Precious Bodily Fluids

Love and Other Drugs: Traditional Rom-Com

Has been an interesting and, daresay, even worthwhile month at the theater. Have been prone to believing that the the cineplex is only worth indulgence for what promise to be really great films or the occasional blockbuster that makes a big screen and big sound worthwhile. Rom-coms such as Morning Glory and, now, Love and Other Drugs are great samples of the contemporary status quo. They’re as formulaic as they come, they contain an obligatory number of stars in order to succeed at the box office, and they’re assembled by an efficient team of experts in the field of entertainment-production. Use of the word “assembled” is appropriate here, since it’s so much the editing on which these films rely. Love and Other Drugs hardly features a shot longer than five seconds unless it counteracts such a lengthy take by saturating it in melodramatic music, closeups, or saccharine dialogue. This flashy style of editing isn’t limited to rom-coms, however. Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong similarly felt like a montage of images that hardly had time to prove they were cinematic rather than photographic on account of how short each shot was. This relieves the uncomfortable possibility of the audience having to look closely at something or someone, of lingering on something that takes some thought to absorb. But these are all details…

What’s really interesting about these formulaic rom-coms is how predictable they’ve become in terms of themes and values, not just story. Certainly there’s narrative predictability; they are often condemned for this, but that’s silly. It’s precisely narrative predictability that draws audiences to return to particular genres and makes genres, at least in part, what they are. Westerns, noirs, Shakespearean tragedies, comedies, etc., all have narrative forms to which they stick more or less. What’s interesting about them, and what makes certain films/books/plays great is not their ability to dodge spectator expectations regarding the story but what they do within the boundaries of their genres. (Granted, these days the lines separating genres are hazier than ever, and that takes us into another realm for another day.) Rom-coms, whether they’re bromances or the more standard kind, have lately been noteworthy for their highly traditional moral messages. A bromance such as The 40 Year-Old Virgin is a classic case of this. Presenting itself on the surface as a crass, crude, and immoral excuse for perverse comedy, it embraces the conservative value of chastity like very few films in recent memory. Like that film, many other comedies these days begin with the premise that sex is a basic human right and everyone should be able to go to almost (yes, “almost”) whatever lengths necessary to be able to have sex. The idea that anyone would be forbidden sex just because, say, s/he isn’t married is considered absurd at the outset of most of these films. A trailer that preceded Love and Other Drugs for an upcoming comedy with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman (can’t remember the title) is based on two lifelong friends who decided to enter into a “benefits” stage of their friendship. As expected, and as even the trailer reveals, one of them does the unthinkable and falls in love with the other, who exclaims dramatically, “Why can’t we just have sex?!!” Of course, now it’s the female character who makes this exclamation: Natalie Portman’s character in that case, and in the case of Love and Other Drugs, Anne Hathaway’s character. These rom-coms pretend to subvert gender stereotypes by making the women the sex-hungry characters and letting them objectify the men. However, as the narrative moves forward, the sex is shown to be empty and the man is the one who recognizes that only a lasting relationship can fill the void. So, the moral to the story (on a narrative level) is that an exclusively sexual relationship is ultimately hollow; you need a real and lasting connection. Second, it’s mainly the man who has to teach this lesson to the woman, after learning it for himself. A subplot in Morning Glory fits this mold similarly.

Another related note. The character playing Jake Gyllenhaal’s brother is clearly the poor man’s Jonah Hill. His every idiosyncrasy was inspired by Hill, along with his appearance. His character, too, takes a little journey of discovery, coming to the conclusion that the free sex he’s been wanting his whole life is dust in the wind. He decides he should go back to his wife and work things out. The fact that he learned this lesson at an orgiastic “pajama party” is ironic. All of this seems to indicate that the cultural assumptions and commonplaces that help compose film formulas and clichés are much more informed by traditional moral values than most would realize.

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This entry was published on December 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm. It’s filed under 2010s Cinema, American film and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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