By Adam Glasspool
I once genuinely chased a girl to the airport. Not in a rapey way, you understand, but because she was leaving the country, I was in love with her and I needed to tell her how I felt. Deep down I hoped that she’d change her mind and stay. A quagmire of nonsensical cliché swamped head as my legs hastened me through the airport. Naturally I was instantly tackled to the ground and arrested. Why? Because I was running. In an airport. What did I expect? I’ve never looked more like a terrorist. I ended up calling her from the airport security room. She laughed when I told her. I asked her if it would have made a difference had I got to the gate in time to tell her face to face. She said it wouldn’t have. I told her to stop joking. She said she wasn’t joking. I laughed; she laughed. I asked her why she was laughing. She said she laughed because I was laughing and then she asked me why I was laughing. I didn’t know and instantly broke into tears, primarily because my heart had just been broken but also because the cavity search had just begun.
Now. I’ve seen this work for people in films. It even worked for that little kid in Richard Curtis’s Love Actually (2003), the film I liked to imagine I was emulating. I didn’t even get to do all my flips over barriers like that smug little bastard. When he got to her it was a lovely moment. Just like when Tom Hanks chases Leonardo DiCaprio to the airport to tell him he loves him in Catch Me If You Can (2002), but my experience was nothing like that. Although the girl I was chasing later told me that if I’d made it to the plane she probably would have tried to escape through the toilet as well. This leads nicely on to…
Why I hate film reason number two: romantic comedies ruined my life. Not because I’ve spent numerous hours watching them in my underwear, crying into a tub of ice cream, but because I believed them. I genuinely believed grand gestures would be sweet rather than creepy; that love had to be difficult and intense in order for it to work, and that I’d find the perfect girl and know it immediately. The closest I’ve come is drawing a face on my pillow. This is not the same argument that dismisses all romantic comedies as sappy, unimaginative, money-spinning nonsense, because that simply isn’t true. Instead it’s an argument based on the unrealistic portrayal of love and the impossible standards set up in their wake.
Romantic comedies are somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine, and I’m not talking about films like When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), or Say Anything (1989), which are all genuinely great films. What I mean is I will happily sit down and watch Love & Other Drugs (2010), Going the Distance (Going the Distance), and No Strings Attached (2011). Love & Other Drugs and Going the Distance are actually fairly watchable but are essentially the same film. Both feature a couple, obviously, their kooky friends and something that is keeping their love from blossoming into a fully fledged relationship. No Strings Attached is massively abysmal, but that’s what you get for casting Ashton Kutcher, the charisma vacuum.
Of the six films mentioned above only Going the Distance does not feature an emotional climax based around the ‘grand gesture’ you see in almost every romance film. They’re not all great (in No Strings Attached it appears that the ‘grand gesture’ is Natalie Portman eating a lot of doughnut holes) but they are present, and set up a precedent that real people will struggle to follow. In Love & Other Drugs Jake Gyllenhaal chases the coach that Anne Hathaway is on and then sleeps in a car park waiting for her. Do not do this. You will look like a stalker. In Say Anything John Cusack stands outside Ione Skye’s window playing a boombox at her. I don’t where you’d even find a boombox now, but this is at best antisocial when you take neighbours into account.
Sleepless in Seattle is different in that it’s a film entirely based around the ‘grand gesture’ and the notion that you can fall in love without even having to spend a good deal of time with the person first. The same goes for pseudo-sequel You’ve Got Mail (1998). A more realistic version of that film would have been Tom Hanks falling in love with someone via e-mail and then finding out that that person was a forty year old fat man who did it for ‘teh lulz’. Falling in love with someone without meeting them is nigh on impossible, or at the very least not very sensible, which is why my relationship with Eva Green will never really take off. Of course these are very specific examples; more general things crop up in films that have genuinely ruined what little of my love life I have left. Morning breath and the fact that almost nobody is a morning person puts an end to waking up, smiling at your partner and then kissing them. Similarly, sleeping in each other’s arms is downright impractical. The only point at which you’d be sleeping in my arms is when I’m carrying you to the sofa so I have more room in bed. These seem like little details, but love is all about details and it also requires work, rather than the effortlessness portrayed on screen.
The enormous gulf between the love we see in films like Pretty Woman (1990) or Love Actually and love as it really exists is highlighted by the fact that the most realistic ‘romantic’ films released recently are Blue Valentine (2011), Greenberg, (2010) and the first half of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Falling in love is difficult, awkward, irritating, bizarrely rational and slightly nauseating when you’re not part of it. On top of that it will almost always crush you in some way until you either become a shell of your former self in a relationship you loathe or crying on your bathroom floor, alone, scared, but somehow not surprised. Have a nice day.