what men make for the same job. Oh yeah. That’s why we need those “socialist” unions. I remember now.

Finally! A movie I LOVE! All 500 Days.

So, I’m slogging through this Oscar season, viewing this movie and that. This one has good costumes. This one has good cinematography. I like that actor. The mental checklist. Who’s going to make it to the Oscar stage this year? Too much thinking, frankly.

Suddenly, (500) Days of Summer comes onto the agenda unexpectedly.

From the very first frame to the very last, I loved this movie. LOVED it. Loved every frame, every moment, every backwards and forwards in time. I’ve seen maybe 100 of this year’s movies by now. This one completely spoke to me. It easily moves to the top of my favorites, and I sure hope it’s remembered at Oscar time. It was a joy to watch.

It’s a love story, but NOT a romantic comedy. The two leads, Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are wondrous and gorgeous to watch. We even get a bit of the incredible Zooey singing (she’s one half of the band She and Him when she’s not doing movies; I adore her voice).

It is smart, it is funny, it is interesting, it is well edited. The writers (Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber) should plan their walk right now to the Best Original Screenplay Oscar stage.

There is happiness, there is sadness, there is despair, there is an impromptu dance number that reminded me of the Bollywood end of last year’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” The music, starting from Regina Spektor’s “Us” under the opening credits and every song going forward, was stunning, smart and perfectly chosen.

The plot is simple. Summer is the character Zooey Deschanel plays. And they go through 500 days with her and the male lead (Levitt). And though the ending is not a romantic comedy ending, I actually love the ending. Drama, after all, is all about conflict, and if they’d just walked happily off into the sunset, it wouldn’t be much of a movie. Plus, now that I know the ending, I’d watch it differently the second time around. And YES! I do want to see it again. I can’t say that about many of the movies I’ve been slogging through.

A gorgeous movie about love. Well worth a watch.