Oh dear. Valentine’s Day, morning after. The sadly single amongst you may have drunkenly chosen to dabble in l’amour last night. Now the consequences – is it too awkward to wake her up to ask which street you’re on?…Suddenly caught an actual glimpse of the boy from Klute?…That guy you swiped right left yet? You find yourself feeling inadequate, guiltily telling yourself that Valentine’s Day was meant for something more substantial, that thing known as ‘True Love’.
But what is True Love? Bizarrely people turn to Hollywood blockbusters, those bastions of accuracy, for the answer. But beware. Here ‘True Love’ is not only sugar-coated beyond all recognition but is forced to conform to the following recipe: 1) add 1 part gorgeous man and 1 part gorgeous woman to a fixed situation. 2) Whisk the fixed situation into a stiff conflict. 3) Set aside stiff conflict to let gorgeous man and woman evenly rise above it. 4) Conflict over, gorgeous man and woman are ready for the heat to be turned up, resulting in 5) a nice bun in the oven. Think of any popular romantic film and I guarantee this recipe is there somewhere. It’s not one that’s breaking any moulds…
This template is inherently (I would say dangerously) flawed. Romantic films normally end the moment the couple surmount the insurmountable and get together, squashing the rest of the relationship under those three little words, ‘Happily Ever After’. This often ends up representing the rest of the entire relationship, which the director views as too domestic and boring to hold our attention – their equivalent of ‘you get the idea’.
But what of the characters? Do they settle down? Marry? Have children? You don’t know. All you know is that Tom Hanks has finally met Meg Ryan on the Empire State Building; that the Fourth Wedding made the Funeral worth-while; that Ben Stiller finally figured something out about Mary. That’s all that matters. Nothing of the couple years after the dramatic climax, living in a flat and arguing over the frustrating banalities of married life. You never see Lizzie and Darcy bickering over whose turn it is to take the bins out. Or the awkward bits – imagine Julia Roberts at the end of ‘Pretty Woman’ having to avoid the mother-in-law’s questions of what she does for a living. The bathos is comical but real: this life is not glamorous or dramatic, but it’s what people ‘in love’ do every day. The ‘Ever After’ section of the story involves numerous emotions, not all of them ‘Happy’. However in Hollywood, reality doesn’t sell.
FILMS ON DOMESTIC LIFE
If a film feels it has to focus on long-term domestic relationships it revels in their banality to make a point. We can understand why Mr. Incredible and son Dash want to break out from lives as unexciting as theirs, where Helen (née Elastigirl) only discovers Mr. Incredible’s antics by hoovering in the right place at the right time. Or else they add an unusual novelty, with the Incredibles being endowed with super-powers and Cheaper by the Dozen focusing on living in a house with twelve children. Both films present family life as an ordeal, a challenge rather than a joy.
Must family life be super-sized or super-human to earn the attention of the silver screen? Even a film devoid of character conflict like ‘The Intern’ decides the domestic family-friendly life of boss Anne Hathaway needs spicing up, with her house husband busted for pursuits rated ‘X’ rather than ‘U’. And if the marriage must stay alive, then at least make the family look dead – cue the Addams Family, sorting through their late uncles’ closet whilst said uncle is stuffed inside it, or letting the kiddies have fun-time with an electric chair.
Ok, so there is a point to all this. Films from western culture encourage us to believe that if a long-term relationship does not seem to be full of passion and fun, then something must be wrong. If your partner can’t always be perfect, then there’s someone else out there who can be. At the risk of straying into the ‘Sex, Love and Gender’ section’s territory, I would offer my own dose of agony aunt on this one – just because going steady is hardly shown on Hollywood film (and if it must be, then only at high rose-tinted speed – ‘Up’ anyone?) it does not mean that this is something dull or to be frowned upon. It can often be the happiest time. Ernest Hemingway once said that he had never felt lonelier than whilst dating numerous women in quick succession, but felt entirely complete in a long-term relationship with the right person. So although some may view that the pursuit of ‘Love’ means moving from person to person following the rush of ‘passion’, don’t forget that this is playing the role of the Romantic film’s passionate lover – the ‘passionate lover’ themselves being nothing more than the role of an actor. Time to get more realistic. Sometimes the most watchable Romance is not on Netflix, but with the person you’ve been chilling with.