My name is JujuBean and I’m addicted to romantic comedies. *Hi JujuBean*
Like most things that occupy my time, this addiction happens to be a love/hate relationship. I will happily watch Say Anything, Love Actually, and Moulin Rouge until my demise. But for every 96-127 minutes I spend cramming my brain full of illusions I will knowingly hate myself for it. The reason for that being, every so often a movie comes out that calls itself a romantic comedy when really, no one should be laughing.
This year that movie was “Friends With Benefits.” Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake play two emotionally damaged yet successful GQ suits, who become friends after Mila picks Justin up from JFK for a job interview. One night they decide that they miss sex (because obviously, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have trouble getting laid) and start a “friends with benefits” type-situation. As time progresses, Mila and Justin realize their true feelings for each other. Sure, Justin takes a tad more time than Mila to figure his shit out and Mila goes all crazy-psycho-girl on him, but the two crazy kids end up together after all when Justin arranges a flash mob just for Mila in Grand Central Station and declares his love for her right there on the sweeping staircase.
Excuse me while I bury my head in the toilet.
The friends-with-benefits thing was promising, I’m not gonna lie. Modern man and woman have been figuring out how to have their cake and eat it too for quite sometime. And not only is it arguably possible, it can be *gasp* successful. But why does this particular movie chicken out of what could potentially be a very empowering plot and conform to sociocinematic norms? I’ll briefly outline a few of them for your viewing satisfaction.
1. Slow men: Why are men always portrayed as emotionally retarded? The gender roles in this film are blatantly, and thus offensively, set against men. We have Justin, the painfully good looking guy who eventually turns around (with the allegedly necessary help of a woman, no doubt) and fits the role of a “changed” man. Then we have what’s-his-face, the doctor who sneaks out of Mila’s apartment the morning after sex because she has “too much emotional baggage.” Then we have “the good guy”, a devilishly charming homosexual who makes quite the touching speech about how hard women rule. That’s it. The only three options for men, according to this movie. You’re either destined to fit into a cookie-cutter version of what everyone assumes and expects women to want, or you’re an asshole forever. And if you don’t fit into either of those categories you must be gay. In reality, life is not so excruciatingly obvious. Men (and women, for that matter) aren’t as simple as Hollywood makes them out to be, and you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s pretty freaking beautiful.
2. Psychotic women: Why is classic female emotional maturity always convoluted into some sort of Oedipal psychosis? Of COURSE Mila has Daddy issues. Of COURSE this would cause her to lash out at Justin when he says he doesn’t have deeper feelings for her. Of COURSE she storms out of the room and ignores his phonecalls for the next three weeks. Because OBVIOUSLY this is how all women operate. We are passive aggressive, insane, and yet we always win in the end. We are Snow White and men are the startled fawns eating breadcrumbs from our open hand.
3. Grand gestures: Here’s where shit gets disturbing. This section relates to what Chuck Klosterman defines as “fake love” in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs (great book). Fake love essentially means that the media has come up with a socially acceptable version of a perfect love and we, as the audience, then hold all our future partners up to its impossible standards. We are never satisfied nor can we ever satisfy. Your first reaction is inevitably defensiveness. And it was mine, too. Do I expect my future lovers to arrange a flash mob for me to prove their love? No. But I can’t unsee what I’ve seen in the movies, (and believe me, after seeing all four Hannibal movies I’ve tried) and though I may consciously deviate from the influence of Klosterman’s “fake love”, what my unconscious does on its lunch break is something I have no control over.
That, my friends, is pretty scary.
So, circling back to my original question. Why would a movie, with a fair amount of anti-normative potential, sell out in the last 30 minutes? The answer, I think, is fairly obvious but rarely articulated, especially when you’re dragging your bad popcorned-out self out of the theater and into your car. Social regulations and the people (including you and me) who perpetuate them. They’ve been deciding what’s good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate, perfect and imperfect, for quite some time and guess what? We eat it up. More often than not we swoon at these movies because they represent a gleaming tower of safety for us. If we ingest these norms by “ooh-ing” and “aww-ing” every ten minutes we are ultimately guaranteed acceptance in our social environment.
The problem isn’t that movies project fantasy. That mission has and always will be cinema’s leading lady. The problem is the type of fantasy and the rejection of other equally valid fantasies that happen to be in opposition with the social machine.