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E.C. Henry

First off, I'm TOTALLY with the idea of Katherine Heigl ditching TV and going to features full time. HUGE Katherine Heigl nut. Best thing to come down the romantic comedy pike since the discovery of Meg Ryan.

In my opinion Katherine Heigl COULD domintate the romantic comedy genre for YEARS, and that's not even considering forays into other genres which I believe she succeed in as well.

Like you, Billy, I too love romantic comedies and am interested in their furtherance, and watching this beloved genre continue to prosper. Unlike you, however, I have NO PROBLEM watching movies featuring uptight, career successful, female heroins find love. WHAT the kicker is for me is the set-peieces, humor and romance that comes along that journey.

A key consideration/musing
to consider, Billy, is that movies are a fantasy escape. I think the public WANTS to see successful people doing well -- it gives them hope for a better future for themselves. With Heigl/Butler in "The Ugly Truth" all I ever wanted to see was witty, sexually charged banter, and interesting cirumstances unfold. What "The Ugly Truth" needed to do better was their set peices. Especially that orgasming panties in a resturant scene. How "When Harry Met Sally" can you get?! THAT needed to be better, or better yet replaced with something fresher.

Realism is great -- to a point! I think our desires are based on our own rabbit's mythical chase of that ellusive carrot on the end of the stick. It's that, "the grass is always greener on the other side" mentality. A curriousity factor with those outside our own borders.

I don't think sterotypes are necessarily bad. In fact, a lot of time, they're benefical. Especially in setting up jokes. Sterotypes get audiences to think a character will react a certain way in a given situation. How a super-model reacts to seeing a beautiful girl undress in a park is going to very different than say a rabbi or a sexual maturing 14 year-old, seeing the same thing.

What IS bad is when the process can't bring material to life, and maximize ideas so that the movie works the way the inherent potential (star actors and actresses) suggest it should.

Great post thought provoking post, Billy. Look forward to reading what your loyal readers have to say concerning the issues you've raised.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Bob

I sent that article over before I saw The Ugly Truth. When I did see it I liked it much more than I expected. If that had been Katherine Heigl's first movie, she'd have been applauded, she'd have broken out. She's funny. Physical and smart and ballsy and not afraid to be silly. Or dirty.

Made me think of Carole Lombard on and off the set.

--Bob in Venice

Elizabeth Ditty

For me, THE UGLY TRUTH was sort of like a drunken night out. I had a good time whilst it was happening, but I felt sort of ashamed and bitter about the whole thing the next day.

Take that experience and compare it to the one I had with (500) DAYS OF SUMMER. I adored this movie. No hating myself the next day, either.

On paper, these two films have some similarities. Opposites falling for one another, an idealistic view of love gets clobbered by real life, characters with intimacy issues (both Gerard Butler's and Zooey Deschanel's characters profess a belief that love does not exist). But the execution of these familiar premises is wildly different.

For me, the difference is that I had an *experience* with SUMMER. With THE UGLY TRUTH, I was simply watching a movie. I wasn't particularly involved with the characters. I knew they were going to get together, but I didn't really care to see how it happened. There were some laughs, sure, but I don't remember a single facial expression from the entire movie.

Now, with SUMMER, I think I'll remember the way Tom looks at Summer on the bench at the end for the rest of my life. Here I had characters in which I was entirely invested.

The issue at hand is this takes more effort on the part of the viewer. It's easier to watch something like THE UGLY TRUTH. You don't have to deal with the complexity of the thematic material or the characters' psyches or (in SUMMER's case) nonlinear storytelling. It's cut & dry, easy to recognize. But it's certainly not better. I like to think that the average moviegoer has no problem with smaller, more complex films as long as they're still accessible to non-"film people."

I don't know what the answer is, though. Could be the marketing machine. I'm sure distribution plays a role. Known star/celebrity power is probably another. I think there's room in the marketplace for both types of films here, but it would be nice to see the smaller, more complex films get a better shot at the box office.

Christian H

Howdy Billy,
I finally got a post button. HOORAY!!
I agree that men do have serious problems with their characters. Nowadays it's all the same "lovable schlub," "incorrigible misogynist" or pathetic loser - amazingly those are all Apatow characters. No offense to him.

We don't play roles where we cry. I know I'm all man and Wall-E opens the flood gates every time.

We don't play roles where we really open up - can you say "Jerry MacGuire."

I actually wrote a female lead piece where the guy doesn't get the girl - he gets a different one.

I hate romcoms where the guy gets the girl with a SERIOUS lie and she's stupid enpoguh to take him back. Wow, there's more than on woman on campus or the workplace.

I liken the issue with women to the issue witjh new devices and technology - no one wants to put up the first money to find a real new "paradigm."

I think we can all agree that people want the emotions, they want to see extraordinary (archetypal) character deal with all types of different situations.

Like EC said, if I can't find a facial expression, the movie sucks. Some of my favorites actors who have more emotion in a fingernail don't get those nods because of the search for "the Look." Ya know, kind of slutty but pretty - the kind of girl Hitchcock skipped.

I'd rather the Meryl type - actor first, woman second. That's what's missing in my mind. "we" want hot chicks to "act hot" but how do you act hot in a touching scene about the death of a parent?

Like I always say, if nothing else I will knocking on everyone's door with real stories that require some depth and range. And women. And REAL men - who cry.

Ricky J

I've been totally sucked into Nurse Jackie. I find the portrayal of women on that show to be outstanding. It's funny that Edie Falco played The Wife on the Sopranos (although that was a great role as far as wife roles go) but now in NJ -- where she's devoted to saving people but uses unethical means at times, is a pill junkie and cheats on her dear hubby -- she has become the Tony character in a way. Layered, surprising, flawed. I love the character for all her complexity.

As far as these rom-coms go, I think the spate of career women who can't find men movies are almost a punishment for what feminism has wrought. Nowadays we can devote our lives to work, not kids and family, which is seen as selfish and a personality defect to overcome in women while, in men, it's laudable and a reason he's a good "catch". (And I'm not saying I totally disagree with that.) I think there's resentment toward ambitious women in general for various reasons and tremendous guilt in female hearts and psyches because we're socialized to be nurturers. Or sadness/anxiety when we realize we have the career but it might be too late to have babies (J Lo in Back-up Plan and Aniston in The Baster coming soon). I think these movies, whether written and greenlit by women or men, are a result of all that.

And the more I see of them, the more I appreciate a movie like "My Best Friend's Wedding" where the star was the bitch who was dedicated to her career and made getting the guy almost an egoic competition and didn't get him in the end. Even in that, the ambitious career woman lost the guy to the sweet, unthreatening girl but it was fun to watch. Unlike, say...New in Town. (I would feel bad for Renee Zellwegger if she didn't make so much godamn money for this crap.)

The thing that annoys me about Apatow and his ilk, besides the fact that the romantic comedy has been stolen away from women where they were already ghettoized, is that the female characters are usually tired archetypes: they're either way too accepting of these schlubs who need a kick in the ass, just there for slut jokes or nagging wives.

Maestro

I disagree somewhat with regard to the distinction between character driven vs plot driven, as there are quite a few character driven (movie) franchises that are not about characters facing some major world-threatening crisis. (Two which are semi-related to the topic of this blog that come to mind: American Pie and Look Who's Talking.)

IMO, franchises--whether they are a series of movies, a series of TV episodes, or a series of MOWs (e.g. Columbo)--tend to be more character driven, while one-offs (stand-alone films) tend to be more plot driven (which might also be read as "situation driven" or "high concept").

Another difference between TV and feature films--and the irony of Ms. Heigl's situation--is that, in feature films, it's easier to "dis" the writer(s) (by saying, for example, that the material an actor was given wasn't of award winning caliber) and get away with it because the writers in feature films usually aren't also (executive) producers or showrunners.

Bill

Where to begin? Oddly, I'm re-reading a Cary Grant bio these days and one thing it mentions is his insistence that he must be the pursued, never the pursuer. But I guess that's an aside...

I can only go by my general impression as I haven't seen some of the movies you mention. That impression is that one of the difficulties is what I perceive as an imbalance between the main characters. So even if you do have a solid, fully realized character (in these cases, the woman), the counterpart is no more than a type (in this context, the man). This, as opposed to equals sparring.

As for men in recent movies, I've found few I can relate to, be they in rom-coms or other types of movies. Most strike me as images and posturing. It's odd, but for a medium that is about movement (frame following frame), men seem to be stills in attempts to conjure an image/idea - maybe that's the comic book influence. I dunno. (I did relate to Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, however.)

It's probably a mistake to think of current rom-coms as "bad." Some are quite good, just not as good as they might have been. And if they become popular in box office terms perhaps that has more to do with there being few alternatives with which to compare them. A $10 wine can be quite nice, perhaps a favourite, until you have a $100 bottle to compare it to.

JamminGirl

Did anyone see 'Funny People'? What a stinker that is! Masterbation, penis and homo-sex jokes galore. The woman was flaky(said one thing in front of her husband and another thing to her ex lover) and that saddens me about the new turn of 'masculinity'. If it's now considered a non-issue for a 'heterosexual' man to be sexual with his male friends as apatow is pushing for, well that's a sad state of affairs for women, isn't it? They'll constantly need to get tested for hiv...

The "Ugly Truth" where katherine Heigle(I don't like her anyway)plays an unrealistic romantic who at her age should know the difference between fantasy and reality. That said, her co-protagonist was crass(if a guy mentions an interest in my anus to me, it's goodnight to him. I'm not desperate) and she basically acquiested to being treated like crap. It's "how to get a man". Do this, do that. It's "he's not that into you" all over again. Kinda funny how once a story with a certain POV gets made, everyone writes the same thing over and over again. If she's doing all that to snag him, what's he doing to snag her? Is he a royal prize and she's now the huntress?

How about a story where the woman is actually realistic, but has a committment phobia? (We do actually exists!) why isn't there a story of her committment issues being challenged where she finally accepts a man instead of waiting for "Mr-too-perfect-to-exist". How about a story where a man takes charge and play the manly role.(I will say that Ryan Reynolds character in "The Proposal" was damn close, even though he was the employee. He still took charge, even to tell his father where to go, and be protective of the woman he's falling for. Actually, now that I think about it, the proposal dealt with why Sandra Bullock's character was perpetually lonesome. Must be why I love it so much...)

Simone White

Perhaps it's because I went to see the Ugly Truth with no expectations but I LOVED this movie. I laughed the whole way through and was genuinely happy at the end. Weird! AND, I didn't like 500 days of Summer much at all. What's happening to me?!!

Ricky J

I just saw Funny People and maybe because, like the previous poster w/Ugly Truth, I had low expectations based on little snippets I'd read, I liked it. (Despite there being so many jokes about dick size it was almost a subplot.) The romance part seemed very awkward, but the movie overall wasn't bad.

AND I liked the role of the female comedian. I wanted to add that as a p.s. to my first comment where I said I didn't like Apatow's portrayal of women.

mernitman

EC: So essentially, Send more Heigl movies.

Bob: So essentially...

Elizabeth, your last sentence says it all to me.

Christian, I hope your next rom-com features a crying guy.

Ricky J, your ambitious women/what they've missed dichotomy makes a lot of sense. And I'm with you on Apatow.

Maestro: I don't disagree (though "Look Who's Talking" is about as device-driven a movie as I can think of), and your insight on the politics of dissing is intriguing.

Bill: In a word, relativity! But it's hard to escape the sensation that our standards have been lowered...

Jammin G: I have to confess I haven't seen "Proposal" yet, and your comment may be a tipping point.

Simone: You're turning into Simone?
(Generally, low expectations are the best expectations, don't you think?)

Ricky J: See above.


JamminGirl

Ah Mernitman, write a blog on "The Proposal" after you've seen it. Would love to hear your thoughts on a movie I've seen more than once :)

Anonymous

Billy,

It saddens me to see you, a liberal, open minded man, so quickly judge the police officer who arrested Gates. You've never met him, you don't know his heart.

The arresting officer has an outstanding record with no history of prejudice. His fellow black officers defended him. Gates was the one who acted like a spoiled kid.

As for the rom com. I know a single 30-something woman who does NOT know the difference between fantasy and reality -- not when it comes to love.

There are plenty of people who can't tell the difference between truth and fantasy, between what they want to be true and what is truth.

I think what you're seeing portrayed of women on the screen, written by and directed by woman, is a subtle truth we're not allowed to reveal.

Women are NOT men.

Many, many women want romance, love, husbands. We want to be loved and secure, and yeah, at times, taken care of. But allowed to bloom where we're planted.

Romance novels are still the number one genre.

As much as the media and NOW has tried to make women out to be like men, we're not. And we don't want to be.

I loved The Proposal because as hard-ass as Margaret was in her job, she didn't want to be that way. It was hard for her. She wanted love but had given up. But when love knocked, she crumbled pretty fast.

I think what we learn from these movies by women is this is who we are -- at some exaggerated level -- not who the world tells us we're supposed to be.

Now to raise the bar and show women who respect themselves and their bodies by not give away the goods for free. As Greg wrote in "He's Not That Into You," don't waste the pretty!

Thanks for the dialog. I do enjoy your blog even if I disagree once in awhile.

Christian H

I'm working on two right now. Hopefully I can find something other than his favorite team losing the big game to cry about.

@Anonymous: I don't see how you read that into his statement. He wasn't trying to prove anything about the officer but to compare it to something else.

I come here because it's not about politics or culture but about the rom com. Please remember that.

mernitman

Anonymous: I appreciate your comments, but feel a strong need to clarify the meaning of the sentence that "saddened" you in my post. Please read it again. If you do that, I hope you're able to see that you've projected your own meaning onto my words. The sentence does not in any way, shape or form attack "the police officer who arrested Gates." I'm simply noting the fact - it is a fact - that the INCIDENT involving Gates created a firestorm of reactions, from all sides of the subject, that highlit the continued volatility of race as an unresolved issue in our culture. No one living here (or abroad, I'll wager) can deny that despite the election of an African-American president, America is still grappling with problems of perception and prejudice regarding race. So please, don't jump to conclusions
about my own beliefs in this matter - when there was honestly no judgment on the parties involved implied or intended in my analogy.

Meanwhile! I very much respond to your observation re: "woman are not men." This is an intriguing issue, which has been an onging bone of contention since the so-called "sexual revolution." Growing up in the '60s, I was as confused as any man about "equality" between the sexes being misconstrued as "men and women are the same,"
and this is an ongoing confusion -as you shrewdly point out here. I'd love, in fact, to see a contemporary rom-com that takes this issue on directly (as WHEN HARRY MET SALLY... did in the '80s).

Christian: Glad to hear you have non-sporting event tears on tap.

JamminGirl

It's funny how this person chosed to be anonymous when debating a political issue. To me, it is more interesting when a "liberal" side with a position that it's fine to arrest a man in his OWN HOME after ascertaining that he in fact is the home owner. Whether a man is rowdy or not is neither here nor there. How rowdy can an older man with a cane get?

And Anonymous, you call yourself "liberal", Do you? Interesting use of the word, especially seeing the side you've chosen...

As for the proposal, I don't know which movie you were watching because Margaret never crumbled even up to the end, what she did was allowed herself to be vulnerable. Women are not men, very true. In fact that's shown by the fact that Margaret doesn't sleep around and she remains a girl throughout.
Not just women wants to be loved, everyone including the fella who shot-up the gym in Pittsburgh, does. It's just that film has been depicting women as though they crave easy free attachmentless sex as men do and they should be the ones to go after men. The irony is that it's the "liberal", "feminist" minded film-makers that have done society such a disfavour. Men no longer know how to approach women, they start seeing excuses in films that they can be sexual with each other and still be "heterosexual"(see apatow and films like "ghost of girlfriends past" etc) and women should feel defensive if a man pays for dinner and opens the door for her. It's ridiculous.

Scarlet Hip

I actually like The Ugly Truth much more than I expected. I only went to ogle Gerard Butler, I admit. And while the movie was formulaic and predictable, I still had a good laugh. However, I am SO sick of these Hollywood endings. Why oh why does it have to be a big ridiculous display of admitting long-denied feelings in front of a crowd? Isn't there anyone out there with an original ending?

P.S. I finally read your book! Loved it!

Maestro

Billy,

Yes, "Look Who's Talking" is definitely device-driven, but I think there's a difference between device-driven and world-threatening crisis event-driven. Although, from a pedagogic standpoint, I don't know whether that's a worthwhile distinction. So I will defer to the professional story analyst.

Mark

P.S. Even though my political beliefs differ quite a bit from yours, I completely understood (and agree with) your point in the sentence in question.

mernitman

Scarlet: The "public exposure of deep feelings" really is getting OLD, isn't it?! Meanwhile - Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed.

Maestro: You're a gentleman and a scholar. And you're right in poking at my "crisis event-driven" trope: it was hastily conceived (and executed) and even I felt it was a bit glib, i.e. too narrow an analysis for a more complex issue. So thanks for keeping me honest.

Bill

I'm still waiting for the ending where nothing is admitted, publicly or otherwise, yet we know, and they know, and they both know each other knows, and everyone knows everyone knows, but ain't no one saying.

No hammers over the head needed.

mernitman

Oh, Lord, Bill - RIGHT. If you don't write it, I will.

shana

SO belated here, catching up on this blog.

@Bill -- that is why I adore the end of THE CUTTING EDGE. I first saw it at 17 with a bunch of other high school students. When Moira Kelly and DB Sweeney kissed at the end of their big Olympic routine, and then the movie ended, all the guys in the room were either confused or annoyed at not getting what to them was the money shot: the gold medal. The girls were rolling their eyes and saying, "That's not the point!" (To be fair it takes place in the middle of a rink in the Olympics, thus not quite meeting your privacy requirement, but in all other respects I think it fits.)

That moment taught me as much about what "a typical guy" or "a typical girl" (if such things exist) wants in a happy ending as anything I've read/seen/experienced since.

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