I love me some Audrey Hepburn. I especially love me some Audrey in Givenchy. I would wear those gorgeous Sabrina dresses any day. But I could not hate that movie more. It was on that ridiculous — I mean, loving — list of must-watch moviesmy boyfriend gave me, and I was so pumped because it was girly and a classic and didn’t involve overwrought metaphors like “rosebud.” But it blew. There was not one single second where they even pretended Sabrina cared about anything in life besides so-called love. It was lame. And irresponsible. Because it set the standard for everything wrong with romantic comedies today.
So maybe it didn’t totally set the standard — Roman Holiday and It Happened One Night came first — but Sabrina did some pretty serious damage. Have you seen Sleepless in Seattle? Vom. My problem with romantic comedies isn’t that they’re demeaning to women (or men) or even wholly untrue. After all, I recently fielded an email from a despairing friend who slept with her best guy friend who is in love with her best girl friend. Another friend of mine has slept with so many women in his office that for his birthday, they actually gave him a Roledex with all their business cards in it. Paging Katherine Heigl.
No, my problem with romantic comedies is that they’re oversimplified. Yet another friend and I went to see No Strings Attached. (Never said I don’t watch rom coms.) Afterwards, she complained that she didn’t think the reason they gave for Natalie Portman’s intimacy issues was strong enough to make the character change. I love my friend, but duh, of course not. Hell, if I were in a romantic comedy right now, all my irrational anxiety about getting engaged would be boiled down to “her parents got divorced,” and all my boyfriend’s friends would be telling him to make me “shit or get off the pot,” and he would propose and I would get off the pot. Ha. Said rom com would never mention that I have a kind, understanding boyfriend who supports me through everything, never mind that I do the same for him, anxiety or not. Or that there are ebbs in flows in relationships, and guess what, it takes work. And I’m not talking about “chasing him down at the airport two seconds before his plane takes off” work. It hasn’t even been a decade since 9/11!
Romantic comedies teach us that we don’t have to fight to be who we want to be, to lead the lives we want to live, to share those lives with somebody with whom we actually want to share them. The most redeeming moment in Up In The Air — spoiler alert — is when we discover Vera Farmiga is married. The second most redeeming moment is when we see George Clooney revert to his old self, a shallow guy who flies on planes and fires people for a living. Depressing? Sure. But people don’t just meet somebody and change overnight. Or even over the course of several months. People change when they fight like hell to change. The sad thing is most people don’t.
But before you write me off as a heartless cynic, let me say this: I don’t just watch romantic comedies. More often than not, I enjoy them. The thing is, I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I popped The Switch in the DVD player. Fleeting distraction, laughter, and some foul-mouthed choice commentary from my real-life boyfriend. And that was exactly what I got.