WE all have our guilty pleasures, the ones we don’t list as hobbies on any resume where we actually want to get the job.
Mine used to come with a heapin’ helpin’ of Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Aniston or Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, due to these actors steadily aging while popular culture remains youth-obsessed, I’m slowly being forced to “transition” to Rachel McAdams, Anne Hathaway, Emma Stone and Emily Blunt.
Dabbling in Mila Kunis seems sadly inevitable.
Yes, I’m ashamed to say that I’m addicted to chick flicks. That’s right, go ahead and sneer. Props to you for noticing that they’re vacuous, unimaginative and, most disgracefully, they’re clearly not feminist fare.
In romantic comedies – for that’s what I’m writing about here, not masterpieces like The English Patient or even quirky charmers like Juno -- the characters’ ultimate fulfillment comes through love. With that in mind, the women in RoCos almost always have jobs that won’t threaten the men in their lives. They may be underemployed in something artsy, like gallery assistant Aniston in The Break-Up, or in something dead-end, like subway ticket collector Bullock in While You Were Sleeping, hotel maid Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan, mall clerk Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, or assistant to an arrogant womanizer -- Bullock again, in Two Weeks Notice.
They’re also given blatantly maternal positions, like kindergarten teacher Kate Hudson in You, Me and Dupree, Diane Lane in Must Love Dogs, and Jennifer Westfeldt in Friends With Kids; ex-baker Wiig in Bridesmaids; nanny Scarlett Johansson in The Nanny; florist Aniston in Love Happens; or lowly plant waterer Drew Barrymore in Music and Lyrics, although calling plant care maternal might be stretching a point.
Random journalism positions are also options, in the airy-fairy arenas of fashion (Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), food criticism (Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding), and TV fluff pieces (Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones). Sometimes, as in the case of Ginnifer Goodwin’s character in He’s Just Not That Into You, the young woman has some vague office function that gives her a desk and thus allows her to babble all day with a bunch of girlfriends but do little apparent work. Sigh.
The writing profession (cough) occasionally get a nod, though that’s usually when the protagonist is a more mature individual, like the romance writer Kathleen Turner plays in Romancing the Stone, the author Diane Lane impersonates in Under the Tuscan Sun or the playwright brought to life by Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give.
On the rare occasion that these female leads are actually successful careerists, the RoCo makes sure to depict them as out-of-touch with their real selves. In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock’s character’s colleagues consider her to be a shrew before she’s cut down to size by her underling/love interest (Ryan Reynolds). In No Reservations, Catherine Zeta Jones is a fearsome but gifted chef who alienates everybody but the handsome, easygoing sous-chef (Aaron Eckhart) who discovers the sweet core lurking inside her crusty exterior -- but not, of course, without a good, long, challenging chew.
Everybody in the theatre knows from the start of these flicks that the cute boy and the pretty girl will overcome some ludicrous, contrived obstacles but they’ll get together in the end. I guess it’s the very predictability of such films that I like. Death will only rear its ugly head in terms of an old pet or a delightfully curmudgeonly grandparent. The heroine’s sidekick is likely to be feisty, mouthy and less attractive than she; the hero’s best friends will be awkward goofballs or obnoxious pseudo-studs.
Most of the time, we don’t have to fear the influence of vulgarian Judd Apatow, because Apatow isn’t really interested in romance. The crude director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up comes at his films from the opposite of the typical chick flick perspective. Rather than seeing settling down with a loving partner as a reward for whatever unlikely conflict has preceded it, Apatow’s lowbrow comedies suggest that a guy puts up with pairing off in order to feel a part of something slightly bigger than his previously petty existence. His married male characters begrudge the compromises of coupledom and parenthood every step of the way, until those states are threatened. Then that same old wife/girlfriend and those bratty kids start looking pretty good.
This depressing philosophy may now be commonplace, along with schlumpy slacker heroes like Seth Rogen in Knocked Up and Jason Seigel in The Five-Year Engagement (a pitifully bad effort, produced but not directed by Apatow), but they’re not what I look for when I’m in the mood to be entertained.
I look to the movies to enlighten me – which largely dimwitted chick flicks certainly don’t do – but, equally importantly, to cheer me up. I’m embarrassed to say it, much less to write it, but I’m actually still a believer in the power of love. If a 10-buck ticket and a bag of popcorn remind me of that and send me smiling into the night, I figure it’s money well spent.