Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Romantic Schmomantic

Plenty of my students come to me wanting to write a Romantic Comedy. Being so young, love, sex and how to get either (probably more the latter) are consistent concerns. I tell them to write what they know, or what they feel emotional about, so it makes sense that Romance and Comedy have such strong appeals.

I do warn them of this: Romantic Comedies are among the most difficult and most reviled stories to write. Not only must the writer construct characters that ring true and possess the chemistry to fall love, but once made, most of these films are often relegated to the dungeons of "The Chick Flick" - a catacomb of fluff that dudes get dragged to when they have to make up for saying that thing or not saying this thing, or it's a special occasion - He probably bought her a stuffed bear. ('Cause, you know, right, that's how ALL guys act and that's how ALL girls act. Gosh, we are so DIFFERENT and we will never surmount our total bafflement over one another. So, why don't we just hunker down and dissolve into marketed stereotypes and tired jokes about PMS and leaving the toilet seat up.) The name "Chick Flick" is intended as derisive, but not all Romantic Comedies deserve to be sentenced there.

For years, I've sort of apologized for my love of the genre. In lists of favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally is always in there somewhere. But the likes of The Princess Bride or Tootsie or When Harry Met Sally are written to the end of telling a good story. Beyond the Romance angle, there is a story to be told and a transformation completed. This is the simple quality of good film making, and it transcends genre or style. (I might add, it also transcends gender.)

This is not to say that I don't have my guilty pleasures. I own a copy of Never Been Kissed. There. I said it.

And then there's The Holiday.

On Sunday's rainy afternoon, while nudging tasks around my plate of work (trying to hide the reading peas under the grading casserole.), TBS yammered on in the background. (They are "Very Funny", didn't you know? You know how I know? They tell me in their ads. They are the place to go for comedy. Why? Because they show back to back reruns of Seinfeld, Friends, and Everybody Loves Raymond. They talk about how funny they are constantly, like that girl who crushes a conversation with butchered Cartman imitations and jokes about O.J. Then she tells you that "in my group of friends I'm the funny one". She's always been the funny one. Ever since her mom told her so when she was nine.)

As part of their requisite Sunday afternoon line-up of totally average films, they announced The Holiday was up next. It's no secret that I have something of a Kate Winslet fetish and will endure much to see her up on the big screen...or small screen. There are few actors for which I will make the effort to see in a film. She is one of them.

So, why not give it a shot?

The Holiday is precisely the kind of awful dreck that "Chick Flick" suggests: Iris (Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are jilted women who decide to spend their Winter holidays (I never heard it referred to as Christmas or Hanukkah or anything.) in each other's homes to escape the train wrecks that are their love lives. During this switcheroo, Miles (Jack Black) and Graham (Jude Law) show up and make everything all better. Thuh end.

You can say "Well, what did you expect?"

You know what I expect? I expect that, in an infinite universe, an infinite number of monkeys typing onto infinity will eventually type Hamlet, and that even one monkey typing for one hour in a universe that only expands and contracts an hour could type something WAY better than The Holiday.

The Holiday is just one more example of committee written, lowest common denominator bullshit that sells us the following ideas:

1. A woman is not complete without a man.
2. A man will instantly fall in love with a woman who does not want or need foreplay and just announces that she wants to have sex.
3. Listing all the facts and statistics about yourself on the first date will cause your intended to feel your pain and become inextricably linked to you.
4. Men are dogs.
6. Old people are wise, free of conflict and loneliness, and will see the specialness that is you.
7. Driven women are unhappy.
8. Marriage is the only end for you, missy. Best get crackin' if you're over 35!
9. Huffing, falling down, breaking things, and an inability to cope with your most basic needs means you are lovable.

To be fair, I only watched the first third. And there was almost NO Kate Winslet. She was lost in a sea of improbable dialogue and madcap quirkery and Cameron Diaz' teeth.

Perhaps I missed out. Perhaps the ending was one of those exultant "Holy whoa, dude." moments that would have enriched and illuminated my life beyond all expectation.

I seriously doubt it.

Part of what gets me so steamed about this sort of film is not that it made a lot of money, or that the situation wasn't particularly realistic, or that I'm dead inside. What sends me over the edge, is that they didn't even TRY. They (who ever THEY are: the cogs and gears of the mediocre clock) let the premise do the work, and sat back on hack dialogue and soft focus filters.

And, sure, I'm a little depressed that the general public just accepts it.

I will forgive a lot of things. I am willing to be manipulated and hoodwinked.

But for crying out loud, can't you put a little effort into it so I don't feel dumber afterwards?


S. E. Johnson said...

First: I've just disturbed and distressed the rest of McGaw Hall with my "Two Thumbs"-inspired cackling. Somehow, I missed that entry on the first read-through.

Second: I suppose I can now take that film out of my Netflix queue.

Third: "'It was the best of times; it was the _blurst_ of times?' Stupid monkey!"

joe g said...

* watches "Old School" again *

* orders stuffed bear *

rebar said...

I unfortunately sat through the whole of "The Holiday" - which is one of the reasons I now opt out of "girls' night" when the chick flick chosen is beyond the pale.

I would instruct thusly. Go ahead and let Netflix send you the film.

Fast forward through all scenes that have Cameron Diaz in them. You'll also miss all of Jude Law's stuff...but really, you're not missing much.

ONLY WATCH the scenes with Winslet. While Kate and Jack Black have a decent chemistry, the ONLY scenes really worth your time are the ones with Winslet and Eli Wallach as the octagenarian screenwriter.

That Wallach. Man. He should be in films or something!

My other solution is that everytime (I'm clenching my fists as I recall this...which is making it hard to type) every time [clench] Diaz tries [clench] to cry [slamming my head on my desk] - you should do a shot.

You'll be passed out drunk within 20 minutes of the movie, which is the other way I recommend watching it. In a full black out drunk.

eysme |’aye•si•me|
n. the irrational fear that inanimate objects are both watching and judging you

Jan Smelk said...

eff you. i don't do Cartman impressions. and the OJ jokes are funny in context. i was funny in high school, not since I was nine.

finish the movie.
it's not nice to criticize movies you haven't seen all the way through, (uses your full name). not to mention the reason to watch this shit is the feel good catharsis at the end.

-j-j- said...

I wasn't talking about YOU, Jan. I was talking about Crazypants.

God, don't you just hate it when she does those awful Cartman imitations?

Dianna said...

see.... Chick Flicks are kind of like Extreme Makover: Home Edition. I know they are drek, but I watch and cry nonetheless.
And yes, Rebar is right - best part of The Holiday is the Winslet and Jack Black stuff, and the Winslet and Eli Wallach stuff. Fabulous.

I own it - wanna come over and watch the final 2/3rds??? :-)

rebar said...

I'm not judging Dianna.
I'm not judging Dianna.
I'm not judging Dianna.

[hits self on head with mallet when image of Camaron Diaz tries to act/cry pops into brain]

Confession from my Glass House: I once owned a VHS copy of Encino Man. Which I watched more than once.

Possibly sixteen times.

What can I say?

Brendon Fraser remains a hottie in my estimation.

I haven't replaced it in my upgrade to DVD...but that's likely because I got the 3-disk set of The Mummy, so I can get my Fraser fix as needed.

Although, I will admit, I feel that EM was Shore's best performance as "that idiot character" he plays in all of his movies.

merfulie |mur•’full•ee|
n. subdued commotion or outburst; a repressed kerfuffle

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