Welcome to Girls on Film -- a Monday-night Cinematical column full of female-centric musing, rants, love and aggravation.
The dating world is a hideous business. We're taught that to woo, to romance, to love; the man must cover his beloved in all manner of monetary adoration and personal torment. He must buy overpriced roses, grandoise gifts and wallet-burning meals every Valentine's Day. He must take his beloved, or hope-to-be-beloved, to romantic comedies and five-tissue romances. On the flip side, the woman is expected to groom, to woo (though all bets are off when the fish is caught) and to offer up sexual spoils to show her appreciation (though not required). If she's super-swell, she might give the guy a day off now and then to partake in his burly deeds and see his manly friends, but ultimately, she just has to keep him marginally entertained ... and rule him with an iron fist of feminity.
And it all starts with the "date movie."
There's little that's as demonstrative of the imbalance between men and women as the "date movie." We often categorize the inequality between the sexes in terms of what lays beyond the reach of the female public, but in this case, it's a matter of what women are taught to stranglehold. As a society, we're told that the women will be chased, and it goes a heck of a lot farther than treating a lady to dinner or holding the door open. Cinematically, romance rests on the date movie, where the man must suffer to keep his woman happy.
We've all heard, experienced or seen the drill. Dates at the cinema -- especially the first few designed for wooing -- require the "date movie," an estrogen-centric romance designed to charm the female audience while the dates, lovers and husbands struggle to maintain their sanity. It's been a century since women's lib, yet we still condone and practice a habit where love and passion is predicated on that bored look in the man's eye. Ah yes, that's the ticket to true happiness! Put your own tastes aside to woo the object of your affection, rather than find common ground and start as equals.
In 2011, it's high time the date movie gets modernized. Naturally, romance will have to remain -- a "date movie" without romance is nothing more than a movie that is seen on a date. But the rest, that can go. It must go. It's time to wave goodbye to the notion that date movies please the gal and torment the lad -- especially since there are plenty of romance-centric pieces in the world that are proven to please both audiences.
Instead of the basically bland binary of the titilatted feminine and tortured masculine, the "date movie" should offer romance on any number of playing fields, from the dramatic to the comedic, the pensive to the action-packed. It should be entertaining for everyone involved, where the date is rife with knowing nudges and nods, laughter and smiles -- not soft snores and vacant daydreaming. Partnership is a two-way street, so the act of wooing should be as well.
So burn 'Valentine's Day' and 'The Ugly Truth,' 'Pretty Woman' and 'The Way We Were,' and dig into these:
'The Princess Bride'
It's an action film fueled by "true love," and told to a boy who hates the kissing stuff, but comes to love it when it's intermingled with poison, fights, torture and sinister rats. While the romance fiends swoon over Wesley, the rest will recite: "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"
'Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind'
Valentine's Day leads Jim Carrey's Joel on a path to the discovery that his ex-beloved has had all memory of him erased. So he does likewise, only to rediscover his passion and set out on a sci-fi adventure to keep his memories alive, even as they're being ripped from his mind.
'(500) Days of Summer'
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets to play the lovelorn partner to Zooey Deschanel's indifferent and carefree object of affection. Though much of the usual romantic tropes are present -- musical numbers and precocious younger siblings -- Marc Webb's tale has a great mixture of whimsy and reality. The film delves into growing up while still being painfully romantic.
One might choose 'Almost Famous' here, but instead of manipulative music romance, let's dig into more dysfunctional searches for love. Crowe's movies are great because though they always center on romance, yet it's not a suffocating aspect of the film. And with 'Singles,' there's a little something for everyone.
Ernest Borgnine as a leading man. Need we say more? (A recent On Demand summary even went so far as to say: "Ernest Borgnine is awesome.") He plays the guy no one wants, who meets the girl no one wants, and then has to decide which is more important, the selfish opinions of his loved ones, or his own.
'Stranger Than Fiction'
There are so many stories and themes going on in this film that you can take your pick. There's the romance between Harold and Ana, the mental comedy of a man who hears a voiceover revealing his impending death, Karen Eiffel's journey to kill her leading man, the professor who strives to determine what genre book Harold is in ... just to name a few. But the romance might reign supreme with Harold's bouquet of "flours."
It's a gritty action movie. Many people die. Arnold Schwarzenegger pops out an eyeball. However, this line says it all: "the few hours we had together, we loved a lifetime's worth."
'Romancing the Stone'
Romance is battered a little bit and made inifinitely more interesting as action romance writer Joan Wilder gets sent on a real adventure that rips her out of her chest-heaving romances. It's the cinematic embodiment of the new "date movie" principle -- put aside the faulty ways media frame romance and dig into something more real.
'Run Lola Run'
One of the least romantic of the bunch, 'Run Lola Run' grabs a nod because it's an energetic drama where every motivation is out of love, even if most of the film focuses on Lola's frantic and determined running.
Some classics, like 'Annie Hall' have the charm to remain on any "date movies" list. One of Woody Allen's best films, it features classic dialogue that references everything from love to lobsters to Marshall McLuhan, and it has more than enough wit and insight to make this more than just a romance movie.
Some of you might be wondering why there's no 'High Fidelity.' Though I appreciate the film musically and interpersonally, I find that the romance aspect falls flat. Additionally, the only reason 'Before Sunrise' or 'Before Sunset' isn't on this list if because I've covered them many times, in-depth, before.
Now it's your turn. Are you ready to redefine "date movies"? Offer up your new romantic choices below and let's help make Valentine's Day something a growing number of people cease to loathe.
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