Monday, January 22, 2007

Romantic Comedy Commentary Part 1

At last, I have returned to my screenplay, Safety Boyfriend. Without telling you about the actual plot, it's a romantic comedy about romantic comedies, so for research I went out and rented four this weekend to get a feel for the formulas of the genre. It was pure coincidence that two of the four happened to have Hugh Jackman in them. Pure coincidence, I tell ya... By the way, movie spoilers ahead:

Someone Like You
The first that I saw was Someone Like You. In this film, Jane (Ashley Judd), a talent scout for a talk show, falls for hunky coworker Ray (played by Greg Kinnear). Their relationship starts out great, despite the fact that Ray has not actually terminated his previous three-year relationship by the time he and Jane start dating. Can you say red flag?

Finally, Ray tells Jane that he's left his girlfriend, and she starts making plans to move in with him. However, surprise-surprise, at the last minute, Ray unceremoniously dumps Jane without giving her a reason, and she's left homeless and very messily heartbroken. Partly because she needs shelter and partly to spite Ray, she moves in with another coworker, Eddie (the yummy Hugh Jackman), even though she's not at all approving of his caddish manwhore ways. Now, she and Eddie are not in a relationship - Eddie can't afford his apartment without a roommate, so she's agreed to pay the other half of the rent, so long as there's no nookie.

While Hugh Jackman is extra delicious in this movie, Ashley Judd does an excellent job of killing the enjoyment factor. Her Jane isn't just an emotional mess, she is extremely public about how much of an emotional mess she is, which results in a lot of disgusting, inappropriate, and entirely unfunny tantrum scenes in which she chews out Ray, Eddie, and be-cocked human beings in general. Part of the plot of this movie is that her bitterness over the breakup has caused her to believe that men are cows - not pigs, but cows. See, the movie introduces how male cows, apparently, only mate with the same cow once - and cannot, under any circumstance, be induced to re-mate with the same "old cow." The betrayed Jane begins to apply this to men, believing that they cannot be monogamous or faithful, and that she and millions of other unlucky women are "old cows," forever doomed to watch their bulls leave them for "new cows."

She sinks so deeply into this belief, that when her equally bitter journalist girlfriend Liz suggests that Jane write a column about her theory in Liz's magazine, she does so - the kicker here being that Jane decides to write under the false identity of an esteemed, elderly doctor of psychology, so that readers will take her vengeful ramblings as scientific fact, as intelligent readers surely wouldn't if they thought they were the vengeful ramblings of an emotionally fragile twentysomething woman who has absolutely no knowledge or experience in male psychology and is writing only from her own painfully neglected errogenous zones, which they are!

Anyway, the first hour of this movie was almost enough to make me want to give up altogether - as lovely as Hugh Jackman is shirtless, there is nothing remotely entertaining in watching a needy, spiteful sadsack make an ass of herself in public. The last half manages to redeem Someone Like You, not into a movie that I myself would watch, but at least into a movie that has some sense and heart behind it.

When Jane has yet another spaztastic shrieking and crying fit in front of Ray and her boss, talkshow host Diane - Diane actually takes her aside and chides her for making everyone suffer for her bad relationship. In a very satisfying monologue, Diane reveals how her inability to reveal her feelings to her own significant other resulted in her own devastating breakup - the difference being that, she kept it to herself, because she knew she had a professional life to keep up that would not stand by and wait while she had a good cry. In a marvellous twist, Diane goes on to relate how she won her boyfriend back by finally expressing her feelings, and lo and behold, her boyfriend was Ray, and that was why he left Jane!

Now, this revelation doesn't help Jane very much - indeed, it sends her over the deep end because it basically refutes her entire "old cow, new cow" theory - that Ray didn't leave her for some New Cow, but dumped her in favour of an even Older Cow. Her delusional denial of Diane's story also irritates the hell out of Eddie, who, despite manwhoring every now and then, has been nothing but supportive and sympathetic and helpful during Jane's crisis. He's had his own share of nasty breakups (including one with the last tenant of his apartment), and he doesn't take kindly to having his gender equated with cruel, useless animals. When he finally confronts her and tells her - Hey, I'm a man, and I'm not like that! she breaks down and cries, again, but this time it counts because she's finally touched upon the core of her distress - she relied so faithfully on the New Cow/Old Cow theory because she wanted to convince herself that guys left her because it was in their rotten, bestial natures - she didn't want to consider that they left because something was actually wrong with her.

So, along comes more crying, and more sexy Hugh Jackman comforting, and finally, Jane goes on national television and apologizes for the nasty, biased bullshit she peddled under the guise of a scientific authority. She also realizes that Ray is not the only fish in the sea, or bull on the pasture, or whatever, and that guys aren't always pigs, or cows, or whatever, but can still participate in happy marriages (cue the infertile-sister-with-adoring-husband-subplot!), and consider her beautiful after she's spent the last ninety minutes of my time wailing like a banshee on a caffeine high. For her, that estimable gentleman turns out to be Hugh Jackman's Eddie (well, duh), and cue happy ending!

I have to say, I really disliked this story in which the majority of the female characters are basically bitter, envious harpies who are painfully attuned to the ever-present winding down of their biological clocks. There is nothing more repulsive to me than the twin choruses of "I need a man, I need a man" and "I hate men, I hate men". However, because the movie eventually concedes that these kinds of women are not in the right frame of mind, I'll give it a pass. Also, the movie could have demonized the Ray character - and did so for the second act - but eventually revealed him to have more realistic motivations. He wasn't a bastard, and he wasn't some wishy-washy I-can't-decide type.

The relationship between Eddie and Jane was also amazingly subtle - to the point where I was almost expecting the movie to end with them as friends, not lovers. Eddie starts out as disbelieving, then becomes sympathetic, then comforting. There wasn't a huge out-of-the-blue OMG-HUMP-HUMP love scene that made no sense, but only a realization from Jane that Eddie treats her the way she deserves (or more than she deserves) to be treated. Grade: B-

Fever Pitch
After the suffocating depression of Someone Like You, the sprightly Fever Pitch was a breath of fresh air. My sisters saw this movie back in Jasper during the Thanksgiving before last, and insisted that I watch it, and boy, am I glad I did.

In Fever Pitch, corporate exec Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) falls for likeable math teacher Ben (SNL's Jimmy Fallon). The first obstacle that comes up, surprisingly, is money. Her working-girl friends are initially iffy over the concept of their up-and-coming girlfriend going out with a lowly educator. Of course, once they actually meet her jovial and handsome beau, they relent - but a different nagging question arises: he's thirty but still single - what's the matter with him?

While his closet isn't full of garbage bags full of a life's worth of toenail clippings, he does have his own obsessions. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, he comes out and tells her the truth in the first act of the movie, without her having to ask him. A lesser movie would have had him hide it, would have included a bunch of tiresome and unfunny scenes of Ben going to drastic lengths to keep it a secret, only for it to be revealed in the third act, forcing Lindsey to accept him and his faults, point-blank, or kick him to the curb, which she wouldn't, because a lesser movie would have obviously pandered to the ridiculous happy ending.

Ever since he was seven, Ben has been a Red Sox fan - a fanatically loyal Red Sox fan. His apartment is carpetted, wallpapered, and decorated with Red Sox paraphernalia. After his baseball-loving uncle died, he inherited a lifetime's worth of season tickets, and he's gone to every game. He even goes down to Florida at the beginning of the pre-season to watch his Sox practice. He's honest about his interest - he even acknowledges that his devotion to his team has kept him out of a lot of meaningful relationships, and it's a nerve that's been rubbed pretty raw by rejection. When Lindsey appears unfazed, he's elated - but he neglects to remember that he and Lindsey began their relationship in the fall, after baseball season. She knows and loves Winter Ben - but how will she react to Summer (i.e. Baseball) Ben?

Lindsey doesn't know a whole lot about the Red Sox (and is initially teased about it by Ben's "summer family" - i.e. the people who've had season ticket seats next to his for the last twenty years), but she catches on and becomes more interested in the sport, even though her friends are worried that Ben is "colonising" her (that is, forcing her to abandon her own interests in favour of his). Of course, no matter how she loves baseball, she'll never be the fan that Ben is. Ben is the type of guy who covers his ears and hums in public when someone close to him starts talking about the Red Sox scores of a game that he's taping. He's the type of fan who'll neglect family obligations and social get-togethers if the Sox go up against the Yankees that day. He's also the type of fan who'll high-five the man who caught a Red Sox foul ball, and only afterwards check to make sure that his girlfriend, who was beaned by that same foul ball, is okay.

She's also, if I've neglected to mention, a career girl whose office is in the midst of a shake-up, and if she wants to snag the promotion she's always wanted she's going to have to develop her own obsession towards work. At first, she sees this as a win-win - with a baseball fan boyfriend, the Red Sox will keep Ben from feeling neglected when Lindsey has to devote her time to her job. Naturally, however, the relationship still becomes strained.

However, Ben is not a complete idiot. He loves the Red Sox whole-heartedly, but the movie never makes him into some cartoonish, Homer-Simpson-esque buffoon who is so selfishly attuned to the game that he forgets his girlfriend completely. He wants Lindsey to love baseball, because he loves her, and if she loves baseball she also loves that large part of him that loves baseball, too - and that's a part of him that's the most often been rejected by other women. In the middle of the film, the couple have a brief pregnancy scare - and Ben's reaction is to go out and buy Red Sox onesies (awww....), while Lindsey's is to rethink how much Ben is putting into their relationship. She respects his baseball love, but whenever she wants to go a party or whenever her friends have birthdays and anniversaries, she doesn't want to have to check the game calendar to see if Ben will go with her.

What does Ben do? He actually compromises, because he genuinely cares about Lindsey. As one of his students puts it, "You love the Red Sox, but have the Red Sox ever loved you back?" One of the reasons Ben loves baseball, as he puts it, is because it's safe - you can't have a good baseball career if you're lucky or rich, but only if you're good. It's his comfort zone. But Lindsey promises him a different kind of zone altogether - one that won't get rid of baseball, just one that will include other things as well as baseball. So he calms it down. On a night when the Sox are playing the Yankees - a type of game he usually never misses - he decides to go to a costume party with Lindsey. They have a great time, stay out late, and when they're out on the street waiting for a cab, he doesn't plug his ears when a nearby radio announces the baseball scores - six nothing Yankees, so far. After a few "home-runs" of their own, he tells Lindsey this was the best night of his life.

However, Ben eventually finds out that while he was out with Lindsey, he missed what might have been the best Red Sox game in history - in which the Sox make 8 runs in the last inning to win the game. People are partying in the streets, his friends are estatically screaming at him over the telephone, and newscasters are reporting Boston's longest conga line. Ben's repressed obsession kicks in, and frustrated, he lashes out at Lindsey, blaming her for changing his behaviour, for twisting his Red Sox loyalties. Lindsey, incredibly hurt, dumps him.

Lindsey and Ben reconcile, once again, through compromise, empathy, and understanding. Ben, feeling betrayed by the Red Sox and his own relationship with them, decides to sell his lifetime season tickets in an effort to get Lindsey back. Lindsey, finally equating her love of her "safe" job to his love of his "safe" game, runs onto the baseball diamond in the middle of the game to get his attention, because she loves his heart too much to allow him to cut away the part of it devoted to baseball.

What's most pleasant about Fever Pitch is that the couple is happy for most of the movie. There aren't really any villains in this film - there's one unpleasant yuppie couple (the wife, who's a friend of Lindsey and is a little too competitive, and the husband, who is the one who tries to buy Ben's season tickets), but that's about it. The movie isn't how a couple get together - they're already together. Fever Pitch is how a couple learns to work around and love the other's quirks is way that's easily relatable, not to mention how they learn to sacrifice parts to save the whole.

Drew Barrymore is a delight, as always, and (unlike Judd in Someone Like You and Meg Ryan in the next-to-be-mentioned Kate & Leopold) is not selfish or shrill, and doesn't play some stuck-up working-girl who has to give up her career in order to discover true love. She keeps her job, she loves her job. She works a little too hard at it, but that's something she needs to deal with, same as Ben. I loved how the baseball-love and work-love were paralleled - the movie didn't make the Ben character a freak that Lindsey had to "tame," but instead a kindred spirit whose passion was simply directed elsewhere.

And Jimmy Fallon - ooooooh, Jimmy Fallon. So cute! So very, very cute! Why isn't he in more movies? More movies that don't suck, I mean. I know he's in that upcoming Factory Girl flick, but what after that? We can't subsist on Pepsi commercials alone, Jimmy! He was sincerely adorable in this film, kind-hearted and funny and compassionate and flawed. A lovely movie detailing the evolution of a couple. A

Once I am done watching Serendipity (the last of the four films), I'll return with a double review of that and Kate & Leopold. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Hey, AnimeJune!

    If you liked Fever Pitch, you might try the original U.K. version from 1997.

    Jimmy Fallon is, as you point out, so very, very cute... but I have a little soft spot for Colin Firth, and somehow, soccer is *so* much hotter than baseball.