Talhotblond (2009): Internalised misogyny from Barbara Schroeder

The dangers of the internet, with a side order of sexism


On paper, Talhotblond seemed to be exactly the kind of documentary I would happily let wash over me of a lazy evening - I didn't really expect to learn much from it but I assumed it would satiate my basic need for drama and deception and hopefully motivate me to half-heartedly lob something at the screen as I smugly deem the people involved idiots. This kind of film is my bread and butter. My Made in Chelsea if you will.

The story is as old as a time: a man looking for love turns to our oh-so-dependable and ever abiding friend, The Internet for solace from his loneliness 'IRL' ('in real life'...duh). Lo and behold, our hero, Thomas Montgomery, thinks he finds it in chat room user talhotblond, a woman who claims to be tall, hot and, well, blonde. As you will have already presumed, turns out talhotblond is not what she seems, so naturally melodrama ensues...

The 'honeytrap' film is a guilty pleasure of mine, and luckily for me, is also a genre that is done to death - I have enjoyed the suspiciously unbelievable Facebook caper Catfish (2010) (and admittedly its subsequent TV series...don't judge), and equally I am not one to shy away from openly fictional tales of deception such as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992). With the exception of the feminist favourite Hard Candy (2005), this type of film is almost always problematic, usually using the assumption that women are lying bitches as their starting point to the narrative, and trust me I was expecting no less from Talhotblond, but this documentary, I have to say, was of a new level of misogyny.

Bizarrely the documentary is narrated from the fictional point of view of Brian Barrett - the real life 22 year old victim that was jealously shot and killed by Thomas Montgomery over Brian's online relationship with talhotblond. At times having 'Brian' being as unsubtle as to say things like '...and that's why I'm dead' and 'If I were alive I would...' shows the lack of thought Schroeder put into this documentary - sadly this hugely disrespectful decision on Schroeder's part is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems showcased in the film. 

The truth is that lonely, 47 year old ex-marine, husband and father, Thomas Montgomery logged in to a poker chat room to find love, and when presented with talhotblond, who to his knowledge was a teenager called Jessi, proceeded to pretend to be an 18 year old marine in training so as to enter into a relationship with her. During this time 'Jessi' also entered into a relationship with Montgomery's co-worker Brian. Montgomery ends up killing Brian out of possessiveness over 'Jessi'...but here's the twist, shock horror! talhotblond isn't tall, hot or even blonde at all!! Turns out Montgomery and Barrett had actually been talking to Jessi's mother, 46 year old Mary Shieler, who had been sending these men photos of her daughter. 

Before the big reveal that Jessi is actually old, misogynist attitudes about young, self-assured women come crawling out of the woodwork as 'Jessi' is repeatedly referred to as a 'vixen', and also 'the virgin' by sleazy Montgomery, who gets far too much airtime for my liking. All the while he is inexplicably sympathised with, with schlocky TV movie music playing whenever he speaks. Apparently being married with two children constitutes a 'dead end life' and poor old Thomas was impotent, so what choice did he have but to prey on an 18 year old schoolgirl??

The heavy-handed sexism continues as Jessi is revealed to be Mary as the documentary actively seeks to implicate Mary as the true culprit of Brian's death through her deception. 'Brian' describes himself as being 'cybersexed to death' by Jessi in one scene and talking head/drugstore psychologist, Rex Beaber goes as far as to say that Mary 'ultimately committed the worst crime' in the next... Yes, he claims that pretending to be a younger version of yourself online is worse than murder. This would be less laughable if the documentary wasn't so committed to defending Montgomery's personal deception.

A good bulk of the overlong film is spent zooming into Mary's middle-aged face and placing it against the photos of Jessi - it seems the real crime here is being a woman and past your best. The film even breezes over the fact that Montgomery threatened to rape Jessi when he found out about her relationship with Brian, as though it pales in comparison to the 'cruelty' and 'evil' shown by lonely Mary.

What saddens me the most is the amount of exposure such a poorly made piece of film has been given - the documentary was shown on Channel 4 and Courteney Cox (go figure) apparently directed a movie version of the story last year. Equally as saddening is the fact that Talhotblond was made by a woman. It's disappointing to think that Barbara Schroeder could be so forgiving of Montgomery and yet so critical of Mary Shieler - to me, this speaks tragic volumes about the levels of internalised misogyny in modern day society... So next time I have the desire to watch a cautionary tale about the perils of random online encounters, I think I'll give Talhotblond a miss and watch the far more savoury Ellen Page threatening to cut off Patrick Wilson's balls in Hard Candy.

Illustration by Tamara Jade-Kaz