Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Archive for the tag “Hollywood”

Romance is about the journey, not the ending

I think people who love romance novels, and who seek out romantic movies (even though so many Hollywood rom-coms are cold, formulaic crap from beginning to end) are wired a little differently from the rest of the population.

“The ending was so predictable!” critics say. “You know who’s going to end up together from the beginning,” others complain.

Well, yeah. That’s the point.

Reading a romance isn’t like reading a mystery or a thriller. In a mystery, readers are on guard for clues from the very first page, trying to outguess the characters and, by extension, the author. That’s the fun of it all. If a reader has guessed the culprit halfway through the book, the author hasn’t done his or her job, and most mystery readers will roast the book accordingly.

In a romance, the fun is not in trying to predict the ending. Please. The fun is in seeing how it all plays out. There are sacrifices to be made, there’s growing up to do, there are adventures and daring rescues (by heroines just as often as by heroes), there are mysteries to solve, and all the while there’s a delicious emotional journey playing out on the page. If the author has done his or her job, we get a front row seat rooting for two people we care about while they work through ALL that stuff before finding their way to a happy ending.

So yeah those characters had better actually wind up together. If I got emotionally invested in two characters being together, and then I reach the end of their story only to find that they’ve decided to “see other people” I’mthrowingthebookacrosstheroom.

But a romance novel would never end that way, so I’m in good hands.

Movies and TV shows are a little bit more of a romance crapshoot (which is why I try to point out the ones that deliver and the ones that don’t on this blog).

Take this thought-provoking review of The Five Year Engagement by a colleague of mine over at Media Matters. Jerry Holsopple has good questions about the clues romantic movies give readers to identify which characters are meant for each other. By my definition of romances, it ought to be head-slappingly obvious who the Hero and Heroine are (hint: it’s a romance, so they’re both pictured on the movie poster), but all snarking aside, his questions are valid.  And one sentence inspired me to write this blog post:

Five-Year has a predictable ending but the creative way it accomplishes it is satisfying.

Then that means it’s probably a good romance. Predictable ending? Good. Satisfyingly creative way it’s accomplished? EVEN BETTER. That’s where romances are made and broken, not in the ending.

And one final thing about predictable endings to romances: I don’t want to waste my time and emotional investment rooting for the heroine to choose one guy only to find out she winds up leaving him for a different man. Team Edward and Team Jacob might be fun for lots of people, but love triangles only work for me when it’s pretty darn clear which side is going to come out in the wash.

It’s about the journey. Not the ending.

Movie Review: No Strings Attached (2011)

No Strings Attached
Movie (108 minutes, R)
Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher

Two “friends have casual sex and–oops–fall in love” rom-coms came out in 2011, but unfortunately, the more highly regarded one (Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) is not available on Netfix’s streaming service. So how does the other one stack up?

The Premise

Adam and Emma (Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) have known each other off and on for years when they finally reunite as adults. Adam is still stinging from discovering his ex-girlfriend is now dating his father, and as a full-time resident at an area hospital, Emma has no time, no interest, and no faith in romantic relationships. They decide to distract themselves with casual sex, laying a number of ground rules to keep them from becoming emotionally involved. We all know that won’t last, so the primary entertainment is in seeing how they go from “friends with benefits” to a real couple.

The Pain

This film is unnecessarily raunchy in places. There’s no real nudity, so the R rating rests solely on the dialogue and one rather awkward sex scene. The funniest parts were not even the crude ones. On a larger scale however, the movie fails to really show why Emma is so deathly afraid of emotional intimacy. She keeps turning away from what seems to be a no-brainer relationship with the wonderful Adam, and simply saying her parents divorce fifteen years ago turned her off of love doesn’t cut it. Maybe it turned her off marriage…but dating, too?

The Payoff

Some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s hard not to love Adam’s character. Especially the way he throws himself in headfirst, refusing to let uncertainty rule his decisions the way Emma’s fear paralyzes her. The romance between them works–barely, but it works.

Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: Bring on the Pulp

I tweeted a couple of times today about John Carter—the new movie based on 19th/20th century author Edgar Rice Burroughs (of Tarzan fame)—and the decidedly mixed reviews.

The reviews range from pans verging on the eloquent:

John Carter is one of those films that is so stultifying, so oppressive and so mysteriously and interminably long that I felt as if someone had dragged me into the kitchen of my local Greggs, and was baking my head into the centre of a colossal cube of white bread.

To the rather glowing:

For me, this is the first movie of its kind in a very long time that I’d willingly sit through a second or even third time.

Knowing my rather pedestrian tastes (did anyone see me give a Bollywood rom-com 4 arrows?) and the fact that I’ve been fascinated by old pulp fiction ever since I stumbled upon a row of dusty Ian Fleming novels in my college library, I’m fairly certain I could be entertained by this movie. The only trick is convincing my husband to spend a few hours with a movie his favorite critic called mediocre.

Wish me luck!

If I’m successful, I may even post a Show Me the Romance review for John Carter–reviewing only the romance, of course :-).

Miniseries Review: Emma (2009)

Emma
BBC Miniseries, 240 minutes (4 one-hour episodes)
based on the novel by Jane Austen

Every few years, someone in the movie industry decides it’s time to remake an Austen film. Hollywood did it in 2005 with the Kiera Knightly version of Pride & Prejudice—or, as my friend Katie calls it, “Emily Brontë’s Pride & Prejudice.” Naturally, filmmakers want to try their hand at the biggest women’s franchise ever (try to argue Twilight has eclipsed Austen, I dare you).

Sometimes, I wish they’d do something other than P&P or Emma. There isn’t a decent Northanger Abbey, and though I adore the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion, there’s ample room for another entry there, too. But did I say any of this when Katie invited me to a “new Emma” viewing party? Of course not. It’s a new Austen film, yay!

The Premise

For the uninitiated, Emma is about a smart, wealthy young lady in 1810’s England who decides she’s a brilliant matchmaker and proceeds to meddle in the lives of her friends and neighbors—with funny and sometimes disastrous results. Her behavior puts a strain on her friendship with Mr. Knightly, who is her only intellectual equal. Emma may think she’s a great matchmaker, but she knows nothing about her own heart.

The Pain

Most women my age picture Jeremy Northam (from 1996’s Emma) as Mr. Knightley, so Jonny Lee Miller (aka Edmund Bertram in 1999’s Mansfield Park) takes some getting used to in the Mr. Knightley role. The Brontëan darkness shoehorned into parts of the miniseries stand at odds with Austen’s usual social satire. Lastly, Emma’s occasional anachronistic behavior will be jarring to anyone familiar with the mores of the period.

The Payoff

As Emma, actress Romola Garai is an elegant imp who has so much fun with the story that I almost forgave her those anachronisms. As Emma’s father, Michael Gambon is fabulous, and even Jonny Lee Miller comes through on the romance.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: The Ugly Truth (2009)

The Ugly Truth
Movie (95 minutes, R)
Starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler

Not everything I review on Show Me the Romance will be Five Arrow knockouts. Case in point: 2009’s The Ugly Truth. It’s about as romantic as its name, and apart from a clever first half, it isn’t even particularly funny. With the exception of one scene, the film played like the dreck most “romantic comedy” entries are—all polish and no emotion. Romance fans aren’t fools, Hollywood. You give us characters who feel real, and a romance that feels right, and we’ll make you filthy rich. Anything else…eh, we’ll catch it when it appears on Netflix’s instant watch option, and only then when we have nothing better to do.

The Premise
Katherine Heigl plays Abby Richter, a scheduled-to-the-nines producer for a San Diego morning show. Her love life amounts to a string of failed blind dates, largely because she conducts third-party investigations into the guy’s background and then scours him with questions more suited to a Dateline interview than a date. When her TV station hires crass relationship cynic Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) to boost ratings, he devastates Katherine’s preconceived notions of love, first by offending her to the point of fury, and second by proving to her she can’t plan her way through romance.

The Pain
Are we really feeling anything for these characters? It’s like “cue awkward moment” followed by “cue cute blushing awkward moment” and finishing up with “cue accidental tender moment.” While You Were Sleeping this ain’t.

The Payoff
There’s a raw kiss in an elevator that actually cuts beneath the layers of over-processed crap to show that maybe there really are emotions in play, but it’s over too fast and ends too cutsey-awkwardy to maintain the feeling.

Rating: 2 out of 5 arrows

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