July 30th, 2012


The Weary Weekend

I'd planned a big writing marathon on Saturday, but was unaccountably weary, and I've found that when I can't keep my eyes open it generally means my subconscious needs more time. So, I figured it was a sign I needed to rest and catch up on some romantic comedies (which actually counts as research). When I woke up with a cough on Sunday and remembered that I'd been coughing in all my dreams (which likely means I was coughing in my sleep), I figured out why I'd been so tired. A suitable application of allergy medicine and cough syrup and a weekend of rest seems to have done the trick.

I rewatched You've Got Mail, and I think I've finally crystallized my problems with that movie. The concept is cute, the supporting cast is fun, the settings are delightful, but unfortunately the core of it is about two unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other. There were times in this rewatch when I wanted to turn it off or mute the sound. Part of the problem is that it hits two of my pet peeves in romantic comedies: the hero and heroine are living with other people through much of the movie, and the other people are so wrong for them that they only exist to serve as temporary roadblocks -- and worse, they don't really even serve as roadblocks.

Having Mr./Miss Wrong around can serve to show why Mr./Miss Right is right, but it's something that has to be handled very delicately if you don't want to ruin the hero and heroine. Mr. (or Miss, but let's stick to one gender for the moment for simplicity's sake) Wrong is generally the person the heroine thinks she should like, the person who's the right fit for the person she thinks she is or the person she's trying to be. He usually represents unfulfilling safety and security. She wouldn't have a bad life with him, but it's not the life she has the potential to live. He's the right person for the false front she shows the world (and maybe even herself) to protect her inner vulnerabilities. Mr. Right is the person who sees the real person under her exterior, but being with him will require her to take the risk and shed that false front. She must choose between taking the risk to have a truly amazing love and life and staying in her comfort zone but remaining unfulfilled. If Mr. Wrong is just plain wrong, like you can't even imagine why she's with that person, then she looks like an idiot for being with him in the first place. For it to work, you need to at least get a glimpse or two of why she's with Mr. Wrong, some connection even if he's only connecting to the fake part of herself. In this movie, both of them are with other people, and there's hardly any sense of connection with those people. They even seem to see their significant others with a bit of contempt, or forget entirely that they exist. The fact that they exist doesn't even really have any bearing on the plot, since it doesn't slow down the hero and heroine's relationship. They even agree to their first face-to-face meeting, before which he talks about how this is likely a woman he'd want to marry, while they're still living with their significant others.

And then there's the living with issue. On film, living together looks exactly like being married, and that puts things into a different headspace. It makes me feel like it's wrong if the characters are behaving in ways that would be wrong for married people, and I feel like it would take something on the level of what would break up a marriage for them to end it. Meeting someone you like better doesn't do it. If they're growing apart, they should work on it. I'd even like the hero or heroine to be the victim if there's cruelty or infidelity because I want the main characters to be people I can pull for. In this film, when it opens they look like two married couples as they get up in the morning and get ready for work, have breakfast, etc. In fact, the first time I saw this movie, until the subsequent scenes in which there are dialogue cues that they aren't married, I thought they were married, which made it even creepier when they jumped online as soon as their significant others were out the door and then read the flowery, romantic e-mails they sent to each other, and then headed to work with their heads in the clouds and had to be reminded of their significant others by their colleagues. That got the main characters off on the wrong foot with me because they were acting like they were having an affair.

I'm not sure why they even gave them significant others, unless they were trying not to go with the stereotype of meeting on the Internet being something for pathetically lonely singles or if they needed an excuse for them not to meet. The real conflict was between them, anyway, with the chain store vs. independent fight that brought on all that nastiness, and it rather boggles me that once he figured out she was his pen pal, he wooed her by being even nastier to her and denigrating her pen pal. This ended up being a lot like Four Weddings and a Funeral, where I loved the scenes of the main characters and their friends but wanted to fast forward past the scenes of the hero and heroine together because they were so unpleasant.

I wonder if the pen pals who don't realize they know each other in real life thing is a common enough trope to be able to steal it and do it right. It might be fun to do a Stealth Geeks in Love story, where hero and heroine work at some uptight, buttoned-down place where anything that might be considered less than serious or professional would be frowned upon, so they can't reveal their true personalities, but then away from work they're both on the same Doctor Who message board and spend hours chatting, and they have no idea it's their co-worker they're chatting with.

I also watched What's Your Number? on HBO, and that was a real Jekyll and Hyde of a movie. On the one hand, it's extremely raunchy and coarse -- something I'd be embarrassed to see on a date -- and the comedy is so broad that at times I thought I was watching a Scary Movie-style spoof because some of the situations, behaviors and characters were too over-the-top to represent anything even semi-realistic. On the other hand, in the midst of all that raunch, the core relationship was surprisingly sweet and romantic.

The gist of the story is that a young woman reads a magazine article about how women who've had more than twenty sexual partners are less likely to end up happily married. When she hits twenty, she panics because she fears that if she ever sleeps with anyone else, she'll never be happily married. Then when she runs into an ex who has improved significantly since they broke up, she realizes that she won't add to her number if she gets back together with an ex. With the help of her hound-dog neighbor who hides out in her apartment when he's trying to escape from the latest woman he's brought home, she sets out to track down all the men she's ever been with to see if there's a chance, but she starts to see that she was the real problem because she was never really being herself with any of them. If you've ever seen a movie before, you know where this is going, but it was still fun to watch it happen. I liked the hero and heroine when they were together. They really seemed to connect, and I could imagine it being a lasting relationship. The fact that they got along so well was part of the conflict, so they skipped the usual romantic comedy bickering, and because she wasn't letting herself sleep with anyone new, that forced the relationship to develop in a way that was about more than just lust.

However, once I started putting any thought into it, some of the messages of the film disturbed me and I had more doubts about their potential future happiness (and I know I'm giving this movie way more thought than it deserves). They were so hung up on that number that they barely touched on the reasons behind her number, which involved her apparently having such low self esteem that she'd practically twist herself in knots to get a man to want to sleep with her, even if she wasn't all that into him. When you're faking an accent through an entire relationship so that you'll be what you think the man will want, you have the kind of problems that probably can't be resolved with a simple "I need to be myself" epiphany. And they never even dealt with his behavior and the problems it implied.

There is the standard "rom com dash" at the end, though I will give this one points for being utterly hilarious (this was one of the elements that seemed to come from a spoof rather than from a real movie) and for acknowledging the silliness of it (at one point, she wonders why she didn't just wait for him at his place). Still, though, it had the common element that bugs me about those things, which is that the other person is supposed to put whatever he's doing on hold to deal with you, just because you're suddenly made a decision. Plus, I guess the mad dash reflects a recurring nightmare I have about rushing to get somewhere, with obstacles popping up along the way, so it's doubly disturbing to me.

I wouldn't say I recommend the movie, but if you've got HBO and some spare time, it might be worth watching, though probably not in mixed company or with your parents. I'd love to watch it with a psychologist and get a professional opinion on the pathology.