Beware the arrows this week; we're just six sleeps away from Valentine's Day, that time of year when Cupid's bow sprays the populace with love bug-laced arrows. Or, more accurately, that time of year when jeweler's make you feel like a stingy fool if you don't spend your life savings on diamonds, when rose prices skyrocket, and every business preys on those who itch for a little of that dirty word called "romance."
Some may lead you to believe that it is the practice of romance that is a dirty, woman-centric desire on the big screen, but let's face it, folks -- we all love a little love. Boys, girls, men, and women. It's in almost all of our films, and is the basis of most of our favorite stories, from straight-forward romantic comedy and drama to action, sci-fi, and every other genre out there.
The menace seems to be in the word. Merely uttering romance breeds slights like "chick flick" and "crap," and inspires many a moviegoer to place one foot outside the door. But it's the 21st century, and it's time for a little evolution.
Uttering the word "romance" is like dropping a stereotype-filled anvil into any conversation. Describing any film with that adjective weighs it with many assumptions, most of which are derogatory, both to the film and those who like it. A woman liking a romance means she's being honest to her sex -- the basis for the chick flick argument. If a man admits to liking romance, he's emasculated and weird. The few features that men and women both like must be qualified: "It's a romance, but..." We have romantic comedies like (500) Days of Summer starting with the qualification: "You should know up front: This is not a love story." We have rom-com filmmakers like Judd Apatow who are seen merely as comedy filmmakers.
If you speak around the word "romance," you're safe. If it's not mentioned, it's like it doesn't exist. The girl stigma wears off and the film gains a broader reach.
Take James Cameron's Avatar -- it is the biggest money maker of all time. All time. The boys and the girls like this film. It's about the struggle between a big corporation and its military thugs and a peaceful and earth-loving alien race. It's got lush visuals and some big stars. It's most fanboys' dream. And it's a romance. (Some mild spoilers mentioned next.) Let's face it: Jake Sully doesn't help the Na'vi because he finds his inner environmentalist. He fights and joins them because he loves Neytiri and was hit by Cupid's arrow. He even admits as much in the film ... he was a spy until he fell in love! Sure, Cameron covers Sully's arse by saying he fell in love with the world, the people, etc., but that's not the catalyst, and I'd bet anything he wouldn't have switched sides if he didn't dig his Na'vi teacher. (I'd even go so far as to say he's quite like Giovanni Ribisi's Parker Selfridge -- cognizant of his wrongs, but too weak to stop them.) The spy, although increasingly reluctant because he digs the adventure and working legs, doesn't stop shooting off his mouth until two things happen: He gets some action and vows of "seeing," and he almost gets run down by his own kind. It is Titanic meets Terminator, set on an environmental and emotional playing field.
Take almost any big film -- The Matrix and how Neo comes back to life because of love, Spider-Man's obsession with Mary Jane, Fight Club's Marla -- they're all based in romance. Some add enough distractions that it can be fairly easy to forget that the story is romantic, while others, like Avatar, are pretty blatant about it. Just leave love out of the tagline, and ward off that pesky romance genre label, and you're good to go. (I'm betting initial responses would be a whole lot different if Avatar switched "Enter the World" to "Alien Romance," if Fight Club changed "Mischief. Mayhem. Soap." to "Love. Mayhem. Soap." ... and not just because the tags are uninteresting, or the latter would suggest something a lot more raunchy.)
The fact of the matter is, romance falls under the same sort of assumptions that other genres used to be plagued with. Since we've finally given credit to the perks of horror and science fiction, maybe it's time to realize that romance isn't a dirty word used to herd women's tastes together. It's a label that is applicable for countless films, but is often thrown only against the most extreme examples as a weapon of derision.
Romance is not some "girly" inclination, it's a part of life. We all like it in our movies, and if you refuse to admit it, please don't rave about how awesomely perfect Avatar is, or all those other "guy films," are. The jig is up. Romance is everywhere and just about every film includes it.
When it comes time to pop a film into the player or go to the theater with your hunny, remember romance can be found in a lot more than Dear John and Valentine's Day.
And with that in mind, which is your favorite romance? Let's give the couples some better, more well-rounded options.