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01 August 2013 @ 11:11 am
ranting about romcoms, no big deal  
Sigh. I watched Leap Year the other day, and I knew, I just *knew* that it was going to be bad, but I thought that maybe at least an actor that I like, Matthew Goode, would get the chance to be charming in it. But of course, it turned out to be one of those romantic comedies where the male lead is a jerk for no reason, for basically the first hour of the film, and for some reason filmmakers are under the misapprehension that this is a good basis for a film whose outcome is supposed to be that the leads fall in love with each other.

And people always cite Austen, like these films are just part of a long lineage of jerk heroes who are irresistible to women, but that's actually what doesn't happen in Austen. Darcy is kind of a jerk, and Elizabeth is totally not having it, and then Darcy goes, "whoa, maybe I should stop being a jerk" (or, more properly, "maybe I should behave in a more gentleman-like manner"), and *then* Elizabeth starts to be interested in him. Emma and Mr. Knightley disagree archly about things, but it's always clear that they like and respect each other. (Don't mind me; I'm just perpetually over in a corner, clutching my face and wailing about "Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?") Henry Tilney is a total sass-face, but he's always kind to Catherine, even after she basically accuses his dad of murdering his mom. Edward Ferrars is an awkward little teapot who's engaged to another woman, but not a jerk, and Edmund Bertram trips over his own earnestness at regular intervals, but even when he's in love with someone else, he always loves and values and praises Fanny Price. I guess Wentworth is occasionally a tiny bit of a jerk to Anne, at first, but you know, there's a *reason* for it, since she broke his heart - which I'm not saying should give a guy the right to be a jerk, just that he's not being horrible to strangers for no reason, which is what seems to happen so often in romcoms. (And of course Wentworth actually does several nice things for Anne as the novel progresses, so.) It's like the people who make these movies once heard a garbled version of P&P and decided that the takeaway was "Step 1: insult a girl. Step 2: profit." And watching that, over and over again, just makes me feel frustrated and kind of deflated, like, *this* is the vision of romance we're supposed to aspire to? This is it? Because the underlying problem with this isn't *just* that I don't see how I'm supposed to root for a couple when I can't stand the male lead; it's that it gives us such an impoverished view of what romance and love are supposed to be. I've said this a million times, and I'll go on saying it; the most romantic line in P&P is "For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him." It's not about some supposedly overwhelming "passion" or "attraction" that means that it doesn't matter what kind of guy he is or how he treats you or other people, because you can't *help* it, you're just *drawn* to him. It's about respect and esteem and all those words that romantic Marianne shudders at in S&S - all the stuff that is the basis of something so much more interesting than hitting the halfway point in your script and suddenly flipping the switch that says it's time for these characters who couldn't stand each other to suddenly have feelings for each other, because they *argued*, right, that must mean that they're secretly into each other! Look at all that passion! That's what romance is! Forget the kind but bland fiance; everyone knows there's gotta be a *spark*! We don't need common interests or civil conversations, just that *feeling*!

There's a scene in this movie, as there often is, where the leads have to pretend like they're married. And the film doesn't do *anything* with this premise, except to stage an excuse for someone to badger the "newlyweds" into kissing (because passion! Sparks! If you wanna know if he loves you so, it's in his kiss!). And I just thought, what a *waste*. Can you imagine what this would be like, if this were between two characters who had been forced into an awkward situation but who seemed to like each other? Who picked up the pretense and both decided to *play* with it, and with each other? Who tried on the roles of husband and wife and thereby learned something about each other and themselves and their fledgling relationship? Who, I don't know, crazy thought, had *fun* in each other's company? It could have been *awesome*. And instead it was just nothing, because all they did was kiss, and suddenly all the rancor between them was supposed to have just gone away. And by the end of the movie, when you're supposed to feel like they're a couple, all they could do was parrot little catchphrases from their car trip at each other, because they didn't have anything else in common. And it just makes me so *mad*, because I love romantic comedy (when you tell people you want to write a dissertation on Shakespeare's comedies, they think you're interested in capital-C Comedy, and want to know why you're not writing about city comedies or The Merry Wives of Windsor - but the thing is, it's the romantic comedies, the ones that are about interpersonal relationships, fathers and daughters, and cousins as close as sisters, as well as soon-to-be husbands and wives, that I care about). And I would like to watch some good ones, because the genre *does* actually have great roots; recent romcoms are NOT bad because the genre is stupid or full of repeated conventions. (Action movies are also full of conventions. Westerns are full of conventions. Bond films are full of conventions. Horror movies are full of conventions. That's what genre *is* - a sensibility, a set of concerns, and repeated conventions.) But they seem, persistently, to get made by lazy people who just don't care about the format.
Leucothealeucotheasveil on August 2nd, 2013 12:55 am (UTC)
What She Said.
I avoid rom coms as much as possible. They irk me to no end for all the reasons you stated above. Good to know to avoid that one, too.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on August 2nd, 2013 03:10 am (UTC)
Re: What She Said.
That's what's so frustrating, I think: there's no intrinsic *reason* that so many romantic comedies have to resort to these devices! It would be just as easy to make movies where the leads fall in love because they like each other and are getting to know each other - which is what happens in the romcoms I like.
Spackle: xkcd: whatcha reading?spacklegeek on August 2nd, 2013 03:32 am (UTC)
I confess I liked that movie when I saw it, but only, once I was completely honest with myself, because Matthew Goode was scruffy and Irish in it.

Also, did you notice how they seemed to traipse all around Ireland in the space of a few days? I think the filmmakers were going for Maximum Dramatic Scenery Effects and hoped no one knew a thing about Ireland's geography.

Great rant. While I don't watch many movies, I do read an awful lot (gee there's a surprise), and I've had similar feelings towards romance novels. There are similar problems - and/or shortcuts - within the romance genre as you've described in rom-com films. It's gotten to the point where I put the book down if the author's doing the Alpha Hero (TM) = Jerkface Rwar! thing, especially if the heroine was a middling-to-decently Strong Female Character (TM) prior to meeting Alpha-A-Hole, only to become simpering, sighing, and submissive. Bleh. Some of these so-called Happily Ever Afters leave me predicting divorce in 3-5 years, you know?

On the other hand, when I encounter an author who takes the genre's conventions and uses them creatively (and, importantly, can also write without excessive use of adverbs omg people), and who takes the time to create chemistry between her characters (srsly ppl True Wuv =/= Fifty Million Steamy Scenes!), I tend to read everything she's (it's usually a she) ever written.

Unfortunately there are far fewer of these authors than the other, taking-shortcuts-and-following-formulas kind. Oh well.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on August 2nd, 2013 02:17 pm (UTC)
Ireland: simultaneously enormous and incredibly small. Who knew?

I think the reason I was so miffed about this movie is that I *know* how ridiculously easy it is for Matthew Goode to be charming - talk about a wasted resource! You have to be doing something really wrong if I don't like his character.

I haven't really made a foray into romance novels, partly because of this problem: I'm sure there are romance novels out there that I would actually find romantic, but how does one find them?
litlover12 on August 2nd, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC)
Brilliant. I wish I could sit every screenwriter in Hollywood down and make them read every word of it.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on August 2nd, 2013 02:04 pm (UTC)
Hee! Thank you. :)