I hope you’re all having a great Monday and are staying cool (or at least trying too)! This past weekend, I spent a lot of time inside the comfort of my A/C’d abode–being stuck inside on a sunny summer day is almost too sacrilege for words but it was so gosh darn hot out! I read, I got caught up on some writing, a ate a stockpile of ice cream…and I watched a lot of movies.
In honor of my recent silver screen overload, I am putting on my film critic hat today and talking about one of my most favorite of all things…MOVIES.
Besides books, and baseball, and all things topped with frosting, movies are one of my guiltiest pleasures. Some people spend their paychecks on shoes or fancy car parts. Me? I can’t not walk out of a Best Buy or FYE without a handful of DVD’s. The $5 movie bin at Wal-Mart is my best friend. I can’t help it. There is something about sitting down after a long day, forgetting the troubles of the world for a mere hour and a half and mindlessly getting entertained, laughing until your stomach hurts, hiding under behind a blanket and getting the beans scared out of you, or drooling over the scene when the hunky lead character takes his shirt off (hello Channing Tatum!). I love a good comedy, getting pumped up about seeing an action flick and am on the edge of my seat whenever a good drama or suspense thriller comes on.
I also love romantic comedies. I really do. Any movie that pits Drew Barrymore against some lovable former-SNL actor is a guaranteed win for me.
But I do have my limits.
The other day, I went to the library to refill my stock of reading material for the next few days (oh who am I kidding…the next few hours) and decided to pick up some movies as well. Great tip: Your local library often rents out flicks as well so you can save major moolah on your Blockbuster or Pay-Per-View costs. I’d seen most of what was available–like I said, I watch A LOT of movies–except for “Friends with Benefits” starring former N’syncer Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Although I had seen “No Strings Attached” (which coincidently is one of N’Sync’s major billboard hits), the major blah Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman movie about the same exact thing–friends hooking up free of romantic attachment, desperate times call for desperate measures; and “Friends with Benefits” it was. I got home, popped some corn, planted myself on the couch and settled in for the movie.
The problem with romantic comedies is that they’re so predictable. In the end, the audience knows, the unlikely couple–the two that hate each other, the two that are already engaged to other people, the two who, yes, want to just be friends with benefits–will get together and some form of “happily ever after” will result. So, to throw the audience off it’s predictability scent, many rom-coms try to add novelty in other ways, like gratuitous uses of shock-humor, time travel, or, in the case of “Friends with Benefits” a meta-narrative.
You read me right: meta-narrative (take that fancy word and suck on it). In laman’s terms, a meta-narrative is basically a story inside of a story.
A major theme of this flick is the characters’ awareness of the well-worn ‘map’ of romantic comedies–there’s even a movie-inside-the-movie starring Jason Segel (everybody’s favorite Muppet-loving dude) and Rashida Jones (that girl who tried to steal Jim away from Pam in the Office). The unexpected result of this effort to buffer the predictability of rom-coms is that they have become the perfect vehicle for telling moral stories in unexpected ways. What is a love story, after all, if not a moral story in which two opposite forces put aside differences, compromise, and choose to value the other above the self? This is the stuff of good romance, my friends.
By adding laugh-til-you-pee-a-little humor, movies are able to convey moral lessons without beating the audience over the head. In the case of “Friends with Benefits,” and, not surprisingly, also for “No Strings Attached,” the moral is that no man (or woman) is an island, no matter what William Shakespeare or Paul Simon have to say about it. The audience knows this (I hope), and thus the movie is a vehicle in which a value we hold to be intrinsically true is reinforced.
I think it is precisely this reinforcement of my thoughts and beliefs about love that I appreciate most about romantic comedies. Well, that and I am a huge fan of Sandra Bullock! Being reminded that all people are looking for true love with someone who is also a great friend is awesome!
Romantic comedies remind us of our hopes and dreams–our ideals. They show us that love can come from the most awkward people and places. And they also show us that love does not have to be as ideal as what most fairy tales meant them to be. Love just needs to be real. Awkward, funny, and real. The Wedding Singer, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and 27 Dresses are a great example of this (and also three of my fav’s).
On the other hand, I also think that rom-coms have a way of giving a bit of false hope, the ‘happily ever after’ ending is inevitable. The story lines of most romantic comedies or romances in general are usually fairly unrealistic, yet some people expect similar events to occur in their own love lives. People who choose to be an audience of such movies should understand that happiness cannot be shaped by what we see on screen, but that each and every individual will find their own “happily ever after” with time and in the right way.
All in all, I guess I give the genre a lot of grace to be predictable, cheesy, and sometimes downright awful. “Friends with Benefits” was a
little lot bit of each of these, but I liked it, despite JT’s less-than ‘two-thumbs-up’ performance. It’s just my personal opinion, but I think he should stick to doing his boy band, wanna-be rocker thang.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date, make that 50 first ones, with Drew Barrymore and my boy Adam Sandler 🙂
Questions of the day: What lessons have you learned about love from romantic comedies?
Is “Happily Ever After” an ideal we should strive for?
I’m not wedded to the idea of “Happily Ever After.” It is nice to strive for but who can predict the future? I like rom-coms that teach that love can be awkward, uncomfortable and may not work out (“500 Days of Summer”) or take some time to develop (“When Harry Met Sally”) or that love settles in after you’ve settled down (“The Runaway Bride”)