Nadine Zylberberg | A movie kind of love
Twentysomething | Valentine’s Day and romantic comedies are slowly disappearing — but do we want them to?
February 13, 2013, 11:39 pm·
To the dismay of apocalyptic film fans everywhere, 2012 ended without a hitch. Which means, for better or for worse, we have yet another February 14 to grapple with.
The sanctity of Valentine’s Day practically begs us to question why we feel and act upon this wonderfully abstract notion we call love. I, for one, am a cynic. But I’m also a rabid consumer of romantic comedies. So please indulge me in my hypocritical rant.
Film is capable of inspiring a range of emotions — sadness, euphoria, revolt. But love? What does Reese Witherspoon have to say about how we address interpersonal relationships? I wish I could say “nothing,” but I’d be lying.
When the Depression-era ’30s called for quirky love interests to distract us from darker times, screwball comedies fit the bill. In the consumer-driven ’50s, we turned to the updated sex comedy, pitting men against women in roleplay warfare. And when traditional love didn’t gel with our anti-establishment ways in the ’70s, along came radical romantic comedies through the likes of “Annie Hall.” Most recently, in the age of friends with benefits, we get films of the very same title.
One could argue that Hollywood’s got it figured out. Studios give us precisely what we want when we want it. But perhaps that’s not true anymore.
As New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote on the evolution of the rom-com, “the dry martinis of the past have been sweetened and diluted. We emerge lulled and soothed, but rarely intoxicated.”
When it comes to matters of love, we’ve become a generation of cynics. I could just be projecting my own skepticism, but the numbers don’t lie.
In a recent Vulture article, Claude Brodesser-Akner notes the marked decline in rom-com success at the box office. There are a few exceptions, but overall, we simply don’t want to see Katherine Heigl don 27 dresses or J. Lo traipse around Manhattan in a maid’s uniform. Some attribute this slump to the changing dating scene — and maybe they’re right.
Today, 20 percent of adults in the United States between the ages of 18 and 29 are married, compared to a staggering 59 percent in 1960. We’re not getting hitched as young or as often as before, rendering the “happily ever after” movie trope irrelevant.
It used to be that the second he (or she) put a ring on it, we could leave theaters satisfied. Now, we can’t even get this far. While hormones and chemistry rage on screen to the swelling of a Marvin Gaye track, we can’t help but pull back the curtain. It all seems too contrived.
As of late, the media-sphere has become a dumping ground for trend pieces on how twenty-somethings court and cajole. But would we be any more satisfied to see dance floor hook-ups or late-night booty calls manifested on screen?
Probably not. So why the resentment?
We’re either unsatisfied with the way our generation takes on dating or bitter at the artificiality of love in the movies. Today, both of these hostilities come into play.
Maybe Valentine’s Day is a little bit like the rom-com itself. It’s trendy to hate, it’s a commercial institution for suckers like you and me and its celebration is slowly fading out.
Valentine’s Day was created in 469 A.D., whereas the rom-com arguably arose with Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” in 1931. We have decades, if not centuries, of elders who can attest to the one-time popularity of each.
Of course, some things improve with age, but others turn to dry rot. Right now, we’re at the proverbial fork in the road, waiting to see which path the two will follow. As the few remaining relics of nostalgic romance, perhaps they’d be best off not going anywhere — if only because I’d hate to see the words “court” and “cajole” follow in their dismal footsteps.
In all of this, though, there is good news: tomorrow, all heart-shaped confections will be half-priced and there will be 364 days before the next Valentine’s Day.
Until then, we have 24 hours to groan, bemoan, lament — and maybe secretly rejoice — that somewhere off-screen on a dreary Thursday in February, a movie kind of love still exists.
Nadine Zylberberg is a College senior from Boca Raton, Fla. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @nadine_zyl. “twentysomething” appears every other Thursday.