A Rom-Com Memoir of the 2000s
[14th installment in the serialization of a work-in-progress.]
I had stopped looking. It wasn’t a back-of-hand-glued-to-forehead, “I’ll never fall in love again” pose, but the result of my playing the field for four years plus the double-whammy of my Michelle adventure and my Kathleen debacle, and an inner shift that had crept up on me: I had gotten used to being alone. I was feeling all right. I’d finished my novel and managed to find a reputable agent to shop it, I was still working at Universal and teaching at UCLA Extension, and I had an active social life. Early on in my midlife dating, I’d forced myself to keep going out, as it seemed a way to up the odds for meeting someone. I’d go to the opening of an envelope. Now, finally comfortable in my bachelorhood, having at last gotten my romantic fantasies under control, I reflexively accepted an invite from some friends to celebrate a birthday with a moonlight hike in the Santa Monica mountains, there met Judith, and fell passionately in love.
There’s something very Zen about this, some universal principle at work (i.e. Find what you need when you truly stop seeking it). There was also something different about the nature of the relationship that developed between us, with uncanny speed and ease. It was the first time in my life that I got involved with a woman with my eyes wide open. Judith wasn’t some perfect embodiment of a romantic ideal, but a complex human being, a woman of substance with whom I had substantial differences. She came with two dogs and two cats (I had no pets) and a load of hiking equipment (she was an outdoors-woman, and I an indoor man); she had a high degree of political awareness (I was a political amateur) and as a journalist, was an expert on environmental issues (whereas I can tell you more than most people know about the making of His Girl Friday). Yet there was an instant affinity between us that bonded us so quickly and so deeply that within months of our meeting, when the second unit of my two-unit bungalow in Venice became fortuitously available, I moved Judith into the apartment next to mine.
It helped that her pitbull Molly adopted me as hers; it helped that, miracle of miracles, my novel sold to Random House. Mainly, we just liked hanging out with each other – though we did have the boundary disputes two writers in love are bound to have. Given how difficult we both are to live with, our wanting to live together was evidence that this was the real thing.
Trying to reconstruct this momentous period, I found a journal entry from the time that took the form of a letter addressed, “Hello Future Billy.” Its excited scrawl details all the little beautiful ups and downs of our first togetherness, and the point of my having written it, I see now, was to put on the page for posterity one simple, glorious fact: I was happy.
Happily, not that she’d known it before, Judith had a predilection for romantic comedy, so we enjoyed 2008's good ones together: the Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Woody Allen’s form-return Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the small but charming Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist, the bromantic parody Tropic Thunder, while mainstream hits like Uni’s farce Mama Mia, the “OMG, there is a female audience!” smash Sex and the City, and the instant Pixar classic that most people didn’t realize was also a rom-com, Wall-E, demonstrated the formerly troubled genre’s surprising invincibility.
The one that most delighted Judith, weirdly enough, was 27 Dresses. An estrogen salvo directed by Anne Fletcher and written by Aline Brosh McKenna, 27 was a likable but middling proponent of the increasingly popular rom-com sub-genre that now represented studio counter-programming to the macho chick flick: the wedding comedy. Such movies play into the wish fulfillment fantasy, also catered to by a booming wedding industry, that’s become more of a fantasy as statistics show nearly half of all American marriages ending in divorce.
Katherine Heigl, taking up the Meg Ryan mantle for the 2000s, played a wedding-obsessed career bridesmaid, secretly in love with her boss, who’s outraged when her manipulative older sister gets engaged to him. Jane is a too-selfless caretaker of others who’s unable to stand up for herself until it’s almost too late, and when she does, in an over-the-top revenge on her usurper sis, it only makes things worse. What Jane needs to do, of course, is to own what’s great about Jane, and she does so with the help of the formerly adversarial reporter who turns out to be her real Mr. Right (James Marsden, who’d played Prince Charming in Enchanted). The movie ends with a wedding where Jane is at last the bride.
27 evidenced a post-Apatow edge in its humor – Jane was a more foul-mouthed heroine than the norm – but what fascinated my girlfriend was how clearly the story demonstrated a character-driven lesson. Judith identified with Jane, a “full meal gal” of depth forced to compete with the archetypal hollow babe who wins a man by molding herself into his fantasy. And she liked how after pushing away the guy who saw her as she really was, Jane ultimately accepted herself and him.
I loved that Judith loved this movie. And there was something funnily prescient about how re-watching the DVD of 27 Dresses became her domestic guilty pleasure, because at the end of 2008, about two years from the day we’d met on a moonlit mountainside, Judith became my third wife.
[To be continued]