Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Archive for the tag “romantic comedy”

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

Movie Review: Jab We Met

Jab We Met
Movie (142  minutes)
Starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor (no relation)

Feeling like getting your romance fix with colorful scenery, bright clothes, and the occasional bout of energetic dancing? Give Bollywood a shot. The crossover hit Bride and Prejudice (2004) introduced many of us to Indian movies, so if you saw that, and didn’t mind the occasional song or impulsive block-party dance breaking out mid-scene, try Jab We Met (available on Netflix’s online streaming service through May of this year).

The Premise

A dejected businessman (Shahid Kapoor) meets a whirlwind of a girl (Kareena Kapoor) on a train. She draws him into her life, exasperating him, teasing him, goading him into a better understanding of himself—until she discovers that her version of reality is not exactly the same as the real world.  Think Forces of Nature, but funny. And with actual chemistry between the leads.

The Pain

Subtitles aren’t for everyone (the film is in Hindi, with the actors slipping English phrases in and out of their speech). The only real pain I can remember is some occasionally draggy pacing. Some of the special effects are—unintentionally—laugh out loud funny. Also, prepare yourself for some maudlin singing sequences. To all these . . . just go with it. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The Payoff

The leads are so much fun. Geet (the heroine) is a true force of nature. Who can  blame Aditya (the hero) for getting sucked into her orbit. He treks with Geet through the Indian countryside, confronts her hilarious bear of a grandfather, and navigates the wilds of her family all while rediscovering his spirit and his own charming smile. Of course he’s going to fall in love—and with a smile like that, it’s no wonder that she does, too.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: Penelope (2007)

Penelope
Movie (91 minutes, PG)
Starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy

The French-language poster is better than the US version.

If Penelope had been released in theaters with all the proper promotion, it wouldn’t be a cult hit dependent on word-of-mouth–it would be a hit, period. Reese Witherspoon has produced (and cameoed in) a fairytale for the paranormal set, complete with disfigured ‘princess’ and diamond-in-the-rough ‘prince’. And before you go “Prince? Princess? What is this–Disney for grown-ups?” just hear me out. Penelope is a romance with style.

The Premise

Due to a curse on her rich, blue-blood family, Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci) was born with a pig snout instead of a nose. In an effort to protect her from the scorn of the world, her parents constructed an entire wonderland for her inside their house, and never let her go outside. She’s learned about the world through books and music, and the only boys she meets are the ones who speak to her through a one-way mirror. Apparently, the curse will be broken if she falls in love with her own kind, so her parents parade only well-born boys through their house. Every time twentysomething Penelope shows them her face, they run away in terror…until blue-blood Max Campion (James McAvoy) arrives.

The Pain

The fairytale genre leaves room for some convenient plot turns and over-simplification. Most of the actors chew the screen like silent film stars, but I didn’t really mind that. It fits this satirical fairytale. The romance seemed to sag at the halfway mark, but redeemed itself by the end.

The Payoff

Simple and innocent as this story is, it has more romance than traditional fairytales, and McAvoy brings a believable honesty to his role that elevates this above more traditional fairytale endings. I loved Enchanted (starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey) but that was a fairytale comedy. Penelope is a romance.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Anime Review: Special A (2008)

Special A
Anime series
(24 episodes with English subtitles)
To watch, go to http://www.watchanimeon.com/anime/special-a/

I wish American television producers would take a cue from their Japanese counterparts when it comes to giving us programs with pre-written, overarching storylines scripted for a set number of seasons. Anyone who endured the amnesiac Battlestar Galactica writers winging their way through 4+ seasons of “what if we did THIS?” knows the pain of seeing a golden cast and premise ruined by writers with a sandbox complex. When I want to watch a TV show with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, I turn to anime. And when it comes to romance anime, Special A isn’t a bad way to go.

The Premise
Overachieving high school student Hikari dreams of beating her number one rival: Kei, the boy who’s beaten her at everything she’s tried since they were kids. Both Kei and Hikari belong to the “Special A” class, a group made up of the seven best students in their high school (other classes are referred to as A, B, C, etc). Through the Special A’s hijinks and misadventures, Hikari is so busy trying to out-smart, out-race, out-wrestle the unbeatable Kei that she doesn’t see the most important thing: Kei loves her.

The Pain
Any one who’s watched shojo anime knows what to expect: meddling adults, naive heroine, over-the-top explosions, exaggerated reactions and implausible secrets…at least some of it is funny.

The Payoff
This series has charming characters and some truly beautiful artwork. Hikari may not know a thing about love, but she’s pretty kickass otherwise, and it isn’t hard to see why Kei loves her. As for that beginning, middle, and end I mentioned earlier? All right here.

Rating:

3 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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