I work in book publishing, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from it, it’s that everyone has their preferred genres, and sometimes those genres are odd or oddly specific. Go check out some reviewers’ websites and see how many times you see something along the lines of, “I don’t accept westerns, unless it is a western romance with paranormal elements.”
And me? I freaking love romantic comedies. And character-driven police procedurals with an idiosyncratic lead sleuth, but that’s well beside the point, unless you have something cool to recommend or, I mean, ya know…Christmas is coming ;).
I love romantic comedies for many reasons. They’re cute, they’re funny, they’re mindless, and their predictability is refreshing and relaxing. The characters will more than likely end up together, with a nice, big ol’ sloppy kiss following some grand romantic gesture, and we let out a sigh and a smile and a tear as we down the last sip of wine. We start wishing our lives were like the movies. We think that’s what we want. We think that’s how you fall in love. We are conditioned to believe that anything less than a passionate speech in a crowded airport about how much we deserve such a love is “settling.”
It’s okay. Dare to dream. I’m guilty of it myself. Whoever you are, I guarantee you deserve the happiness that those two characters are feeling in that moment. The problem is that romantic comedies need to stop being praised as being true to life, because this is simply not so, and the fact that they are not true to life is a good thing.
If we look at most romantic comedies closely, we will see two emotionally stunted terrible communicators who have no common ground besides their very prominent flaws and who probably really shouldn’t be together.
Let’s draft our own, shall we? Pan in on our female lead. We will call her something quirky and exotic, like Nadia. Nadia is fun, creative, care-free, and a bit clumsy. She was on the fast-track to becoming a vet, but abruptly dropped out of school when her fiance dumped her for someone more “serious” and she couldn’t handle seeing him everyday. Now she works in a pet store in New York City. One sunny, yet chilly day, Nadia decides to go get a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream because she just lovesss whipped cream. As she exits the coffee shop, she cutely spreads whipped cream on her face to make a whipped cream mustache and is just so excited to sip her hot chocolate, when Rick comes trudging down the road. Rick wears suits and talks on a Bluetooth. He is a no-nonsense stodgy businessman with commitment issues. Rick is talking loudly on his phone and not paying attention and runs into Nadia, spilling her hot chocolate all over both of them. Rick is less than apologetic, more concerned about his suit than about her well-being, and is abundantly rude about her whipped cream mustache, and Nadia, being a fragile and sensitive creature, chides Rick for being a jerk. The two instantly hate each other. They are everything the other despises in a human being. Nadia storms off back to the pet shop.
When Nadia returns, she greets all of her puppy, kitty, and turtle friends individually. She goes to get her spare shirt out of her employee locker, still in a huff about her encounter with Rick. However, as she is sliding her new shirt on, it gets stuck on her engagement ring (she can’t bring herself to take it off). Nadia flops around, shouting for help with her bra exposed. Suddenly a pair of arms is around her and her shirt is safely on. She turns to see Rick and gasps in shock. She finds out Rick’s big company has bought out the pet store and intends to franchise it. He is her new boss.
Nadia and Rick have a rocky start, to say the least. Nadia is supposed to teach him the ropes of working in the pet store, but Rick is not cooperating. Then one day, their hands touch as they both go to feed the fish and they look at each other, giggle, and blush. The incident is observed by Nadia’s loud, wise-cracking, slightly overweight best friend, who pulls Nadia aside to say, “OMG you’re totally falling for Rick.” Nadia denies everything, but then looks at him longingly and a montage begins of them having cute banter, fish food fights, and prolonged gazes. Their love comes to a screeching halt, however, when they get into a screaming match over who has to feed the tarantula. Nadia quits on the spot and flees back to her apartment that is entirely too elaborate for someone who works in a pet store.
As Nadia cries to her mother on the phone, her doorbell rings. Much to her surprise, it’s Rick. He has a puppy in his hands and, as the puppy, begs Nadia to come back to the pet store. Nadia laughs the two of them start fiercely making out (Nadia forgot to hang up the phone and her mother is hilariously saying, “Hello? Nadia? Hello?” as her daughter engages in intense foreplay) and they fall into bed together. Afterward, Rick brushes a hand over her face and admits he is afraid of spiders, and he chokes up a little bit because he feels like it’s the first time he’s really opened up to someone. The two of them decide to try and make a relationship work even though Rick has never had a successful relationship in his life and Nadia still wears her old engagement ring.
They go on their first date and something ridiculous happens like Nadia accidentally eats spinach and spinach gives her terrible gas, and she manages to hide the fact from Rick for the whole night despite her stomach getting comically bigger. Another montage ensues of them sometimes fighting and sometimes kissing. On one good day when they haven’t fought yet (because it’s the morning), Nadia wakes up in Rick’s bed to find three spiders on the floor. She decides to collect the spiders in a water glass so that Rick doesn’t have to see them, but she trips as Rick walks into the room, and it looks like she is releasing spiders into his room. Rick asks her how she could do such a thing. She stammers in response, unable to form a coherent argument despite her very reasonable excuse for her actions. Rick admits he’s cheated on her twice, she admits she’s not over her ex. Rick makes Nadia leave. He flies off to China to fulfill his dream of becoming a silk painter. Maybe there’s a flashback of Rick’s alcoholic father telling him to become a businessman as he throws Rick’s silk in the trash.
Months go by. Nadia is back in vet school. She encounters her ex there and realizes he’s a terrible person (even though he’s kind of a lot like Rick if you really think about it). She throws the ring at him and goes off to a bar, where she meets Bill Murray. Bill asks why she is crying and she tells him the chronicles of Rick-ick. In his sage drunkenness, Bill convinces her to go find Rick in China. She hops on the next plane.
Meanwhile, in China, Rick’s silk-painting mentor, a wise, old Chinese man, realizes the root of Rick’s pain and why it is blocking his silk-painting capabilities. He tries to explain it to Rick in metaphors, but Rick doesn’t get it, so his mentor takes him by the shoulders and says something like, “Go get her,” and Rick hops on a plane to New York.
Insert a heartfelt scene on the phone when they realize they both flew across the world to find each other, and still ended up on opposite sides of the world (perhaps they should take a hint from this). Nadia flies back to New York and finds Rick in Central Park with a flash mob of puppies dancing to Shut Up and Dance. Rick professes his love for Nadia. They kiss, and we can only assume everything is okay from there.
Puppy Love. Coming soon to theatres.
Sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? In what world is this okay? But seriously, how many times have you seen this movie?!?! And how many times have you wished such a movie was your life?! I know, for me, it used to be countless times, because I spend my life wishing fiction were reality, and well, they were in love, right? That’s what we all want, right? To feel loved and accepted and to love and accept another, despite how terrible we are? I went out trying to force meet-cutes to happen, dating guys who I knew were wrong for me, because it made a great story.
But when you breakdown the story, what do Rick and Nadia have in common? Both run away from problems, both easily give up on dreams, both jump to conclusions and are unreasonable when confronted, one clings to her past and the other shies away from connection. Having these things, and only these things, as a relationship foundation is a recipe for disaster even though it makes good entertainment. And even though the climax is something grand and romantic, we’ve seen the exact same situation in the several montages that were provided us on a lesser scale: they fight and then they shake it off with hugs and kisses. They never change. They never accept. They bicker. It is completely unhealthy.
And still, we think that’s real love. I went out of my way to find guys who only understood the bad things about me, because that was all we had to go on, and it resulted in us just getting angry and calling each other out on our bullshit, and I would tell people about it, and they would always tell me it was an epic love story, which was exactly what I wanted to hear.
We rarely get to see what’s beyond that last kiss. Some movies have dared to be different like (500) Days of Summer or Annie Hall, where at the end, the girls realize these guys are not right for them and the guys realize the girls are horrible people and they really need to think about their taste in women. Hats off to them.
I think I want to make a movie where two people meet because one gets up the courage to say, “Hi,” and then we flash forward to a year later, where they’ve both put on a little weight and she’s given up on shaving her legs and they’re hanging out in their pajamas on a Saturday night. They eat spinach even though they both know it gives her gas. She steps on the spiders. They don’t necessarily say much, but they’re clearly very okay with who they are and who the other is. As my friend once very cleverly said, I don’t want Love, Actually. Give me Love, Anyway.
On second thought, that movie sounds pretty boring. Let’s stick with Puppy Love. Just needs Katherine Heigl, Patrick Dempsey, Melissa McCarthy, and a bunch of cute dogs, and we’re talking box office gold.