Rom-Com Lies

Pretty Woman (1990) Directed by Garry Marshall Shown from left: Richard Gere (as Edward Lewis), Julia Roberts (as Vivian Ward)

Due to general laziness and a narrow scope of vision, major studio films tend to rely on the same cinematic tropes and genre conveniences to churn out movies and cash in. There are dozens of films made every year, particularly in comedy and romance, which are more or less recycled versions of past films.

Sequels can be the biggest culprits, but many others follow a certain formula and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes we just want something predictable and calming.

However, when films continue to fall back on the same plots, tones, jokes, and attitudes, viewers may start to take them seriously. That is, we become conditioned to accepting that which is either unrealistic or inappropriate. For example, it’s pretty easy for us all to become very comfortable with the sight of guns on screen and the ease with which these are used to kill people.

There are other problems, too. Remember how there were a ton of sex romps in the 1980s that followed excitable young men doing whatever they could to get with women? It became pretty common and acceptable to make jokes about having sex with women who were drunk and passed out. We’ve gone beyond that today — at least, most of us (I hope) have come to understand in hindsight that those situations depicted rape culture. At the time, though, a lot of movies featured these scenarios.

Romantic comedies tend towards the unrealistic in order to create drama — sensational drama. They use attractive characters, awkward sexual encounters, and sweeping music to disguise the fact that what is happening is usually unhealthy.

Our sensibilities and beliefs change, but it can take a while. Until we demand better of movies, they will continue to spew out the same garbage with harmful attitudes towards relationships. So let’s call out the lies and mischaracterizations that romantic comedies perpetuate.

Stalking As Love

In The Age of Adaline, a messy but not completely worthless romantic comedy with Blake Lively, a man falls for the titular character upon sight and pursues her. She isn’t interested, but that doesn’t stop him; he follows her to her taxi, holds the door to get another word in, overhears her address, visits her at work, blackmails her into a date, sets up another on a bet, pops in on her in her home, and then gets upset when she rejects him — never mind that she is simultaneously upset about an unrelated family event. The movie dresses this up as sweet and charming, when really it’s stalking. It’s selfish and wildly entitled behavior. That the film makes the man seem like a victim when he is left holding flowers outside Adaline’s apartment, after she rushes away from his unannounced visit, is utterly outrageous and terrible propaganda. It goes against everything that advocates a woman’s autonomy and ability to say ‘no’ to any male advancement.

Jealousy As Love

Similarly, we have another awful, unhealthy habit that gets all dressed up as cute and positive, and that comes in the form of the green-eyed monster: jealousy. For reasons unknown, across so many stories, jealousy is meant to be a feeling that demonstrates care and love — instead of what it really indicates, which is personal insecurity and a desire to possess someone else entirely. Sure enough, any romantic comedy comes ready-made with some character, usually a man, getting all worried and awkward when his love interest is hanging around someone of the opposite sex. Jealousy in film not only normalizes and reinforces unhealthy behavior, but it also implies an utter lack of trust in others and diminishes actual genuine friendships between two people. And like in Adaline, it’s usually the person who exhibits this unhealthy feeling that is portrayed to be the victim, as if they are justified something in return for their feelings.

Sex Is Possessive

We’ve already referenced possession — a dangerous, underrated, ingrained part of relationship culture. But when it comes to sex, possession is everywhere. Again, women are almost always at the receiving end of this disturbing paradigm. We see this anytime two people have sex because the result is usually something awkward and unclear. The parties have trouble communicating, but then the male always feels more or less as though the female is a part of his life because they’ve slept together, and is somehow beholden to him and no one else. What’s most disturbing is that it’s always sex that creates this bond for men; it’s not a mental or emotional connection, but a purely physical one. Sexual relationships are viewed as harmful and embarrassing whenever they veer outside the paradigm of a man seeking a woman.

Singledom Is Emptiness

Never shall a rom-com end up with our hero being alone, unless of course it’s a Nicholas Spark film, in which case the partner would die or turn out to be an alien or ghost or something. (I’ve never actually seen a whole one but I’m pretty sure this is how they turn out.) Inevitably, our story involves a single man or woman who likely has hit a certain arbitrary age. He or she has friends who are ‘grown up’ and coupled up, doing adult things like settling down and acting condescending toward people who are single, having fun, traveling, and not tied down. Yes, what a terrible existence that must be; however can a single person, with friends and family and the ability to have fluid, exciting, stable relationships in all forms, be at all happy?!

Just once I want to see a movie in which the opposite happens: where a bunch of single friends try desperately to get our protagonist out of a relationship and at the very end there is a divorce and everyone cheers because there is nothing wrong with being single.

Losers Win

There is a whole subgenre of rom-coms featuring the most geeky, nerdish, awkward, naïve, inexperienced of men, all of whom seek attention and affection from a woman who is determined by whatever arbitrary means to be ‘out of his league’. The boy adores from afar and is told he could never get with her; a meeting happens, hearts rise and fall, some amount of courage is summoned, and for completely inexplicable reasons (spoiler alert!), the boy gets the girl. Nope! The latest egregious example of this is Netflix’s Love, in which a neebish young man is meant to be the hero despite displaying all of the aforementioned terrible qualities.  When the underdog always wins in love, it gives unrealistic ideas of love and relationships. Some people—nay, most people—just aren’t meant to be together for any amount of time whatsoever. So deal with it — preferably in a way that doesn’t involve jealousy, possession, vitriol, entitlement, or any form of social media.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.

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