I don’t know what it is about me and movies this summer. On my book review blog, I review pretty much all the books I read, and mostly they’re good reviews because I enjoy most of the books. I don’t have a movie review blog because I watch a lot fewer movies than the number of books I read, but when I do watch something, I occasionally blog about it.
So this summer, I’ve seen Up, which I thought was fantastic and wonderful, and the new Star Trek, which I thought was very good. Like lots of people, I’m counting the minutes to the new Harry Potter, which I fully expect will be mind-blowing. But what movies do I choose to blog about? Hannah Montana, as you may recall, and now another forgettable piece of fluff, The Proposal, which I watched a few weeks ago on my one-night trip to New York City.
There’s really not much to say about The Proposal except that Ryan Reynolds has great abs, Sandra Bullock still looks good, and it’s a standard romantic-comedy that offers absolutely nothing to lift itself above genre conventions. I mean, if you go see a romantic comedy and complain that it’s light, fluffy, and the hero and heroine have to overcome a bunch of completely ridiculous obstacles to arrive at a preordained happy ending — well, hey, that’s like saying “Darn it! Every time I read one of these mystery novels, someone ends up getting killed! What up wit dat?” Every genre has its conventions. We know them, we enjoy them, we sometimes transcend them. But writers and filmmakers work with the conventions, and audiences expect them.
What is it that makes some genre movies, like some genre fiction, rise above the conventions of the genre to be great and memorable, while most sink quickly to the bottom of the pool?
Dozens of romantic comedies hit the big screen every year. Which ones linger in people’s minds years afterward? When Harry Met Sally? Pretty Woman? There are probably a handful that most fans would agree are great, and a few more that each of us would put on our own “personal best” list that others might not share (a personal favourite of mine is the 1985 John Cusack/Daphne Zuniga flick The Sure Thing … remember that?)
What makes a handful better than the rest is a tougher question. Somehow amid the romantic hijinks and comic misunderstandings, there has to be some real heart — a sense that the characters are real people you could actually care about. Great writing and acting can make that happen, but it’s a tricky formula, and I’m sure every time a movie studio releases a romantic comedy, they think they’ve got that formula sewed up. But it rarely happens, and 99% of romantic comedies are completely forgettable as soon as you walk out of the theatre.
I’d definitely put The Proposal in the forgettable file. The co-stars are attractive and likeable, but neither of them ever really became real or believable to me. The premise is paper-thin and an obvious set-up for hilarious misunderstanding and awkward moments of predictable (but never really fiery) sexual tension. In fact, the one and only thing The Proposal has to make it stand out at all is that it’s the first mainstream Hollywood romantic comedy I can remember seeing where the attractive female lead is 13 years older than the hunky male lead.
I’ll admit, being about the same age as Sandra Bullock, I did enjoy — and not just in a purely shallow way — the spectacle of her cavorting about with the thirtyish Ryan Reynolds. I enjoyed even more the fact that the age difference between them was never a major issue in the movie nor have I seen it mentioned a lot in reviews. When Pretty Woman came out in 1990, nobody seemed to think it was a big deal that Richard Gere was 41 and Julia Roberts was 23, nor that Billy Crystal was 41 and Meg Ryan 28 when they co-starred in When Harry Met Sally (though, to be fair, I think Billy Crystal believably played a character quite a bit younger than the actor’s actual age in that one).
Are we actually reaching an era in which a forty-something woman can co-star with a thirty-year-old male as her romantic lead and it doesn’t excite comment? I hope so, because I hate to see the endless parade of Hollywood ingenues starring as love interests for men twenty years their senior, when a few years later the same actresses are relegated to playing the mothers of male stars only ten years younger than they are (e.g. Sally Field and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump). The Proposal is a moderately amusing piece of summer fluff, not remotely likely to become a classic of the romantic-comedy genre, but if Sandra Bullock is still considered bankable as a romantic female lead, that’s worth cheering for, and if she’s allowed to do it starring opposite a chiselled 30-ish Canadian, all the better.
As for the spillover from movies into real life, well, I’m happily married to a man a year old than I am, so I have no personal stake in a social change that makes it acceptable for us women in our 40s to date 30-somethings or even 20-somethings. But in the interests of gender equity, and of women my age being seen as sexy and attractive long past our 40th birthdays, I’ll stand up and cheer for that too.
So, that’s it for my latest movie-rant-soapbox. In other news, amidst entertaining visiting relatives and enjoying summer fun, I have updated Compulsive Overreader with six new book reviews, and put some new stuff on the By the Rivers of Brooklyn site and on the Press page here on Hypergraffiti, to keep up with the occasional reviews and interviews I’m getting about the book.