Thursday, March 22, 2012

"The Filmic Equivalent of Vajazzling": A Trying Tale of RomCom Trailers.

As you're probably aware, dear Reader, it's Thursday, & we all know what that means: another lovely issue of The Eye came out today—including, as it does with rather disturbing frequency, another contribution from yours truly.

Unfortunately, as I'm so tied up in the business/organizational end of things, when I write for my favorite publication these days, it's almost always because someone else dropped out & we have some space that needs filling. Today's case was no different, but rather than struggling to fill the 450-word limit, I found myself really getting into the topic—such that I ultimately scribed a 900+ word opus, which then had to be hacked & mercilessly hacked again, like the evil stepsisters' toes in the grimmer Grimm tale, in order to fit its proper place.

So, though I encourage you to check out the version currently online & in print, I've also posted my original below for your reading pleasure. Behold, "Modern Love, Hollywood Style"—or, as I secretly wanted to call it, "The Filmic Equivalent of Vajazzling":

It’s not like we didn’t know what we were getting into. But we were in the mood for a movie, & my mother had just read an article about the new release Friends With Kids—how it was the endeavor of writer/director/star (& Jon Hamm's long-term partner) Jennifer Westfeldt, how the film seemed relatively interesting & Westfeldt relatively savvy & down-to-earth. Plus, it seemed like an appropriate choice for this, our annual mother-daughter trip to Montréal (yes, it’s exactly as adorable as it sounds). Most importantly, we reasoned, this would give us an excuse to look at Jon Hamm’s face for at least the better part of an hour. So, at 2 PM on that fateful Thursday, we made the decision so see a Romantic Comedy at a Canadian multiplex.

Still, only after the crowd (of 11) filed in, the lights dimmed, & the first trailer started to roll did the full gravity of our situation kick in. We were seeing a Romantic Comedy. At a Canadian multiplex. We exchanged a determined cringe, clutched our cup-holder armrests, & braced ourselves for fifteen minutes of trailers advertising some of the most hateful cinematic drivel ever to grace the silver screen.

I don’t mean to sound overdramatic. Okay, maybe I do—but believe me when I say I am, at most, only slightly exaggerating the baffling atrocity of these previews. I mean, surely my adverse reaction was compounded by the sheer volume—one after another after another, like a never-ending freight train of Terrible—but to be perfectly frank, my reaction to "RomCom" in general is not unlike my reaction after attending my first (& only) frat party: People actually think this is awesome?!, intoned with an incredulity hovering somewhere between rage & despair.

It seems that modern Romantic Comedies—as this onslaught of trailers so aptly exemplified—are specifically & infuriatingly marketed to a demographic that I think just simply doesn't exist—or if it does, it's only as an unfortunate result of this kind of marketing. To me, these movies represent the filmic equivalent of vajazzling: yeah, sure, it's something you might entertain—especially after reading Jennifer Love Hewitt's memoir—& you may even enjoy it on occasion, but not because you would ever organically desire this ever, ever, ever. (Unless, of course, you're Jennifer Love Hewitt, in which case I'd be willing to believe you came up with that on your own.) I just find it frustrating that, as an avid moviegoer—&, let's be real, a female moviegoer of marriageable age—I'm constantly being pandered to by a marketing philosophy that does little more than shout "it's pink, there's kissing, get into it!"

But let's get into it, lest you think me some hyper-hip cynic. The first trailer was for a Canadian film, the title of which I really don’t remember, but which we’ll call Boring Man Becomes Slightly Less Boring, because that sums up its utter lack of conceit with room to spare. In short: an American businessman meets a mysterious Canadian lass &, both at a crossroads in their lives, they decide to abscond on a whimsical road-trip through the wilderness. Think wide, scenic shots of wide, scenic landscapes, Guy making some cynical remark, Girl replying with stark genuineness, “But it’s beautiful”—etc. Sound relatively familiar? That’s because what the directors barely even try to conceal is that you’ve seen this movie about 800 times before (anyone familiar with the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” employ it here)—except this time, it's Canadian.

My particular favorite moment: at a diner counter, Guy looks skeptically at his plate as Girl explains, “It’s called poutine.” For those blissfully unaware, “poutine” is a famous Québecois dish, consisting of french fries, cheese curds, & sometimes even foie gras or Canadian deli delicacy “smoked meat,” all slathered in gravy. So, Girl forcing Guy to try some is a typically Manic Pixie action—the equivalent of Zooey Deschannel making Joseph Gordon-Levitt yell “penis” in a park—except instead, she’s asking him to experience a uniquely Canadian heart attack.

Next, we open on Jennifer Garner & Anonymous Attractive Husband receiving unpromising news from a fertility doctor—a predictable premise, as romance has been known to lead to babies, & Jennifer Garner has been known to portray infertile mothers. (Thanks again, Diablo Cody.) Garner & Husband then retreat home & begin drinking (also understandable), at which point he looks into her eyes & says, “Let’s make a baby. Tonight”—a sentiment later complicated by a “Walt Disney presents” titlecard. If you’re thinking (as I was) “This gives a whole new meaning to ‘kiddie porn,’” never fear: apparently, what Hubby means by “make a baby” is “write adjectives on notecards, put them in a box, & bury it out front, in hopes that a mud-covered seven-year-old will show up in our living room tomorrow morning.” Because, of course, that’s what happens.

Yes, following a dark & stormy night, like a gremlin clawing his way from the depths, a little boy named Timothy appears in their home—addressing them casually as “mom & dad," as if by wacky coincidence, they buried their son alive instead of tucking him in. Rather than shoot the creature on sight, they decide to adopt their creepily immaculate conception—& from here, we get a montage of wholesome & heartwarming images, including a number of off-puttingly Jesus-y shots circling around the boy, his eyes closed & arms crucifixion-spread in the middle of a soccer field as inspirational orchestration swells. A final card reveals this masterwork is called The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Understatement of the decade, that.

But wait, there’s more. Indeed, by far the worst was What to Expect When You’re Expecting, as it appears to be 1) a movie based on an instructional pregnancy book, because that’s apparently a thing we’ve allowed to happen; 2) one of those “Let’s round up all of the famous people desperate for a paycheck & parade them past the camera!” ensemble feats, à la Valentine’s Day & its unfortunate cousin New Years Day; & 3) so deeply unfunny-looking as to warrant physical revulsion. Example: the tour-de-force joke—the one worthy of featuring in this, its marketable highlights reel—shows a group of BabyBjörn-clad men pushing strollers in slo-mo, set to hardcore hip-hop. But wait—a man in childcare garb, you say? Surely not, no! That would be like a dog walking on its hind legs! Oh, what a chuckle-worthy notion! Knees slapped all around!—& case squarely in point.

Pale-faced & deeply shaken, my mother & I squeezed hands, unsure if we could bear two hours more of what someone who would ever consider watching those movies ever might find pleasant. However, as it turns out, Friends With Kids is actually kind of excellent. First off, it’s populated with nuanced & realistic characters—friends who banter the same way mine do, getting over-invested in running hypothetical games (“Death by alligator or shark?”) & making just-too-vulgar jokes. Moreover, the Rom woven through this ever-present Com is particularly refreshing—in no way star-cross’d or easy, no character capitulating or suddenly changing heart, allowing each sequence to unfold in unexpected turns. Still, the film's not so busy flouting convention that it forgets to be entertaining—a genuinely pleasant mix of easy laughs & subtle surprises.

Especially as framed by this wasteland of recycled premises & empty one-liners, Westfeldt’s film proved that, plainly put, not all Romantic Comedy is inherently a suckfest. Now it’s up to the rest of the film factories to follow her lead.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

So, full disclosure: normally, for this section, I don't actually post the single song I've been listening to most that day/week, as 1) it would likely be the same song for posts on end (re: 99% Bowie/Iggy), & 2) it would often be really, profoundly embarrassing (re: Evanesence). Plus, I do genuinely want to recommend music that I think others will dig—that's cutting-edge or otherwise somewhat abnormal, but no so much as to be alienating, etc.

However, today, I'm performing a massive "fuck that" & putting up this song, which I woke up with a sincere yen to listen to & have been repeat-repeat-repeating all day long—one which is deeply bizarre & long & alienating, but also, therefore, deeply excellent. Like so much of Roxy/Ferry/Eno, it's electronic without being subsumed by synthesizers, pleasantly sinister until it breaks, wailing, into guitars. Also, essentially, it's a love song to a blow-up doll, AKA, my plain-wrapper baby—one line boasts, I'll love you 'til death-size—an ever-elaborating series of innuendoes, which culminates delightfully at the surge of all surges: I blew up your body—but you blew my mind. So get into it.

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