Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Love is on the Screen

I managed to get up a bit earlier today, and yet I'm somehow not at all ahead of schedule. I think I'm moving more slowly, or something, though I have done two loads of laundry, which could have something to do with it. I still could go right back to sleep, and I suspect it will take a force of sheer willpower to get me to choir practice tonight. I did finally get to actually writing yesterday. Even though this is technically a rewrite, the first scene was going to be entirely new, so it was like starting a new book, and that's a pretty scary part of the process, coming up with that very first line, that very first scene. But I wrote the first scene, and I know it needs some tinkering, but it's written. Yay!

It's time for another rant about romantic comedy films. Yeah, I go on about this a lot, but that genre is kind of my guilty pleasure. I certainly do love movies with spaceships, swordfights and explosions, but there are times when nothing will do but a good romantic comedy. Sadly, finding the "good" is something of a challenge.

Normally, Turner Classic Movies is a good source for good old movies, but I actually found one I couldn't manage to watch, for various reasons. I stumbled across Theodora Goes Wild about ten minutes in, and then only made it through about half an hour. The idea was kind of intriguing, but it was painful to watch. A nice, small-town girl who played the organ at church and lived with her elderly aunts somehow wrote a steamy novel that became a huge bestseller (there was a scene with a scandalous uncle, so I'm guessing she either wrote down his stories as her novel, or she published his diaries as her novel). I came into the movie as she was visiting her publisher in New York and was rather disconcerted when the publisher insisted on introducing her to his wife, who was a big fan, and the illustrator who'd done the cover art was really intrigued by her because she didn't fit his idea of what the author of that book would be like. She'd written under a pseudonym and was trying to keep her real identity a secret. He then more or less started stalking her to figure out who she really was, and that was when I had to turn the TV off. I find the "courting by disrupting someone's life" plot to be creepy, and I didn't think him showing up in her hometown and standing in front of her house, whistling loudly, was a grand romantic gesture. On top of that, he pretended to be down on his luck and in need of a job (it was a Depression-era movie) and she couldn't reveal who he really was and how she knew him without revealing to her aunts that she'd written a steamy novel, so the aunts hired him as a gardener and let him stay in their garden shed. Then he started whistling loudly and constantly, even late at night, which kept the aunts awake. I thought that was too rude to tolerate in the supposed romantic hero. Plus, the sound of it was driving me insane. I'm not sure why they thought making the audience's ears bleed was a great idea.

Then there was P.S. I Love You, and my goodness, but that was horrendously awful. I first tried to watch it on HBO OnDemand but barely made it through the pre-credits sequence that I think was supposed to show us what a wonderful relationship this couple had, but it was pretty dysfunctional. I suppose it's a personal hot button of mine, but I hate relationship loyalty tests, where someone makes it as difficult as possible to put up with them, and then when you can't take anymore, they go into "I knew you didn't really like me" victim mode. The whole opening scene was this woman being a raging bitch to her husband, then when he got angry about it, she challenged him to go ahead and leave her, and then when he stepped out the door, she cried and was overjoyed when he came running back and he swore he'd never leave her. So I was predisposed to hate the main character and sort of thought the poor guy may have been lucky to die young. However, the cast was pretty interesting, with Harry Connick Jr., Jeffrey Dean Morgan, James Marsters and Gerard Butler, so I thought I'd give it a try again. I've tried various times when it's been on any of the various HBO channels opposite something else I was watching, and I've flipped over during commercials. I still haven't managed to watch that movie long enough to get through a whole commercial break. I even flipped back to Snuggies commercials. Just about every scene is utterly painful. Hillary Swank may have a couple of Oscars, but she has zero comedic timing. They committed the unforgivable sin of making both Gerard Butler and Harry Connick Jr. unappealing. It was fun getting to see James Marsters with dark hair, American accent and being the nice guy best friend. The only scenes I could get through were the ones with the friends -- Lisa Kudrow, James Marsters and a blond chick I think was supposed to be Hillary Swank's character's sister. That was a fun bunch of characters, and I kind of wanted them to make a break for it and escape to a better movie. I haven't read the book the movie was based on, so I don't know if the problems stem from the book or the movie, but I must admit I wasn't crazy about the other book I've read by that author, and I could see patterns from that book in this movie. I suspect I have a very different view of the world than this author does.

Then I had a pleasant surprise. I was intrigued by the idea of Til There Was You when it first came out because I'm a sucker for "people fated for each other don't quite manage to meet until the right time" stories (although I'm not a big fan of Sleepless in Seattle), but then the trailers that consisted mostly of Jeanne Tripplehorn falling down a lot and the really bad reviews turned me off. I finally caught it on HBO and it wasn't at all what I expected. The mistake was that they were trying to pitch this as a romantic comedy when it was neither all that romantic nor all that funny. It's really more about people having to get their acts together before they're ready to have a decent relationship. In a way, it's the anti-romantic comedy because it was mostly about the woman needing to get over her romantic comedy ideals about relationships before she could quit waiting for prince charming to show up and really live her life. On that level, it really worked, and I enjoyed the movie. It just would have worked better if they hadn't bothered trying to force it into the comedy mold by throwing in all the pratfalls. The falls seemed to be mostly to keep the main characters from seeing each other until the happy ending, but they were unnecessary because one of the things that I liked about it was that it wouldn't have ended the movie if they'd met earlier because the whole point was that their previous moments of passing by each other didn't mean anything until they were at a point of being ready to meet. My other complaint was that the movie was apparently sponsored by the tobacco industry. There was more smoking than in your average 1940s movie. The fact that the hero and heroine both smoked seemed to be presented as a clue that they were perfect for each other, even before they met, and they were always complaining about how nobody else smoked anymore, yet almost every time they asked someone if they minded about them smoking, the other person turned out to be a secret smoker. I was hacking, wheezing and getting itchy, red eyes just watching it.

January and February seem to have become the big release period for romantic comedies, either because most of them suck and this is the dumping ground for bad movies or because they're going for the Valentine's Day date/single women hitting the theaters because they have no Valentine's date crowd. There are actually a few coming out that I'm interested in, so I may make a rare trip to a movie theater in the coming weeks and shall report to spare others the pain and misery or to tell which ones are safe.

And, memo to movie producers: people falling down a lot isn't as funny as you think it is. You need to have more than people falling down a lot for a film to be considered a comedy.

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