Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

V-D Day: or, The Proliferation of “Romantic” (Unrealistic Expectations) Comedies

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 14, 2005

Valentine’s Day fucking sucks.

I know, I know, what does this have to do with movies? Trust me, I’m getting there.

This isn’t going to be a bitter rant about how your friendly neighborhood movie writer is currently sans girlfriend, don’t worry. Nor will it be one of those “in the spirit of the holiday” deals where I go on and on about my current movie/TV crush, Kristen “Veronica Mars” Bell (seriously, why aren’t you people watching?). I could sing her praises for pages, but I’m not convinced anyone really wants to read that. And it would probably get a restraining order slapped on me. I’ve got enough problems.

Seriously though, I really hate this holiday. As if those of us not in a relationship don’t feel shitty enough about it already, we have an annual reminder of our lack of success in the love department. Just what we needed! It’s kind of like being Jewish on Christmas. Who needs this kind of pressure? If you’re actually with someone that you really love, good for you. But every day is your fucking day. If you really need a holiday to remind you how lucky you are, then you probably don’t deserve it in the first place.

It’s funny, people have told me in the past that I’m simply “not romantic”. After overcoming my initial shock at this statement, I would argue that the concept of “romance” has become so warped and superficial at this point that the word has lost all meaning. Yes, I’m cynical as all hell when it comes to romance. But no one is born that way – cynicism is simply a natural response to experience.

Unfortunately, being a movie fanatic doesn’t really help this particular situation. I’ve grown to truly despise the messages delivered in most so-called “romantic comedies”. It’s not just the natural male response to “chick flicks”, either. Romantic comedy used to be a wonderful thing. Some of my all-time favorite movies are in that genre. But the past few years, these movies have become so awful, so simple-minded and ridiculous and pathetic, that I can’t bring myself to sit through most of them. Honestly, how did we go from It Happened One Night to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days? I really don’t get it.

Take Pretty Woman, for instance. Please. Considered the most popular romantic comedy of all time by many people (not me), this is a movie that essentially tells women, “sell your ass on the street and you’ll find Prince Charming”. And they eat that shit up with a spoon. Go figure. I don’t know if anyone’s actually dumb enough to take that lesson seriously, but it’s still a pretty repulsive fantasy to be selling people all the same. And how exactly does Prince Charming display his affection for the fair maiden? By buying her lots and lots of expensive clothes. Nice. Maybe these two deserve each other after all.

I don’t doubt that many women saw that movie and fantasized about meeting a rich, handsome guy who swept them off their feet and took them away from their miserable lives. That’s the problem. If that’s your idea of love and romance, then you’re living in a fantasy world the likes of which my beloved Kristen and I couldn’t possibly imagine. These so-called “romances” have become wish-fulfillment fantasies for people who are wishing for all the wrong things.

Do people really think that’s what love is? Something you buy with a credit card? I don’t know, but based on the movies lately, you’d think so. Look at The Wedding Date – go ahead, look at it, because I can’t bear to.

I think the worst of the unrealistic expectations that movies plant in our heads is this idea that love “just happens”, like a cold virus or a natural disaster. This idea of “love at first sight” is, I’m sorry, such a crock of horseshit. My favorites are the movies where guys move to a new town and, naturally, there’s a beautiful, smart, funny, completely single and available female just waiting for them to arrive. Give me a fucking break! While it’s not a romantic comedy, the worst offender is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, where Alison Eastwood literally shows up on John Cusack’s doorstep, completely out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. Of course they fall in love – that’s what’s supposed to happen in the movies, right?

Come on people, real life just isn’t like that. I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert on love, don’t get me wrong, but I know Hollywood bullshit when I see it. If any couple on Earth has ever met that way, I’d like to hear about it. “Yeah, she just showed up at my house in the middle of the night, and a year later we were married.” Right. And I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

If you watch enough movies, and actually believe them, you might come to think that love is something equivalent to brainwashing or mind-control experiments. Or an alien infestation like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s as if falling in love is something that takes place without your permission. “I met this girl, and the next thing I knew, I was in love! I don’t know how it happened!” Bullshit.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick to death of watching impossibly attractive people pretend to be just as insecure, neurotic and obsessive about love as the rest of us. Does anyone still buy that at this point? That’s as heinous a Hollywood myth as “rich people are all desperately unhappy” (yeah, being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want is such a bummer). Please. If they think being gorgeous and wealthy is such a hardship, they should try being poor and ugly sometime.

Not to mention that we’re running desperately low on the “girl next door” archetype that used to make these movies somewhat believable. Romantic-comedy stalwarts like Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts were no sane man’s idea of unacceptable, but they weren’t the typical unrealistic, Cindy Crawford/Pamela Anderson bombshell ideal either. They always seemed to resemble people who could conceivably exist in the same universe we live in. Who’s supposed to be our “girl next door” now? Lindsay Lohan? Jennifer Garner? Scarlett Johannsen? Angelina Jolie? Jessica Alba? Good God, if these women are the girls next door, I’m living in the wrong goddamn neighborhood.

Look, I’m the last person who would claim to know anything about love. But I know it’s not what we see in all these lousy movies. True love, REAL love, isn’t based on being the two most attractive people in the room. It’s not about what you’ve got in your wallet and how much of it you’re willing to spend. Love is not about money and property, as much as society tries to tell us otherwise. It’s not about the quest for absolute perfection. It’s certainly not about “meeting cute” and going through contrived situations that are meant to signify “fate” and “destiny”. It’s sure as hell not about candy and flowers and big red heart-shaped boxes. And it’s definitely not about circumstances beyond our control.

No, I think love – REAL love – is all about choice. It’s about choosing to love someone, and making that choice every day. And, hopefully, being chosen back by that person. It’s about loving someone as much for their flaws and idiosyncrasies as for the things that attracted them to you in the first place. It’s about caring more for their needs than you do for your own. Love isn’t something that “just happens” to you – it’s something you have to choose, to take full and conscious part in, something you have to accept. And I think that the kind of person you choose to love says as much about you as it does about them.

So, while I may not know much about love, I apparently know more than your average Hollywood screenwriter. Because that’s exactly what we’re not seeing in these so-called “romantic” movies. We don’t see people falling in love for good reasons, with realistic expectations. We don’t see couples getting together because of mutual backgrounds, shared interests, or even because they just plain like each other. Instead we’re being fed this horseshit about how “opposites attract” and how two people who hate each other at the beginning of a movie can love each other by the end. We’re told that people who have absolutely nothing in common can somehow fall madly in love with each other. Maybe that actually happens, but I think it’s pretty rare.

Let’s face it folks, life just isn’t that fucking simple. In real life, you can’t make someone love you by sheer force of will. And you can’t fall in love with someone just because you think you’re supposed to. People are incredibly complicated creatures, and we live in a complex and often confusing world. Most of us don’t even know why we do the things we do half the time. You may think my view of love is naïve, but I think these myths that Hollywood perpetuates, like “there’s someone for everyone” and “everything works out the way it’s supposed to” – now THAT’S naïve. But too many people believe it, because that’s what they’re told their whole lives. Consciously or unconsciously, these are the messages that are implanted in our minds, and some of us spend most of our adult lives trying to unlearn them, or at least come to grips with how phony and misguided they are. (Take the blue pill, Neo…)

This is why most people just don’t get it. The truth is, there is no such thing as a perfect mate. It doesn’t exist. Prince Charming is never going to come along on a white horse, and Cindy Crawford is never going to knock on my door. (But Kristen, seriously, call me.) We’re all just people out here, fucked-up and confused and just trying to get by the best we can. I get that. I just wish Hollywood did too.

And they say I’m not romantic…ppphhhtttt! Eat me…

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