When I first saw Deadpool on Valentine’s Day with my civilian partner, I remember leaving the theater on cloud nine, sure that my relationship could withstand anything. The movie made me feel like my job was not an obstacle to be overcome by romantic interests but a core part of me that could be embraced. I remember thinking that Morena Baccarin never had to go back to Joss Whedon to play a laterally whorephobic space courtesan because this film had allowed her to play an amazing sex worker.
I rewatched the film for this review and I have to say that this time it hurt. Watching Vanessa and Wade’s relationship unfurl on screen hit me hard.
Not because it was poorly written, though. Quite the opposite.
My partner and I broke up less than two weeks ago and watching this movie only reminded me of better times. Because Baccarin as Vanessa is awesome and her relationship with the titular hero is everything I have ever wanted from a story about a guy dating a sex worker. And it also represented everything that I wanted from being dated as one, with the addition of bad guys, bullets, and the breaking of the fourth wall.
The movie as a whole is very true to Deadpool’s comic character but also drops some transphobic, ableist, racist, and rape-y jokes. My interest here is the film’s love story, because as its protagonist narrates within the first few minutes of running time, “That’s what this is. A love story.” Deadpool kickstarts the movie with a taxi ride to the first action sequence where our hero, Wade Wilson, is waxing poetic about romance to his driver (whom he stiffs TWICE) before being dropped off at an overpass. He kills a bunch of dudes, makes some jokes, and freezes time to tell us, “Technically, this is a murder, but some of the best love stories start with a murder.”
We have our first of many flashbacks to Wade, pre-mutation. He’s just a mercenary with a soft spot for teenage girls with stalkers. He’s noticeably not creeping on them after telling them he threatened a pizza delivery boy to cut out the harassment. Not a hero, he tells them, “just a bad guy who gets paid to fuck up worse guys.” He proves his case by walking into the local mercenary bar and trying to instigate a murder to win the dead pool (ha, see?). It doesn’t work, but in walks Vanessa. What follows is their meet cute.
Vanessa makes a flirty comment about the wad of cash Wade is holding. Another man slaps her ass and says “I’d hit that” and before Wade can jump in to defend her honor, Vanessa grabs the guy’s junk so hard his eyes nearly burst out of his head. Once she’s gotten an apology from the dude, she makes it clear to Wade she’s working. He throws out a crack about her being abused (and him being abused worse). They banter, trying to one-up each other with wild claims about who had the most dysfunctional childhood, and while it looks like Vanessa is genuinely into this, Wade asks her out by asking “What can I get for 275 dollars?”
“48 minutes of whatever the fuck you want.”
And he respects that! He takes her to an arcade to play skee ball, saying, “I just want to get to know the real you and not the short two-dimensional sex object peddled by Hollywood.”
Now, in any other film this line would make me tap out, but I’ll let it slide, since Deadpool has always been about parody and lampshading. This film also makes direct jabs at Ryan Reynolds and the X-Men franchise. This works here, because not only is the love interest in action films typically 2-D, a trope this film is gonna subvert hard, but Morena Baccarin had to play a sex worker in Firefly who would have gotten fridged by cannibal gang rape had it gotten a second season. Spoiler: That doesn’t happen here. What actually happens is her deciding to give Wade another three minutes after the call concludes—after he offers her more money to extend their date—and then deciding to stick with him after they have amazing sex at the end of their session.
Now, normally, a story about a worker dating a client wouldn’t particularly appeal to me, but it does happen. We all know at least one person who met their LTR through work. And if a movie is going to go there, then it should be done like this. Wade thinks this woman is hot and if paying is what he needs to do to spend time with her, he will. He respects her job. He doesn’t haggle. He’s kind of a douchebag, but Vanessa seems to respond well to that. At no point is there any indication that Vanessa quits her job in order to date Wade, though she does seem to stop doing full service work after he leaves. Wade makes Vanessa happy and she is the one who decides to upgrade him from client to partner. He makes his own good money so he never mooches off of hers. And she is shown to make good money, free styling in a mercenary bar, so she also doesn’t need his. Their relationship isn’t about dependence on either side, but rather seems to be based on dark humor and some really amazing sex.
That said, the sex montage, which features the infamous “Happy International Women’s Day” scene with the much-debated bit about Deadpool not liking pegging, is surprisingly non-graphic. The camera focuses on their faces, their intimacy, the way they grow closer through sharing cheesy jokes and marking holidays with wild sex. We end at Christmas where both the characters want to ask each other a very important question. While Vanessa merely wants to bring up the possibility of anal, Wade proposes. We get a genuinely cute scene where Vanessa says yes and they cuddle up together in ugly sweaters, just two kids in love.
And then Wade faints.
This is what ends their honeymoon phase. Not because there’s any love lost but because cancer is HARD. Vanessa immediately launches into “plans A through Z” in an attempt to deal with the situation while Wade stares at her “memorizing the details of her face.” While Wade is bummed about dying, he’s more concerned about Vanessa having to watch it happen. He attempts to leave, insisting it’s the right thing to spare her the burden, and she refuses. Vanessa clearly loves Wade and is willing to stand by him for anything. But he still winds up hooking up with some creepy military experiment recruitment dude with a shady offer and abandoning Vanessa in the middle of the night rather than looking at all the options she’s looked into.
Which is shitty.
Like, dude. That is directly going against what she wants.
But after being tortured, mutated, and disfigured by the bad guys Wade goes looking for her. Nearly dying for real and then gaining some sweet healing powers has him knowing he can go back to her. It’s all going to be okay.
Except for the disfigurement. Some strangers on the street stare at him and Wade shells up. He lets Vanessa go, convinced his looks are the only thing he has to offer her. Wade’s whole thing of killing people to get to the head bad guy isn’t just about revenge for his torture. It’s to force the head bad guy to fix his face so his girlfriend will love him again.
This entire movie is about a guy trying to be hot enough for his fiancée.
Which is one of the more progressive things it does. On the surface, this seems to demonstrate that he thinks his sex worker girlfriend is shallow. But on a deeper level, this is an action hero expressing a deep sense of insecurity. Wade honestly thinks that without his good looks he’s not worthy of a woman like Vanessa. It’s an extension of him not wanting her to see him go through cancer because that would not only rob him of his looks but also his virility and physical capabilities. It’s not just that she would watch him die, she’d watch him be weak. And when you’ve got a girlfriend who is already the strong one, who holds her own against career killers and takes charge of fighting your cancer? Well, that might make you feel like you constantly need to impress her.
The patriarchy really can fuck with men too, and it has fucked Wade hard.
And the woman Wade really wants to impress? Whom he loves more than anything? She just happens to have sex for a living. It’s not a big deal in the script and that’s why this is such a big deal. Because Vanessa’s job is a vehicle for them meeting, but it’s not her whole character. Vanessa is tough, resourceful, funny, caring, and so many other things in this film before she is her job. But because she’s introduced through her job there’s no denying that this amazing woman is a sex worker. There’s no Breakfast at Tiffany’s vagueness on the subject here. If you like Vanessa, then you like a sex worker. And if you want to be friends with Deadpool, you gotta be chill with his girlfriend being a sex worker.
We really have met the real her beyond the two-dimensional sex object Hollywood would normally peddle.
Bad guys find out about Vanessa and immediately set out to capture her. Wade sets out ahead of them and takes the film’s comic relief character—the bartender at the merc bar—with him. How does Wade know where Vanessa will be?
“Because I’m constantly stalking that fox.”
I mean, I guess this is his mercenary version of Facebook stalking an ex but, dude, come on. She’s obviously not over you. You know how I know? Because she’s working as a waitress at a strip club.
This is one of my favorite elements of the movie. There’s never any indication that Vanessa has given up full-service work during her time with Wade. In fact, seeing as at one point, the bad guy taunts him by saying he’s “hip deep in hookers,” it’s easy to assume Vanessa just kept going.
Until Wade disappeared two years ago.
Now, having worked through several breakups, I can say it is one of the most painful things in the world. I cannot imagine having the emotional energy to do full-service sex work after the love of your life gets cancer and bails on you. What I can imagine is needing to do a job in a similar environment that makes use of your hustling skills and good looks. Hence, it is my headcanon (and I think this is meant to be implied, especially since she’s still wearing Wade’s coat) that Vanessa became a club waitress after thinking Wade died. If she can freestyle in a mercenary bar, she can probably sell drinks to drunk guys. It’s mostly the same skill set, with a lower demand for emotional labor.
The strip club scene does, unfortunately, show us the only boobs in the movie, even though there are plenty of other chances for both female and male nudity to come up. The comic relief side character also says a dancer named Chastity should be called Irony instead. I forgive him, though, because he immediately starts spending money and the last time we see him in this scene he’s at the rail. Don’t be an asshole in the club, but if you’re gonna be one, then tip. Tipping assholes are better than cheap nice guys
Wade again chickens out on approaching Vanessa (DUDE!) which allows the bad guys to lure her outside under the pretense of her ex-boyfriend sending her a message. She goes out into a back alley alone (dubious) and gets kidnapped. Wade goes to a shipyard to save her.
We get our last action sequence. Vanessa is not a damsel in distress, she’s just the only one there without super powers 1. Not only does she mouth off as soon as she’s able and start processing that Wade is alive, she gets herself out of the oxygen deprivation tank the bad guy puts her in. Sure, Wade throws a sword through the glass to keep the oxygen high, but Vanessa cuts herself out of her restraints, grabs the sword blade with her bare hands to pry the door open, and then runs the Big Bad through with the blade as he’s close to killing Wade.
They have each other’s backs. Which is good, because he’s the one who has to save her next when one of the supporting X-Men blows everything to shit and the ship they’re fighting on crashes. The bad guys all die because they can’t get Wade his good looks back, there’s a speech about heroism, and then Vanessa is pissed. She hits Wade and demands an explanation for why he left her. Baccarin really sells this as that special brand of anger that comes from not believing this specific person did this to you. She says there’s no way his two years were harder than hers and he launches into a false story about living in a crack house and after a moment of consideration she says “So…you live in a house?’” and we have a neat callback to their meet cute.
And after that, he’s still so worried about her seeing his face that he’s stapled a picture of Hugh Jackman onto it under his mask. But Vanessa isn’t phased. Vanessa doesn’t care:
“Hey. After a brief adjustment period and a bunch of drinks it’s a face I’d be happy to sit on.”
And then it’s implied they bang next to the bad guys’ body while Wade blasts “Careless Whisper.”
This entire movie is really about her, start to finish. Wade even finally does call himself a hero because he managed to get Vanessa back: “You don’t need to be a hero to get the girl. The right girl will bring out the hero in you” are the last lines of the movie. And you know Wade is not a hero. He does nothing heroic. He shoots the bad guy in the face even as he’s being given an inspirational speech about not killing. But none of that matters, because if he saved Vanessa he saved the person that comprises the whole world to him.
This entire film is about a dude doing whatever he can for his girlfriend. He doesn’t want to die because he’s worried more about her feelings. He doesn’t want to die because he’ll miss her. He’s worried about her reaction to his scarring. He’s afraid he’s not good enough. For her. His sex worker girlfriend. Who not only doesn’t get killed or raped, but helps save herself. Who outside of the superhero action sequences has a sweet domestic life full of communication, love, and respect.
Not only did this movie do right by Vanessa and her just happening to do full-service work, it also did right by depicting:
1) How to be a good client (Wade and the comic relief)
2) How to be a good partner to a sex worker (which usually just means being a good partner)
3) That sex workers can have functioning relationships.
And if we can see a sex worker being adored and being a wonderful partner without falling into the heart of gold trap in a ridiculous movie that doesn’t have a fourth wall? Then we should be able to see them in other stories too. Three-dimensional sex workers in loving relationships aren’t nearly as unrealistic as superheroes, after all.
1.In the comics, Vanessa is a mutant named Copycat, and she actually does ultimately get fridged horribly. Fingers crossed that that never happens in this franchise. I will take back all of my good will if it does. ↩