• Tue. May 30th, 2023

Sex, Love, and the State of the Rom-Com

ByGurinderbir Singh

Feb 14, 2023


That’s so true. Even though “Bros” has a lot of explicit sex and pats itself on the back for being explicit, to be honest, I could take or leave it—it didn’t make one bit of difference to me in terms of the movie itself. But definitely the chemistry issue seems to be salient. I had a huge problem with the lack of chemistry in “Bros,” where it just felt like the Billy Eichner character is setting himself up to be a stereotype of the loudmouth cultural New York Jew, and falls in love with a very milquetoast, bland, hot non-Jewish white guy. And then nothing convinced me that they were actually attracted to each other on a physical or indeed spiritual level. But I also wonder if it has to do with immaturity as a fact of these rom-coms. I am thinking about some of the classics from the genre—those people are adults. I’m not saying they’re hugely functional adults, but something in the culture has changed. There have been infinite opinion pieces and trend pieces written about how millennials, for instance, were living at home with their parents for much longer periods of time—unlike in the past, where you either stay very close to the family unit and never leave your home town, or you go to New York City, place of promise, and never call your family again—so I’m willing to believe that a thirty-five-year-old in Los Angeles is sort of weirdly still attached to his parents. But the Jonah Hill character also acts like a teen-ager. He’s embarrassed by his parents; he’s constantly telling them to shut up; he hasn’t learned at all how to navigate that relationship into adulthood, and there seems to be no incentive, either coming from within or coming from them, to do that, so no one has cut the parental-child bond at all. This is really a cross between “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Meet the Parents,” and the whole thing with “Meet the Parents” is, you know, Daddy loves his little girl and wants to protect her. That’s very much what is going on with Eddie Murphy and Lauren London—but this movie hasn’t figured out a way to make its characters plausibly engage with the idea of love as something that’s desirable in adult life. It’s all about the fear of loneliness.

But, Naomi, you were talking about the fantasy element, which has a huge role in rom-coms. I think “Working Girl” is one of the great fairy-tale movies. It also calls back to the classic rom-coms of the thirties; it’s an issues movie, but in a way that works with comedy and fantasy, the issues being class and women in the workplace. But some of my favorite rom-coms actually are more realistic than not, and one that I’m thinking of is a very underrated movie from the early nineties: “Forget Paris,” which Billy Crystal directed and stars in, opposite Debra Winger. Billy Crystal wonderfully plays an N.B.A. ref, so there are a lot of height jokes. His character’s father had been part of the D Day invasion during World War Two and so wanted to be buried in France; when his body is lost on the flight there, Billy Crystal meets Debra Winger, an executive who works for the airline, and a romance ensues. It involves the difficulties of two people’s professional aspirations clashing; infertility troubles—there’s a wonderful scene with Billy Crystal on the way to get his sperm delivered from the sperm clinic without it going bad after the allotted number of hours when he’s in traffic—problems with location; problems with caring for elderly family members—Debra Winger’s dad is old and senile, and has to live with them for a period of time, and it strains the relationship—et cetera. Those are huge adult issues that the movie makes hilarious and delightful. And I just think this comes back to this immaturity problem. Part of what I would argue the point of the rom-com is is to have fantasy go up against life to some degree, because that’s what love is. All love is a fantasy. You are imagining the best version of yourself; you’re imagining the best version of the other person; you’re imagining that everything is going to go perfectly. And life does not happen that way. But where can you still find the fun and the comedy in actual reality? I think that’s often when rom-coms work best. And movies like “You People” want to plunge us into our debased reality and rub our noses in it—I think it gets the reality and what’s at stake there wrong and gets the fantasy element wrong. And then, on the total opposite end, movies like “Shotgun Wedding” are pure fantasy. It’s taking place on an island in the Philippines, and there are a bunch of pirates who turn out to come from Bali who are doing a hostage thing. It’s just a kind of comic cartoon action-adventure with a squabbling couple thrown into the middle of it. And the only thing I think is particularly notable is that I keep seeing these rom-coms that are set in these Instagrammable locations. It takes place, like a destination wedding itself, outside of the realm of reality, so you never have to actually think about what real romance means.

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