Romantic Comedies, LaMichael James, (No) End Zone

Val opened a can of worms with this one:

The idea of the End Zone: That getting married, having a kid, getting a job, etc. is a self-contained accomplishment (rather than a whole new set of challenges). And how our movies and pop culture feed into the idea of this moment of completion, of spiking the ball.

Sports references notwithstanding, Val provided a movie trailer to illustrate her question. She couldn’t have picked a better one. I hope you haven’t eaten recently:

In October, I stopped reviewing movies after doing it for a solid year. For the first time in my life, unless your name is Roger Ebert, I saw more movies than you. I saw movies that I never would have seen otherwise, awful ones, many of which were romantic comedies. I had seen the trailer for this movie in the theater, and I had also seen some of its production on the streets of Manhattan. When I watched the trailer again just now, I felt such intense relief: This is one less romantic comedy that I will have to watch in my lifetime.

Rarely, a rom-com will take me by surprise and I will find it enjoyable. Usually, these are so far-fetched as to require a holistic suspension of disbelief (no possibility of real-life application); there is no love at first sight (gag); and the non-story elements of the movie (dialogue, cinematography, sets, setting) are all top notch.

In her response to this question, Val referenced When Harry Met Sally as one of her all-time faves. I’m not a huge fan of this movie, but it isn’t in the same class as most rom-coms:

  • Harry and Sally knew each other for a really long time before getting together.
  • They didn’t even like each other when they first met.
  • They grew to love each other over the course of years — and after being totally aware of the other’s foibles.
  • Their (admittedly irritating) characters developed.
  • The writing is pretty good.

By contrast, New Year’s Eve is an exercise in cynicism. It was not made by people who are compelled to tell stories or who even like the movies; it was made by businessmen who have produced similar movies and have found it to be a lucrative formula, one that works because it preys on people’s irrational desires.

That’s what advertising is for, not movies.

If you must, watch it on TV or download it illegally. Please, friends, do not pay to see New Year’s Eve in the theater. By doing so, you will be supporting an industry that prizes pointless cinematic santorum over truly interesting, original or (at the very least) good-hearted movies.

I honestly believe that romantic comedies make people’s lives worse. It sounds ridiculous, I know. But I regularly see people internalize rom-com ideals, judge their lives against them and find themselves lacking. Then they are sad.

Rom-coms are the emotional equivalent of porn — fine in small quantities, but overexposure can only lead to real-life disappointment.

So no, I don’t believe in the End Zone.

This is not to say that I’ve never been caught up in it — going to college, graduating from college, moving to New York, getting married. In the moment, it can be as exhilarating as LaMichael James rushing 72 yards into an actual end zone.

Awesome!

But what happens after LaMichael scores a touchdown? He doesn’t say, “Now I can finally be happy because I’ve scored and everybody is cheering for me!” No, he turns around and goes back for another kickoff. I sure hope he has fun maneuvering past those linebackers, because that’s as good as it’s going to get.

The closest I’ve ever come to realizing the End Zone was when I went to college. I had serious expectations that my life would improve by leaps and bounds once I broke free from my parents’ rules. (There were a lot of rules.) And that’s just what happened. My life really did take off. I found I liked figuring out my own rules. And thanks to my parents’ rule that required me to spend my senior year of high school applying for scholarships, I was even financially independent from them. I trotted (or maybe sprinted) out from under their thumb, and I never looked back.

This change coincided with all the others that happen when a person heads off to college. So in that way, it was less arbitrary than a lot of the other “if only” goals people set for themselves. Becoming totally independent from my folks at 18 didn’t make me happy, but it did give me the freedom I needed to pursue happiness in my own way, without worrying what they would think.

It turns out that freedom is one of the few actual requirements for happiness, along with having purpose, close friends, just enough money and contributing to your community. (I learned those things by editing books by this man, who, incidentally, loves romantic comedies.)

The thing is, if my happiness or well-being would have depended on finding “the one” or getting married or moving across the country (in either direction), I would have been totally out of practice by the time those things happened. Like cooking, happiness is a skill. You can get advice about it from books and TV and the Internet, but it takes effort. Somebody can’t suddenly waltz into your life and make you be a good cook. The most you can hope for is that he’ll introduce you to a few new techniques and enjoy sharing dinner with you. Which will certainly make cooking more fun and rewarding.

As long as it was something you enjoyed in the first place.

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2 Responses to Romantic Comedies, LaMichael James, (No) End Zone

  1. Pingback: Goodbye, Native Land | Saucy Salad

  2. Pingback: End Zone « Coming Up Lemon

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