Installment 7: The Dobler Effect: Where’s my Boy with the Boombox? (h2so4 18)
On the Funny Way Romantic Comedies Lie and Lie and Lie.
I think by now everybody knows that when it comes to love, things aren’t like what we see in the movies. We understand that a boy with a boombox playing “In Your Eyes” isn’t going to appear magically on our front lawn. Or if he does, it’ll be the pervert “duplication specialist” from Kinko’s breaking the restraining order again. Or maybe it really is your ideal mate out there holding the boombox high and proud, but mid-song he realizes that he’s standing on the wrong lawn. Even if the planets do alignit’s the right boy on the right lawn at the right time, and you somehow still like Peter Gabrieleven that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending.
In other words: you may be lucky enough to find a person you actually want to drive off into the sunset with, but what happens after you clear the horizon and he loses his job, say, and turns to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire for comfort? And you accidentally read Fast Food Nation and abruptly go totally vegan? Can a mutton-eating, leather jerkin-wearing man survive in your tofu reality? Maybe!
Or maybe not! Sometimes even the deepest, hottest love is like a wooden gate: It opens and closes just fine in the beginning, but after years of contracting and expanding in the rain and sun, it starts to jam. Even if you luck out and evolve in the same general direction as your pardner, it still takes a lot of patience and desire and vigilance to keep the groinfires burning.
Once you understand how much luck and hard work it takes to have a successful long-term relationship, it’s actually kind of inspiring to think that only half of married couples get divorced. Maybe being cheered by a 50% failure rate makes me a little cynical. But that’s OK because the cynical, been-around-the-block girl who’s given up on crazy love is just one more Hollywood cliché. She’s cute, she’s funny, she’s neurotic, she’s unbelievably singleshe’s Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping! She’s Ashley Judd in Someone Like You! She’s Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary!
And even “cynical girl” gets a happy ending in Hollywood. Scratch through the surface of my hard, pessimistic coating and you’ll find the boombox-boy-craving thirteen-year-old in me who secretly hopes that my bitter bitching and moaning will tempt the fates into proving me wrong. When Sandra Bullock wails about how lonely and desperate she is, it only makes Bill Pullman want to french her more. But let’s face it, in real life, we all know that “lonely” and “desperate” are two of the least sexually arousing qualities ever. Maybe once every thirteen years a bitterly alone person with thirteen cats manages to land a date, but it’s common knowledge that people are way more attractive when they’re happy with themselves. Right? The whole “you attract more flies with sugar than you do with the stench of defeat and cat urine” thing?
And that, THAT is the problem. I understand that Hollywood has to paint an impossibly perfect picture of romance because what would “romantic comedy” be without the positive spin? “Horror”? But why do they have to dole out such incredibly bad advice in the process? The “cynical as aphrodisiac” isn’t the only ill-advised tip we get. The list of Hollywood’s bad ideas goes on and on:
• We all know that: You should beware of love in a vacuum (i.e., love on vacation doesn’t necessarily translate to love in real life).
But Hollywood tells us: Who cares if you hate each other’s friends, jobs, or lives? Opposites attract!
See: Meg Ryan takes a one-way ticket back in time for her man in Kate and Leopold; Lady Lopez plays an FBI agent who falls for escaped convict George Clooney in Out of Sight; Molly Ringwald crosses over to the right side of the tracks (leaving behind the true, but perhaps oppressive love of the Duckman) to be with a soggy Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink.
• We all know that: You can’t change a person. And if you need someone to change before you can love that person, you’re in deep trouble.
But Hollywood tells us: If you’re pretty enough, or winsome enough, or whatever enough, you can change anyone! It’s easy, and only takes a few days!
See: Soulless money-grubbers are transformed into do-gooders with a heart by impish gals in Sabrina, Pretty Woman, and Sweet November; incredible asshole and OCD-sufferer Jack Nicholson is magically cured by the faith and love of a down-on-her-luck single mom in As Good as It Gets.
• We all know that: You should just be yourselfif he doesn’t like you for who you are, then it just wasn’t meant to be.
But Hollywood tells us: You just never know who you’re going to fall in love with while you’re impersonating someone else!
See: A New Jersey secretary plays the part of a high-powered business woman and gets Harrison Ford in Working Girl; two escaped convicts pretend they’re gay beauty pageant coaches in Happy, Texas and manage to fall in love; J Lo the maid is mistaken for some rich lady and dates accordingly in Maid in Manhattan; frumpy Ben-and-Jerry’s-gobbling FBI agent gets all beautied up and bags Benji Bratt in Miss Congeniality; record store owner Annie Potts ditches her wacktastic togs for the love of a conservative man in Pretty in Pink; Sandy turns slutty in Grease and gives Danny chills.
And that’s just a sampling: name just about any terrible relationship strategy and you’re sure to find at least one romantic comedy that embraces it. There are a few romantic comedies, however, that manage to give their stars happy endings without making them sacrifice everything they are to get there.
Legally Blonde gets off to a rocky start: Reese Witherspoon decides to go to law school because the man she loves is doing the samesuch a terrible idea! But in the process she learns that she actually likes law, and she finds herself a much better boy. Even so, she remains the chihuahua-carrying, pink-wearing sorority girl she always was. In evolving as a character, she didn’t have to suppress or obliterate who she was to find happiness.
Never Been Kissed does something similar: geeky copy editor Drew Barrymore goes undercover as a popular high school student and snares an toothsome English teacher. The spazzy girl who loves to sew pillows is still there, though, even after she learns important lessons about the hollowness of popularity and the empowering nature of fashion.
Now if we could just have a few movies that feature single women who find happy endings while still remaining single, that would be even better. Harold and Maude? But does gleefully killing yourself count as “happily ever after”? The Net ends with Sandra Bullock watering the plants, alone, in front of her new house, and I think she’s even smiling. So that counts! But a movie with Dennis Miller in an embarrassing beard and six hundred shots of Sandra Bullock frantically flapping her hands in front of a computer monitor and hining, “ohh, ohh, come on! come on!” as she waits for a disk to pop out? I don’t know... I think we single girls need a better champion than that. •
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