I watched a horrible movie this weekend. It was a romantic comedy.
Formulaic as they are, I enjoy a good rom-com. Last weekend I watched Hitch, starring Will Smith. It was good enough to watch twice—witty, well made, even if predictable.
Not so this movie.
It started out alright. Nerdy but cute Rachel is in law school. Her study partner is the handsome nice guy, Discount Tom Cruise, or Dex as they call him. She falls for him, but doesn’t have the guts to say anything, so he up and dates her best friend, Darcy who is an over-the-top extravert and treats them both like garbage. Nevertheless, Discount Tom Cruise and Loudmouth get engaged.
Rachel is crestfallen. See, she still is crushing on Dex. So, one night, with a healthy shot of liquid courage, she blurts out that she had a crush on him in college and Dex wonders why she never said so. More drinks, and things get steamy. Seems Discount Tom Cruise kinda had a thing for her too, and now combined with pre-wedding cold feet, he’s beginning to rethink things.
You don’t have to be a literature major figure out what happens.
The story perpetuates the idea that somewhere out there is ‘the one’, and you must do anything to be with them. Anything.
On the surface there is some nobility to this: sacrificial love, which braves all danger for the beloved. Jesus Christ is a model of sacrificial love, and he is my example for life. Sacrificial love is, in my opinion, the highest of loves—putting aside yourself for the one you love.
But the movie I’ve mentioned twists this noble idea. Dex and Rachel think they just might be meant for each other so they decide to go behind Darcy’s back and ‘figure what this thing is’—read, have an affair. Rachel knows this is wrong, but her friend assures her that sometimes “Good people do bad things”. In the eyes of the writers, betraying Darcy is justifiable because she’s an awful person, and Dex’s and Rachel’s love is ‘true love’.
And we, the viewers, are manipulated into rooting for them as they display flagrant disregard for Darcy’s feelings and their own integrity. All is fair in love and war, the movie seems to say, and when we find out that Darcy, too, has been cheating, it seems we are supposed to conclude that everything is now fair.
It is this lack of integrity that bothers me the most. I will suspend disbelief and say that Dex and Rachel really do love each other. Fine. Now, say ten years down the road things aren’t going so hot. Say Rachel meets some really nice, good looking guy, and things just feel right, and she wants to figure out ‘what this thing is’. Exactly why wouldn’t she cheat on Dex? Why does Rachel think she can trust Dex when he is cheating on his fiancé to be with her?
And Dex, though he’s in love with Rachel, doesn’t have the spine to break it off with Darcy. Neither of them have the guts to come clean until they’re caught. If they display such cowardice now, will they have the courage to deal with the heavy issues of life together?
Character, more than looks, more than personality, more than how they ‘make you feel’ is what counts. Love conquers much, but not all. Whatever crappy self you bring to the relationship won’t disappear with ‘true love’s first kiss’.
Which leads me to:
You know the scene.
“Oh Jack, I love you.”
“I can’t live without you, Frieda”.
Kiss, kiss. More kissing. Rain begins to fall. People walk around them. Kissing. Kissing. Still kissing. That’s how Hitch ended, and I liked that movie.
Rom-coms would have us believe that love is expressed with your lips, or in bed. And it is—but only to a point.
Love is commitment. You commit, and you stand by your commitment. Show me the happy couple two years later, when one spouse has just come home from working a twelve hour shift, cold, exhausted, and the other greets them at the door with a kiss. I like that kiss better. Show me one of the two lying in bed, a bowl beside them, while the other scrubs the vomit off the bathroom floor. Show me them listening to each other and trying to work out a conflict without vindictiveness. Show me one, heart broken by the other, and still standing by them. Show me the couple, married twenty-five years, going for a walk holding hands. Show me them surrounded by a few healthy, happy kids. Show me them, eighty years old, still side by side.
Why don’t they show those parts?
In the end, I’m not bashing romantic comedies. By all means, watch them. I will. But remember that they don’t show the whole story. That when the couple is kissing and the credits are rolling, it is just the beginning. How the couple falls in love is fun to watch, but how they stay in love is more important.
If a movie was made of their last days together, would we still want to watch?
An excellent article on a similar subject is Terri Brady’s “Finding a Character to Marry”. Also check out parts, 2, 3 and 0.
5 thoughts on “The Trouble With Romantic Comedies… Or This One, Anyway.”
Lovely post. Since a mature love does not sizzle, either on screen or at the box office, our dream merchants could not care less. Even in Bollywood, one hardly finds such aged couples romancing. One recent exception was ‘Baaghbaan’ (The Caretaker of the Garden), where the theme was about taking care of one’s parents.
I understand that a recent animated movie, Frozen, is about love between two sisters. I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t confirm this, but this is a good theme for a kids’ movie.
Thank you. Shall try and catch up with Frozen.
Romantic comedies work because something keeps two people apart (family, distance, societal acceptance) but the only thing that keeps people apart anymore is their own flaws (refusal to commit, dating two people at once). That just makes the characters unlikeable. To avert this most romantic films are presented as straight up dramas (Nicholas Sparks’ adapations) or get mixed with other genres (This Means War = romantic comedy + action).