Ah, summer love. Can’t you taste the half-melted strawberry and vanilla ice cream shared with a single spoon or feel the thrill of jumping from a tire swing, hands entwined, right into a sunshine-warmed lake? And don’t you just see the tall, raven-haired beauty now, a figure who is just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to … Wait, no. That’s a scene from Notting Hill.
In the space separating fact from film, I give you the romantic comedy, spinning lies about love that we’ve been told to believe for decades with all the glamorous, Hollywood exhilaration of Marilyn Monroe declaring diamonds our true best friends. Where does the madness end? And do we even want it to? Let’s break down five love-centric movies and see what’s what.
THE PROPOSALPremise: Canadian publishing exec must convince higher-ups—and the U.S. government—that she’s fallen for and plans to marry her assistant, thus guaranteeing American citizenship and slyly thwarting impending deportation (and the potential loss of her corner-office job).
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburger, Craig T. Nelson, Mail Akerman, Oscar Nunez and Denis O’Hare.
Bursting the Love Bubble: OK, maybe I get why a would-be novelist/assistant might kiss up to his boss for the sake of a manuscript seeing the light of literary day but spending a weekend at your parent’s mansion in Alaska with a whiny, high-maintenance, type-A you barely know outside of the office does not a lasting romance make. Is there really a plausible scenario where a man is fine with his girlfriend of five seconds meeting the fam? Eh, calling this Alaskan salmon a spade. Still, Betty White’s tribal dance moves set to a percussive Lil Jon song make up for any and all improbabilities of romantic plot.
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYSPremise: Advertising pro Benjamin Barry bets manipulative but modelesque co-workers that he can make a woman fall in love with him—in ten measly days!—to win some big diamond account. Concurrently, magazine reporter Andie Anderson is given an assignment to reverse-engineer the romance game, committing every classic dating faux-pas to see how fast she can lose a man … which, in this numerically perfect movie, means in 10 days. When the two meet, sparks (and off-key Carly Simon lyrics) fly.
Starring: Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Goldberg, Michael Michele, Annie Parisse, Bebe Neuwirth, Thomas Lennon, Shalom Harlow and Robert Klein.
Bursting the Love Bubble: Most perpetual-bachelor types get antsy when you double-text them during the course of one conversation. Can we believe a girl goes so far as to buy a dog for her new guy and still doesn’t force him to run away yelping louder than the tiny, jewel-encrusted chihuahua he now owns? Maybe if that girl is Kate Hudson … And in fact, the movie even seems to acknowledge this Hudson-dilemma. “No guy would go running from you, Andie,” declares Andie’s recently heartbroken co-worker Michelle. “You could barf all over him and he’d say, ‘Do it again.'” Moral of the unbelievable story? Keep the teensy, trench-coat-wearing dog to yourself. At least until week two.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Premise: Career-focused emergency room resident reconnects with an acquaintance she once went on a date with … to her father’s funeral. The doc’s busy life means she only has time for the emotional sterility associated with a no-strings attached relationship but like unicorns and the perfect selfie, does such a thing exist?
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Lake bell, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Cary Elwes, Ludacris, Mindy Kaling and Olivia Thirlby.
Bursting the Love Bubble: This movie gives credence to the idea that a hook up can turn into a substantial relationship when in fact “casual” usually means becoming a casualty in the war that is love.
LOVE ACTUALLYPremise: In what has become a nouveau-Christmas classic, a whole slew of celebs simultaneously fall for a whole other slew of celebs during the magic of the holiday season and find varying degrees of romantic success.
Starring: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Kiera Knightley, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Martin Freeman, Martine McCutcheon, Rowan Atkinson, Rodrigo Santoro, January Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Elisha Cuthbert, Olivia Olson, Billy Bob Thorton, Joanna Page, Claudia Schiffer, Lúcia Moniz, Kris Marshall, Keike Makatsch, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Gregor Fisher … OK I’m done typing so just click here for the full cast.
Bursting the Love Bubble: I’ll admit some of these stories are more deftly drawn than others (particularly high-ranked is the Alan Rickman-Emma Thompson tragedy of a marriage gone stale) but the ones that flop in a pool of ridiculosity flop HARD. Take, for example, Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister of England character who longingly stares at a “plump” (read: sexy) junior member of the household staff and decides he is, without question, in love. I guess in some alternate universe coy glances establish deep feelings but in real life they usually equate to nothing more than a whole lot of awkward.
HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOUPremise: Taking a cue from the long line of ensemble rom coms that paraded into theaters after the success of Love Actually, this one stars everyone from Drew Barrymore to Bradley Cooper and attempts to be more of a diatribe on love than it is an actual movie with substantial stories to tell. It is, of course, based on the popular book of the same name, so at least in this respect, the whole relationship-manual thing makes sense.
Starring: *Deep breath* Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Connelly, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Justin Long, Kevin Connolly, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Lily, Marc Silverstein, Busy Phillips, Sasha Alexander, Trenton Rogers, Zoe Jarman, Wilson Cruz, Natasha Leggero … and more.
Bursting the Love Bubble: Like any movie of this zillion-celeb-cast genre, some story-lines are underdeveloped and some are juicy and ripe. The friend-zoned relationship between Justin Long and Gennifer Goodwin’s characters shows real promise, especially when he delivers this sagacious line to her after she’s rejected, yet again, by another potential suitor: “The rule is, if a guy doesn’t call you, he doesn’t want to call you … if a guy is treating you like he doesn’t give a shit, he genuinely doesn’t give a shit. No exceptions. If a guy wants to see you, believe me he will see you.” But OF COURSE the movie has to go and ruin it all by then making her “the exception” to the hard and fast rule, at once giving hope to girls everywhere that this oh-so-wise advice is anything but true.
Thanks a lot, rom coms, thanks a lot.