Movie-A-Day: The Interview (2014)

That movie we almost got nuked for

Cast: James Franco as David Skylark, Seth Rogen as Aaron Rappaport, Lizzy Caplan as Agent Lacey, Diana Bang as Sook Yung Park

Premise: A vapid entertainment reporter and his producer unwittingly become CIA assassins after they manage to score an interview with Kim Jong-un.

In the history of greatest scams, Sony should be up there with Bernie Madoff. Not to say that the company is guilty of wrongdoing per se; their plan to to double-sell The Interview was good old fashioned salesmanship. Besides the obvious audience that the North Korean debacle created, their plan to release the film digitally meant that they got to cut out the theater middlemen. And then they STILL got the theatre profits once it proved to be lucrative to pass up. Kudos to Sony, i’m never one to knock the hustle. With that out of the way, is the film actually good?

As far as the cast, this film’s three principal characters range vastly in terms of quality. Rogen is the straight man for most of the film. Similar to Pineapple Express, he’s the funny everyman to anchor the film’s wackiness. While he dips into his usual dynamic when interacting with even straighter characters like Agent Lacey, he’s more often the reasonable counterpart to Franco.

Speaking of Franco he’s by far the weakest part of the film. Much of the plot is driven by his character being an idiot (Skylark doesn’t use the CIA-given bag, Skylark can’t see that Agent Lacey is seducing him, etc). Dumb characters aren’t a bad thing inherently, but Franco is awkward in the role. I wouldn’t say it’s due solely to his acting, but because the character is all-encompassingly stupid. When he gives a speech for his show’s 10th anniversary, he makes a terrible Lord of The Rings reference which ends with him saying “I’m like Gollum…(in Gollum’s voice) you’re my preccccious“. When he’s being briefed by Agent Lacey on how to assassinate Kim Jong-un, he discusses how he’d like to shoot him on camera with a gun since it would be the violent equivalent to a “money shot” in porn. Which ends with him demonstrating a bukkake scene. The operational logic seems to be that entertainment journalists are exceedingly shallow and stupid, but this character should still have an above average sense of social intelligence. It’s his fucking job. Instead, he’s portrayed as having his foot surgically-grafted to his mouth. Skylark should at least be able to present himself in a manner that seems appropriate at first before you consider it (similar to Michael Scott from The Office in the earlier seasons). This could’ve worked slightly better if Franco could play the character correctly. Franco’s area of humor has always been more in the ‘stoner’ realm. His delivery is loose and slow-paced, which is suited for a high-school slacker or a friendly pot-dealer. Being a entertainment show host requires Franco to be either more energetic (think of Billy Bush from Access Hollywood) or more deadpan to sell us on the character.

On the other end of quality, we have Park’s performance as Jong-un. Whereas Skylark is poorly defined character, Jong-un has some nuances based on public perception of the real man. He’s shy yet surprisingly affable, he’s into basketball and western music, and they even integrate how he reacts to his perceived effeminacy (which is integral to the plot). It’s admirable that, despite the film’s broad portrayal of…everything, it’s antagonist is portrayed as a human being. Ironically, Park has more chemistry with Franco than Rogen does. It helps that the film makes the effort to connect the personalities of Jong-un and Skylark whereas it just assumes we’d go along with the established relationship between Franco and Rogen without developing either character. Park’s introduction to the film vastly improves it’s second half.

The film’s plot is also a mixed bag. As mentioned, Skylark’s stupidity makes the film grate at first, but Jong-un’s affability allows for a believable plot twist. What’s interesting is that the film seems to toy with actually having a political message: is assassination always the best option when overthrowing a dictator? Is this handled well? I don’t want to spoil the ending but I would say…no, but this is possibly by design. I’d say it’s appropriate for a film that doesn’t take it’s politics seriously. Beyond that, the the plot is usual fare for raunchy comedies: sex, drugs, violence.  Rinse and repeat.

The film’s portrayal of actual Koreans is sadly sparse. Aside from Jong-un, the only major character is Sook, who’s the love interest for Rogen. Most of her humor relies on us finding cute asian women saying things like “butthole” and “vagina” funny. She’s mostly there for shallow humor, though she does become more important in the second half of the film. It’s obvious that the film thoughts about North Korea came solely from an American perspective, since there’s almost no Korean presence in it.

Overall, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill comedy. I’d give the first half a C- due to the lack of humor and chemistry between Rogen and Franco, and a C+ due to Jong-un’s introduction and the strengthening of Franco’s character. Almost every other aspect of the film is basic stock for raunchy comedies.

My Rating: One Nazi fist from Charlie Chaplin (in a much better protest film)

Stray Thoughts

  • One thing this film does that I absolutely hate is use rap music for all of it’s “big” scenes. I get that the genre lends itself to being used for exaggerating already exaggerated moments, but this film uses rap music everytime we see women or cars or people getting shot. Try to limit this to two scenes max, Hollywood.

Three Forms Of Comedy In Justice League

justice league unlimited

In a way, comedy is the art form of the masses. Most people can’t play the cello or perform ballet, but almost everyone can make someone laugh ( hopefully, not during sex ). Not everyone knows why people laugh, however. There are a legion of theories on comedy dating back to Ancient Greece, but for the sake of argument, i’m going to narrow it down to just narrative comedy. Let’s say there are three forms of comedic plots that come out of mainstream media: situational, character-based, and farcical.

To compare and contrast these three forms, i’ll use the animated series Justice League Unlimited as a base. For some background: Justice League Unlimited was a series that ran on Cartoon Network from 2004-2006. It was the culmination of the extensive DC Comics animated universe created by character designer Bruce Timm, writer Paul Dini, and writer / producer Dwayne McDuffie. Why this series? Because it’s fucking awesome! More importantly, while listening to the DVD commentary for one of the episodes ( yes, people do that sometimes ) i was intrigued by an offhand remark by series lead artist Bruce Timm who noted that, unintentionally, they released three episodes that almost perfectly fit the three forms of comedy around the same time. This is especially funny since JLU is definitely NOT a comedy series ( at least most of the time ). I decided to re-watch those episodes to examine that claim…

1. Situational

I’m pretty sure most of you have heard of the film pitch of “X meets Y“. This is reflective of the “dartboard” approach to screenwriting, where writers literally just combine random ideas in order to create a concept. When done poorly, the results are awful. For example: ” Urban black culture meets Sci-Fi “.

Homeboys In Outer Space (1996-1997)

When done well, it can create hilarious spins on familiar stories. Much of the comedy from Shaun of The Dead ( 2004 ) derives from the fact that the main characters seem to be right out of a lighthearted romance film…yet they’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Hilarity ensues. The film Analyze This ( 1999 ) revolves around a psychiatrist’s relationship with his new patient…who just so happens to be a mob boss. Hilarity ensues.

The central idea  of situational comedy is “humor derived from incongruity” ( and yes, i just made that up ). When things don’t quite match up, they can be funny. The most common form of this is “fish out of water” plots which put easily identifiable character-types in situations they shouldn’t be in. Situational comedy leans mostly on dialogue and chemistry, since the disconnect has to be established by characters interactions. For example the series Frasier builds a lot of its humor from the snobby Crane brothers interacting with their working class father and friends. The biggest threat to this concept is if the initial premise becomes the only joke that can be made. One of the most maligned examples of this trope is “white guy / black guy” films where all of the humor can be summed up quite quickly…

In short, a good situational comedy BUILDS off its incongruity.

The Episode – Kid Stuff ( August 11 2004 )

KidStuff2

The Premise – Mordred, punk-ass son of the sorceress Morgan Le Fay from Arthurian legend, obtains a macguffin known as the “Amulet of First Magic”. The amulet gives Mordred ultimate power, which he uses to get back at his mother and all adults of the world ( which includes the Justice League ) by banishing them into some kind of limbo dimension. Morgan Le Fay, seeking to undo her son’s spell, finds a way to counteract the magic…by turning the League into little lads and lasses! ( i’m sorry )

How does it work? – Interestingly enough, most of the plot is played fairly straight. The situation is portrayed as fairly dire: the entire adult population is stuck in limbo for eternity and their children are left to fend for themselves. Even the heroes themselves attempt to play it straight. I say ‘attempt’ because once they’ve been reduced to ten-year-olds, they fall victim to the realities of how a ten-year-old would act in this situation.

Each character trait of the heroes is modified to a ten-year-old’s sensibility. Green Lantern’s militancy turns into dorkiness. Superman’s nobility turns into farm boy naivete. Wonder Woman’s confidence turns into flirtatiousness. Batman’s grimness turns into smartassness. What’s great about this characterization is that it saves the episode from going to the obvious “spinoff babies” direction by not having all jokes revolve around one note “aww that’s cute” humor. For example, for awhile in the series Wonder Woman has been implied to have an “interest” in Batman, which he seems to ignore because he must be the gayest man in the universe. This comes up in one scene when the heroes decides to pick teams to fight Mordred:

What makes this situation funny is that they’re STILL acting in-character, it’s just that their characters are being viewed through an exaggerated lens. Wonder Woman flirts more openly than usual, Bats is more dismissive than usual, and Supes is more oblivious than usual. Even Lantern’s jokes manages to fit in-story since he alludes to becoming more corny at the beginning of the episode. The plot of Kid Stuff manages to take a humorous AND canonical look at each character’s personality through their childhood selves.

2. Character

Some people are just naturally funny ( *cough* like me *cough* ). These guys are able to enter a room and have everyone laughing without much setup. People like these are producers’ wet dreams, because it means they can bank on a film or television project just by finding these guys. More often than not, character-based comedy draws from comedians, since they can carry shows single-handedly. The 90’s had a whole slew of these types of comedies; Martin, Seinfeld, Home Improvement, just to name a few. Often times, the character ( or characters ) is someone who is outlandish in his or her own right. A perfect film example is the The Nutty Professor ( 1963 ).

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See? I don’t even have to explain to you why that character would elicit laughter. Character comedy doesn’t ALWAYS have to be outlandish to work; characters can just be humorous in a believable way. The protagonists of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia manage to be both despicable, yet relatable. Their flaws are all based in reality: Dennis is a narcissistic guy who peaked in college, Dee is an entitled loser who has delusions of grandeur, Charlie is a slovenly pauper who’s struggled his whole life, Mac is an insecure conservative oblivious to his own hypocrisy, and Frank is Danny Devito. Good character comedy produces likable protagonists that keep us engaged. Bad character comedy creates protagonists who are so removed from reality that it’s difficult to connect with them ( a common criticism of Monk and the aforementioned Martin ).

The episode-The Greatest Story Never Told ( September 11 2004 )

Greatest2

The premise – Rookie Leaguer Booster Gold is called to join in an epic conflict with the universe’s most powerful wizard…as crowd control. However, during the conflict he uncovers an equally important catastrophe, which he takes on since he’s the only unattended Leaguer. And also because he’s trying to get laid.

How does it work? – First, i’ll explain the origin of Booster Gold to you non-nerds: Michael Jon Carter was a failed football star who became a janitor in the far off future. While working at a superhero museum, he had the brilliant idea to steal several pieces of high end technology ( including a living computer named Skeets who became his sidekick ) and take a one-way trip to the current time in order to become a famous superhero so he can become rich and famous.

That by itself is a hilarious set-up for jokes. It’s like if Criss Angel was a real-life Angel who became a magician to get a free hotel room. Much of the humor of this episode comes from Booster’s superficiality: at one point he gives advice to Martian Manhunter on how he should get himself a catchier name ( which is a solid point ). When the Manhunter tries to get him to realize that being a superhero is about more than just fame, Booster agrees and asks ” How much do you pull in a year, after taxes? “. Now arguably, this is somewhat of a situational plot as well: Booster’s self-serving nature is incongruous in a world of superHEROes who should be the opposite. However, most of the episode focuses on him alone, negating many comparisons with the other Leaguers. Instead, we get a lot of jokes about how much of a loser he is. In addition, there’s great voice acting from actor Tom Everett Scott ( Dead Man On CampusBoiler Room ) as Booster and veteran voice actor Billy West ( STIMPY! ) as Skeets:

3. Farcical

Now, i know some of you have been reading and thinking” Fuck you Rob; comedy isn’t about structure! Comedy is just doing funny things!” First off, don’t curse so much. Second of all, you have a point. Some stories eschew specific plots and characters in favor of “free-form” comedy. This is where we get to ‘farce”, which means “a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations”. As you can imagine, farce is easy to do for comedy, because all it requires is something that’s momentarily funny. The issue is the “momentarily” part. Remember when “THIS IS SPARTA!” jokes were funny? Imagine an ENTIRE film based around that?

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Exactly

Farce is probably the easiest form of comedy to fuck up because it requires a body of individual bits of humor to support it. This requires an extensive grasp of “quick comedy” ( one liners, slapstick, etc ). I think this is why older works tended to grasp this comedic form better ( The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Airplane! ) since they had their roots in silly vaudeville acts. The best modern day examples would probably be shows like Family Guy and Adventure Time, which have almost no grip on reality. As with any form of comedy, works don’t have to be ENTIRELY farcical, farce can still exist in degrees. For example, Seinfeld was mostly character and situationally driven, but occasionally incorporated outlandish elements such as the famous “Bubble Boy” who had a heated rivalry with George Costanza.

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One of the best ways to incorporate farce is as a “narrative crescendo”. One of the best examples is the film Tropic Thunder ( 2008 ). It incorporates farcical elements throughout the film, but it isn’t till the film’s climax where ( SPOILER ) a character intercepts an rpg with a TIVO ( END SPOILER ) that it becomes completely divorced from reality. Overall, farce is both the simplest and the trickiest category of comedy.

The Episode – This Little Piggy ( August 28 2004 )

pig3

The Premise – Wonder Woman’s archnemesis, the goddess Circe, turns her into a pig. Batman has to find out how to get her back to normal. No seriously.

How does it work? – How could it not work? This is the craziest idea in the history of the series. First off, making Batman the protagonist allows for every situation to become even funnier because of how serious he is. In the picture above, Batman is caressing a pig tenderly. No more needs to be said. Secondly, the scenario leads to a bevy of of corny-yet-effective pig puns. ( a slaughterhouse worker jumps on Wonder Pig and utters the inevitable “that’ll do, pig” line from Babe [ 1995 ] ). Notably, what i’ve mentioned so far covers only character and situational comedy. So what makes it farcical? Several things. Each scene in the episode has it’s own internal logic that creates either a character comedy or a situational comedy ( or both ) in itself. When Batman loses the Wonder Pig, he has to call a guy called ‘B’wana Beast‘ who has never been mentioned before and looks like this…

pig

…to track her down. At one point, Batman thinks to venture to the RIVER STYX to question FREAKING MEDUSA about Circe.

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Medusa sounds like Patty and Selma from The Simpsons and tells Batman to ask Circe for her curling iron back. Most ridiculous of all, when a character ponders Circe’s whereabouts, we get a musical number with Circe accompanied by a full band and backup dancers.

pig2

Did she conjure that up? Is she a club regular? None of this is explained, it just happens. This all builds up to a final battle at the same club in which Batman makes a bargain with Circe in order to return Diana to humanity ( or I guess amazon-ity ). What horrible request does Circe make of Batman?

That’s it. That’s all it took to resolve the whole plot. She turned a woman into a pig and fought a huge battle just to ask for that. That, my friends, is farce.

While i wouldn’t call them reflective of the entire series, i would say these episodes reflect what’s so fun about superheroes in general. Each episode highlights how these tales can be vacillate between dramatic AND funny. In addition, they also help to show how humorous writing is almost always smart writing.

Here’s some other funny moments from the series:

For more posts on superheroes:

Batman as a Heroic Psychopath

Superstitious and Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in Gotham City

Ben Affleck as Batman: Why So Serious?

Superman as Defined By Lex Luthor

The Lois Lane Effect

Flash: The Quintessential Superhero

From Comic to TV: Green Arrow as Adapted Into Arrow

Journey of Peter Parker From Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

The Best Spider-Man Issue Ever / Why Spider-Man is a Classic Anti-Hero

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Iron Man 3 Review

For more posts on televison:

Top 5 Bullies In Fiction

The Walking Dead: The Governor as a Well-Intentioned Extremist

Slave Ownership As Seen Through Roots

The Unfortunate Undeath of Chivalry: Implications of Romance in Hollywood

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Romantic comedies are the bread and butter of the film industry. Probably because Romance is the most “classical” of narratives, therefore highly familiar. The narrative concept of Romance was refined in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe.

Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde

Probably the most famous tale of Romance during this period was the love between Knight Sir Lancelot and King Arthur’s Queen, Lady Guinevere in The Death of King Arthur. While this might sound pretty fucked up by modern bro standards, this was actually quite common. If a knight loved a lady that was taken, he could still express his affection through prose and gifts. This is one of the aspects of “chivalry”, which encouraged knights to be this bold in their feelings. One would think that such actions would inspire many angry beatdowns from husbands (which it probably did), but chivalry had the added bonus of motivating knights to be badasses. Being a knight wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, especially in the sex department. How many women can be tupped with impunity in a theocracy? Not a lot, in fact.

Those in power recognized a useful outlet for this sexual frustration was the chivalric code, which forced men to demonstrate their value to women, which in turn forced them to perform several other tasks that would allow for said value to be observable. Here lies the real “point” of Romance: women serve as object to be worked for, which forces a man to actify himself. While this is fine and dandy in theory, the lengths men went through in order to prove this value could be fucking ridiculous, and often had horrible outcomes.

Excalibur-Lancelot-Guinevere-Forbidden

Excalibur (1981)

In the aforementioned The Death of King Arthur, Lancelot’s love of Guinevere culminated in an affair. When Arthur finds out, his distressed state causes the fall of Camelot to the evil sorceress Morgana Le Fey. Mind you, Guinevere serves NO purpose in myth other than causing this calamity, so Lancelot’s romantic striving is entirely destructive. Whereas The Death of King Arthur is cognizant of the downfalls that Romance often brings, most romantic films are not nearly as savvy. Most romantic films portray chivalry as not only necessary for being in a meaningful relationship, but also for having a meaningful life at all. In addition, they encourage gendered ideologies with very unfortunate consequences.

Knocked-Up-Poster-seth-rogen-3914957-1100-825One of the most disconcerting aspects of romantic films is that they often support the idea that disparities in relationships are always obstacles to be overcome and not red flags. What’s so bad about that? I’ll illustrate: in the film Knocked Up (2007) an overweight unemployed stoner gets an attractive E! correspondent pregnant, which leads them to forge a relationship. Hilarity ensues and they get married because love conquers all social barriers. Except no not really. Sure, they are shown to have a similar sense of humor, (loosely) but the fact is that their lifestyles are woefully incompatible. Katherine Heigl’s character interacts with celebrities on a daily basis, meaning that she’s exposed to the elite of masculinity. Is Seth Rogen’s man boobs always going to do it for her? Probably not. In addition, Rogen JUST gets a job at the end of the film, after spending most of his adult life unemployed. Mind you, he probably wouldn’t have even gotten a job if it wasn’t for his relationship, meaning if things go south, guess who he’s going to blame. In addition, Heigl’s character claimed to not even WANT kids; is that something that she will just get over as a mother? Will she resent Rogen for getting her pregnant against her wishes?

To be fair, most fictional stories contrive in order to achieve a happy ending. They’re not supposed to be ‘real’. The issue with romance in films is that the aesthetic remove between artifice and actuality is rarely acknowledged. Many people still rely upon the traditional dynamics between men and women: men ask women out on dates, women are less interested in sex, etc. We accept the narrative of Romance more readily than most other fiction (most wouldn’t accept a real life ‘cowboy cop’ for instance).

Many people actually hold the belief that significant others should change drastically in order to be part of a relationship, sometimes including job, residence, even religion. In essence, the role of significant other becomes more important than the actual person; the parties involved become players rather than partners. Rationally, Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl have no business being together, but their union affirms the “power of love” (as Huey Lewis and the News would say). While i actually enjoy Knocked Up as a comedy, (and as a fat guy) I recognize that it is part of a culture of Romance that doesn’t really exist. “Love conquering all” works well as a tagline, but not in a practical world where 50% of marriages end and almost 50% of children are unplanned for. I’m not saying we’re less romantic, i’m just saying that the seams of Romance are beginning to show.

                   Officer and A Gentleman (1982)

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, Richard Gere, Debra Winger, 1982, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

If both parties are meant to make a change in order to maintain a relationship, it would make sense that the party often charged with being more proactive (men) would have to provide the most in the initial transaction. Most films center on male leads, therefore men are always meant to actify before they can obtain a significant other, just like the knights of old. Without dragons to slay. men have to find a different show of assertiveness. In an action film, that isn’t hard to do. James Bond has enough demonstrable value to make women yield immediately to his charms. If a hero doesn’t have that kind of cred, by film’s end he’ll have accomplished enough to earn some sex. In a romantic comedy, there aren’t as many avenues to demonstrate such value, so the only way to truly actify are INSANE ACTS OF LOVE!!!

INSANE!!!

INSANE!!!

No matter how ridiculous, rude, or lethal, a man who shows his love in a drastic manner will always come out on top. In 1967’s The Graduate (featured above), Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) realizes that he’s been in love with Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) throughout the film (despite fucking her mother). Of course, she’s getting married to Carl Smiths, the stereotypical douchebag who’s meant to finish the love triangle. So how does he resolve the situation? He breaks up the wedding, and starts a brawl with EVERYONE IN THE ROOM!!! WITH A CROSS!!! Of all the crazy last ditch love maneuvers, rushing the altar is probably right up there with airplane chasing in terms of ubiquity. Given the fact that courtship is by definition a competition, there’s no better checkmate than stealing another man’s bride. In reality, marriage is generally a mutual contract between two adults, and the idea that a dude just shows up and basically rips it up is pretty subversive. Mind you, that’s not what is concerning about the cliche (tropes are necessary for any story); what IS bothersome is the implied amount of confidence a man is supposed to have in order to make this a justified action.

One of the most famous American photographs is V-J Day In Times Square, taken in 1945 after the American victory against Japan. To elaborate, a sailor, feeling randy after killing several men, decided to grab a lady and smooch the hell out of her.

Probably while shouting "YOLO"

Probably while shouting “YOLO” into her throat

The facts of this event have caused much controversy recently. At first held up as a captured moment of romance, it turns out the two didn’t even know each other. The sailor was drunk and basically forced her to kiss him with his “vice grip” (as stated by the woman, Greta Friedman). What looks to be a romantic gesture was actually non-consensual. Some have even gone as far as to compare this to rape! What would ever give this young man the impression that such a thing would be acceptable?

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Oh yeah,that’s right…

The fact is most women WANT the man to make the first move in regards to kissing. I once heard a female coworker weigh in emphatically that “I don’t want a man to ask me, just kiss me!” to the approval of many others. Arguably the most famous cinematic kiss in Gone With The Wind (1939) features Clark Gable grasping Vivien Leigh around the waste and pulling her close, which she yields to happily. He doesn’t inquire, he acts. A man who hesitates loses the girl, so there isn’t much room for second guessing .

While I definitely wouldn’t hold what the sailor did as romantic, one could argue that it fell in line with already accepted ideas of romance, specifically that men have to take control of women in order to win them over. If the methods resemble an “assault”, it’s more of a logical consequence of expected male assertiveness. Men pursue and women are pursued. Men, as the pursuers, are supposed to make the bulk of the decisions in courtship. Who initiates the date? Men. Who makes the first move on the date? Men. Who sets up subsequent dates? I think the pattern is obvious. This dynamic is a bit of a double-edged sword: men are always to blame for terrible relationships, and women are impotent in relationships.

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In the film The Wedding Singer (1998) Adam Sandler is the titular hero who eventually pursues his engaged client. The groom in the film is hilariously awful at every given turn: in his first scene he calls his fiancee’s best friend slutty, muses on his desire to have sex with as many women as possible while married, and when the protagonist confronts him on his philandering, he BEATS HIM UP IN FRONT OF SEVERAL WITNESSES!!! I’m surprised he didn’t eat a baby as well. Of course, Sandler woos her at the end, and she wises up and dumps her fiancee, who she realizes is a douche.

He looked like such a nice guy

He looked like such a nice guy

This trope is disturbingly common in mainstream romance films; the douchebag boyfriend, as seen in Wedding Crashers (2005) and Can’t Hardly Wait (1998). This archetype is probably the closest thing to a dragon of myth, as they stand in the way between a hero and his reward. Almost none of these films seem to ask the obvious question of WHY the love interest chooses these terrible men in the first place. In The Wedding Singer, Sandler implies that she likes her fiancee because he’s wealthy, which she angrily objects to. The film paints the question as more a symptom of his bitterness rather than a logical conclusion; why WOULD she go out with a man so brazenly unsavory unless it was money? Doesn’t that call into question her standards, or at least her competency when it comes to judging others? The implication is that women have no ability to make decisions such as these, and are in essence at the whim of whatever man controls them. Within the same film, Sandler’s character is dumped at the altar by his fiancee who, while clearly meant to be awful, is used as a foil to reflect what’s wrong with Sandler himself. If he wasn’t so immature, he wouldn’t have been in a relationship with an immature woman. Of course, is never applied to his love interest.

A much darker version of this dynamic occurs in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger where James convinces the titular Goldfinger’s henchwoman (subtly named “Pussy Galore”) to defect to his side. Does he accomplish this through rational persuasion?

Naw,he fucks that girl

Naw, he fucks that girl

As in The Wedding Singer, James actually does attempt to ask why she works for Goldfinger in the first place, to which she responds “for the money”. Mind you, Goldfinger is a guy who once killed his girlfriend for making him lose at a card game. The film doesn’t portray Pussy (tee hee) as being evil at all; she just hadn’t found the “right” man to guide her in the right direction. Women can’t be evil because being evil requires autonomy. While one could look at the Goldfinger example as a product of “less enlightened time” this trope appears in modern films such as 2011’s Immortals, where the virginal heroine, blessed with the gift of prophecy, at first lectures the hero about how retaining her visions justifies her abstinence. His response?

You already know this,maaan

You already know this, maaan

Once again, the guy doesn’t even convince her of anything, it’s his dominance that actually brings her around.

Just from these these examples we can see an argument being made with mainstream film, women are unable to make decisions when it comes to who they date and men have to make all decisions in regards to their interactions with women. Women are objects adrift in the wind who need an assertive man to anchor them.

As one could note, these are all films marketed mostly towards a male demographic, meaning that they do cater to masculine outlook, just like the chivalric tales from the Romantic Era. Despite the target audience, it’s important to remember that Romance is always about indoctrinating both sexes. Men need to actify in order to gain each others respect, which includes having sex with women. These women “benefit” by only having sex with the cream of the crop and thus perpetuating a strong patriarchal society. In essence, a woman is a passive observer whereas a man is an active performer. One could say this dynamic is an odd twist on the theories of Laura Mulvey, famed film theorist known for her landmark essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975). While I can’t quickly describe her seminal essay, in short: film is inherently “phallocentric” with a proposed viewer who is male.

Peeping Tom ( 1969 )

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Women contradictorily exist as “flat” images meant to service as grabbers of male gaze. As such, the audience, no matter their gender, only identify with the male characters. I would personally add that the identification with the male has a more lasting effect on actual men, who appropriate the narrative journey that the protagonist embarks upon, which is supposed to result in money, power, and women (as Tony Montana would say).

This journey is necessary because men don’t as often share the same inherent narrative value women do. For example, in the film Machete (2010), the killing of the hero’s wife (who doesn’t even have a name) is enough to fuel our hatred towards the antagonist. In comparison, a man has to be accomplished in order to garner the same level of impact upon death (Obi Wan, for example). Or a baby. This is why theories on narrative overwhelmingly suggest a boy has to journey to manhood,  since otherwise he would be worthless. Women, on the other hand, occupy more intrinsically valuable roles in classical narrative that remain static (The Goddess, The Muse, Mystical Aid, etc).

Anger-Management-adam-sandler

Probably one of best unintentional commentaries on the performance dynamic is the film Anger Management (2003) (Yes, another Sandler film. I guess he just has a thing for this). In the film Sandler plays a shy man named Dave Buznik who, after an unintentional show of aggression on an airplane, ends up in anger management courses with Buddy Riedel (Jack Nicholson).

During the course of his treatment, Riedel attempts to drive out the wimpiness that is central to the character. At the midpoint of the film Dave, not yet unwimpified, fails to summon the courage to propose to his girlfriend Linda (Marisa Tomei), who immediately afterwards requests taking a break from their relationship in the same scene. After he consents, she immediately starts dating Riedel. This breaks the last levee in his mind and he begins a roaring rampage of manliness, beating up his romantic rival, insulting his domineering boss, and of course, going after his girl. As in The Graduate, it’s insufficient for him to just propose to her normally, so he actually shows up at a Yankees game (where Riedel plans to propose to her) runs onto the field (knocking over several players) and proposes in front of an entire stadium. What makes this scene so important is that Dave planned to propose to her at Yankee stadium in the first place, which for a man as shy as him would have been quite terrifying. Proposing to her in front of the entire stadium shows just how far he’s willing to go for her. She of course, accepts his proposal, sticking it to Buddy Riedel. Except that, Riedel planned the whole thing. Why? At the behest of LINDA.

You bitch.

You bitch.

The film plays this revelation as quite minor, she exposits the entire charade during a casual barbecue epilogue with Riedel himself. Everything that he’s gone through, which includes fighting a monk, assaulting a coworker, and having the threat of arrest looming over him, was an elaborate plan by his girlfriend to get him to nut up.

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This gives new light to many of the film’s events. In the beginning of the film, Dave is quickly coded as an impotent man in all respects. The film’s prologue shows him getting his pants pulled down while talking to a crush, while everyone in his neighborhood laughed at his small penis. This is never mentioned again, but is implied to be the impetus for his later sexual shyness. Despite being in a relationship with his girlfriend for years, he is still uncomfortable with PDA, much to her chagrin. Assuming that she began her plan a little before the film opens, one could extrapolate that said shyness was the driving factor for such drastic measures. This is ‘warranted’ because, lets be honest, a shy man is an oxymoron to most people. Given Riedel’s stealing of his proposal idea, she even knew that he planned to propose and decided to basically needle him into giving as grand a proposal as possible.

This brings us back to “performance”, it’s not important how much Dave actually cares for her (which could arguably be discerned through the length and intimacy of their relationship), it’s important that he performs his love in the way that best suits gender roles. It doesn’t matter how great their relationship is, what’s important is that HE proposes to HER, especially in as spectacular a manner as possible.

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After grudgingly agreeing to the break, a scene follows where Dave is talking to her on the phone, his emotions barely restrained. He does his best to affect an accepting tone and even says he’s ok with her going out on a date (he then launches a calculator at a coworker). While many argue on the effectiveness of “breaks” in relationships, it’s clear that Dave desperately wants to respect her wishes, despite his feelings. The scene portrays this as another example of wimpiness; “If he was a REAL man he’d take her back” “A REAL man wouldn’t stand for that”. So even though he puts what he thinks are her desires over his own, he still hasn’t “earned” the right to be her husband.

What makes his proposal so important isn’t that he communicates his affection for her (he already does that), it’s that he has literally cowed himself as much as possible in the process. He became the “masculine” man she wanted, he succumbed to her desire for PDA, and he put himself in personal and physical danger for her.

He also saw a transvestite's penis

He also saw a transvestite’s penis

Despite the outlandishness of its premise, Anger Management literalizes the performance of Romance beautifully (albeit unintentionally). Romantic striving is often the impetus for creating gender roles; for example, if a woman is unattractive to men, she ceases to be object to quest after and thus would not be considered feminine. On the other end, if a man fails to please a woman, he isn’t a man. While many would claim the problem here is that it causes inequality, I would actually say the problem is that it undercuts most intimacy. Masculinity as an ideal, while still important to other men, becomes even more important when around women, who need it as a necessary counterbalance to femininity. As such, roles become more important than people, as both parties care more about performance than players. It could be asserted that attitudes like this, while useful in short term scenarios, become an issue in the larger world of gender dynamics, where women are constantly relegated to object and men constantly forced to perform. Mainstream romantic fiction perpetuates and affirms these roles more than any other medium.

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For most posts on Romance;

Don Jon Review

The Lois Lane Effect

For more insights into gender dynamics:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GenderDynamicsIndex

Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema