Monday, August 29, 2016

Ranting About Romance

After ranting about good guys, I got my fix over the weekend by watching Hallmark movies. Yeah, they're sappy and obviously done on the cheap, but they don't seem to be making romantic comedies for the big screen these days, so this is the only way to get my fix. Bonus: the characters are usually adults. The heroes are men, not overgrown manchild fratboys, as we've been seeing too much of in the few "romantic" comedies that have been made recently. That means the heroines can be adults without being depicted as humorless shrews who are forcing these men to grow up. Also, the heroes are almost always the "good guys," rather than jerks who need to be healed with love. The jerks are usually "Mr. Wrong," while the nice guy prevails in the end.

Ironically, this seems to be where the actors who play the good guys on science fiction shows tend to end up (probably because of the Canada filming connection). In fact, the actor who played the character I was ranting about Friday showed up as the leading man recently in one of these movies.

However, these movies don't entirely scratch the romantic comedy itch because they kind of fail in the romance part. It's sort of there, but for the most part, they forget to write the actual relationship. I don't think it's just because of how chaste these movies tend to be because you can write the romance and relationship even without the physical stuff being front and center (just look at how juicy some of the movies made during the height of the strict production code could be). There's just something missing.

In two recent movies I watched, part of the problem is that the focus for the heroine is generally on something else. That's fine if you're making a movie about finding yourself, building a career, or female empowerment. It just doesn't work when you tack on an ending in which she resolves a romantic relationship that wasn't really there. It's even weirder when the story given to the man is the romance, and he's shown as being really into the woman while she's missing all the signals. She's treating him the way I treat a man I'm not interested in when he's trying to make moves and I don't want to have to outright reject him -- right up to the happy ending when suddenly they're kissing. The standard romantic plot seems to go like:

Meet cute! Sparks seem to fly!
HERO: Wow, you're like a breath of fresh air. I find you fascinating.
HEROINE: I'm really concerned about my career. This could be my big break, and I need to make it work.
Cue lots of scenes of them together, showing obvious connections, like them having the same dreams for their lives.
HERO: You're the most amazing person I've ever met. We should pursue our dreams together.
HEROINE: Oops, gotta go. I've got this big career thing I need to take care of. I'm really busy right now.
Career-related crisis ensues, heroine gets her act together and prevails.
HEROINE: Hey, let's get together and pursue our dreams! (Throws her arms around him and kisses him. There may be an epilogue showing their wedding.)

It's like there's no emotion whatsoever on her part until the end. She's not interested but torn. She's not agonizing over having to choose love or her career. She's happily pursuing her career and oblivious about the guy until she abruptly is all over the guy. It's like "Friendzone, friendzone, friendzone, LOVE!" (And, really, that's not helping by sending the signal that when we're constantly talking about being too busy or focused on other things to get together, we're eventually going to come around. Though I guess the odds are slim that the men who don't get the message in real life are watching Hallmark movies.) We don't even see the moment of realization that she does love him, after all, no fear of losing him. I don't necessarily want to see the RomCom Dash -- that last-second frantic chase across town to reach him before he sails away forever -- in every movie, but it does help if we get some sense of "hey, the right guy was with me all along, and I might lose him if I don't do something about it" rather than the abrupt switch. There's got to be a happy medium in there somewhere.

I wrote that one script for a TV Christmas movie, but I'm currently attempting to turn it into a novella or short novel because I've realized in watching more of these films that my script probably wouldn't make it. I wrote it more for the Lifetime or ABC Family model, since it had a fantasy element to it, but now Hallmark has taken over the Christmas movie thing, and they don't seem to do much of the fantasy element (aside from the "Santa is real!" stories) and they don't want much in the way of romance, even while doing a romance. With most of these movies, Christmas or otherwise, it would be so easy to fix them without changing the budget, which suggests that they're getting just what they want.

Really, what I want is a good screenwriter/filmmaker to be able to make a good big-screen romantic comedy in which the characters get to be adults. We need something along the lines of a When Harry Met Sally, and it's been a long time since anything on that level was made.

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