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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Neutering the Male Character and the Problem with Too Many Romantic Movies Today

Before you read on, you may already assume by my relentlessly snarky comments that I'm not exactly what you would call a fan of romantic comedies. But you'd be wrong. I actually love certain films that fall within the genre (I go hard for Pretty Woman and, more recently, Celeste and Jesse Forever. For Goodness sake, I'm not dead inside. Plus, I have a few guilty pleasures that will remain nameless), just not many current titles.

I think most of that is due to the fact that as I've gotten older (and, for the most part, wiser), I don't easily fall head over heels for the storyline that paints the guy as a hyperbolic Prince Charming whose only goal in life is to sweep his lover off her feet. We never get to know much about him, except that he is the object of her affection. This leads to a terribly unilateral premise. Meanwhile, we get all the info on her--her desires, pet peeves, hopes and dreams. The guy is ultimately a piece in her story, which typically involves her fiercely successful professional life overpowering her crippling and near pathetic personal life. (Or the somewhat mess of a woman who can't seem to get anything right until this guy enters her life and saves it, which seems to be what Safe Haven is all about). After several of those in a row, that tale just becomes stale.

While the male character simply becoming an accessory in mainstream romantic comedies is a refreshing change from the day when it was very much the opposite, to write him in a way in which he essentially becomes neutered, flawless and fairy tale-like, willingly catering to the exact arrangement of the female desire is equally as unattractive to me. That said, the male character has no give, no allowance to be human and make a mistake or not be the man she wanted him to be. Must he always elaborately show his love by orchestrating a flash mob in the middle of Grand Central Station to the tune of their favorite song? (Yes, Friends with Benefits still annoys me to this day). Can't he sometimes take her to a run down space hotel for a little "us" time like Ryan Gosling did for Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine? That was....romantic, kinda. And their relationship was not all roses. Sorta made you feel better about your relationship, right?

That's why I hold the film Boomerang, and other modern romantic comedies from the male perspective on a higher level than many films today. The guys are real, like people you may actually know, and charmingly imperfect about their own intentions and attraction. They have an actual point of view you rarely get to see. You get to hear their side, their thoughts (which aren't always pure, but you love it anyway). You appreciate them more that way. Granted, they're not always doing what you believe to be the right thing, but at least they're acting in a way that indicates they're human and not a figment of someone's imagination.

I believe this is where the idea of chick flicks came from (which, admittedly, has spiraled off into other misogynistic degrees). It's the notion that these films cater to the woman's ideals in a relationship, whereas forgoing those of the male character. These films are essentially about and for these women and real women like them, and not for anyone else, especially men (even though there is a man floating around in this faux relationship as well). It makes me want to shout, For crying out loud, let the man be a man in these movies! Let him have a voice!

It's understandable and even tempting to create a big screen fable where the man generically pops right out of a Ken and Barbie gumball machine. But 1) it creates an unnecessary ideal for women and girls who don't know any better but to expect this man in real life, and 2) it's just dull. And must the movie always have a happy ending?! Get some conflict in your movie, some real romantic challenges and then come talk to me. Take a cue from iconic movies like Mahogany, which features both the man and the woman deeply in love with each other who both have gigantic other aspects of their lives to foster and navigate. Give the audience something to cling to, and stop underestimating what we can and cannot handle. After all, we're human too. We'll understand.

3 comments:

Daniel said...

Great post Candice, I whole heartly agree. I hate the majority of the dreck that churned out, all with the same outline, plot and characters. Some people have accused me of hating romantic comedies as well but I also have plenty of rom-coms I love, they just have to be well done.

Gaby said...

Completely agree. After seeing Safe Haven the other day, it just reminded me how tiring these movies and one dimensional male love interests are.

Karen said...

Well said. Oddly enough Nicolas Sparks books tend to be told from the males perspective and offer more flaws about the male lead but when translated to a Hollywood film they often get "too cutesy" for their own good. I avoid movies with Katerine Heigl at all cost (post Knocked Up, that movie was actually good). Whenever a clever rom-com comes along I really appreciate it.

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