In his writing on romantic comedy around 1934-1949, Stanley Cavell describes the ways in which the main couple get together, “overcoming individual and social obstacles to find their happiness.” Either through the man “overcoming obstacles posed by an older man” or by the woman transforming herself in some way – what he calls “death and restoration”. Whilst this essay is outdated – it talks about a period of cinema 80 years ago and from a heteronormative perspective, when reading it I thought of the ways in which women in cinema still undergo this “transformation” in order to appeal to male characters and what I think is one of the most sexist tropes of cinema still seen in mainstream cinema today – the makeover scene. I grew up watching teen comedy such as mean girls and clueless and became to expect some sort of makeover scene in which the female lead removes her glasses and is instantly a changed woman, attractive to her male counterparts. What Cavell calls an “obstacle” is actually the ways in which the undesirable woman must alter herself to fit the male gaze. This, however, is not a feminist criticism of the makeover scene but an analysis of how Cavell’s theory can still be seen today.
The example that first came to mind was that of the makeover scene in The Princess Diaries (Gary Marshall, USA, 2001), in which Mia (Anne Hathaway) has her appearance and attitudes changed to become more “princess-like”. Her bushy brows and frizzy hair are plucked, brushed, smoothed and reduced so she can appear more “lady-like”. Once she is physically altered, she “looks like a princess” and is ready to be treated as such, the attitudes of those around her change and she gets the man she had crushed on. This is a quite literal example of Carvell’s theory – Mia is seen as more ladylike after her transformation – “may be disguised as a boy”, and her “death and restoration” seen in her transformation resolve all issues of the film. Whilst Cravell’s work does not mention the makeover as an example of death and restoration there is something to be said for the ways in which women’s characters in romcom cinema are still reduced to their appearance in order to solve the main conflict.
Cavell, Stanley. “Introduction: Words for a Conversation.” Essay. In Pursuits of Happiness: the Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, 1–42. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.
The Princess Diaries (Gary Marshall, USA, 2001)
 Cavell, Stanley. “Introduction: Words for a Conversation.” Essay. In Pursuits of Happiness: the Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, 1–42. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.
 Cavell, Words for a Conversation, p. 1.