Not so long ago, I walked out of the movie, No Strings Attached feeling annoyed, but it was my own fault. I should have known better than to think that a Hollywood rom-com would have anything other than a fraudulently happy ending.
At first it was fun watching the two leads fumble around, trying to figure out how to be together, but it quickly reverted to cliché. At that point, the troubled female lead suddenly made a turnabout and was ready to commit; this despite there being nothing in the script that could explain her transformation.
Just like in all current rom-coms, the male lead was first full of hope, then fed up with his female counterpart's ambivalence and then finally decided to write her off. But then true to formula, he too, changed his feelings and took her back.
While sitting in the theatre watching the story turn to mush and waiting for the thing to finally be over, I reflected on how this was one more in a long string of Hollywood hits that bear no resemblance to genuine human interaction.
Some people might say, "What's the big deal? It's only a movie," but I think that No Strings Attached and the other rom-coms out there today are not so benign, as the false expectations they set up can interfere with our ability to have successful relationships.
Not having learned my lesson, off I went to see the movie, Bridesmaids, hoping that a movie written by and starring Kristen Wiig might not follow the same blueprint. I was wrong. Although there were a few good laughs, the love story was the standard issue.
There are a few basic versions of the Hollywood formula for rom-coms. In Bridesmaids and in No Strings Attached it goes like this: cute girl meets cute boy, girl messes up and inadvertently pushes boy away, boy gets angry and takes a walk, an improbable coincidence throws them back together, girl sees the light and wants the relationship, boy forgives girl, love ensues and the credits roll.
Sure, the Hollywood version of romance is driven by the profit motive of the filmmakers and it's not like anyone who makes these films is promising cinema verite, but no-one is taking responsibility for the way these movies distort our ideas of what a normal human connection should look like.
We as a society are so confused about how to create and maintain good relationships. The Hollywood machine makes everything worse by perpetrating the myths of the big "Aha", and moments of redemption, transformation and resolution that rarely happen in real life.
Hollywood offers a counterfeit version of human interaction in which somebody clueless one day wakes up and for no apparent reason, finally sees the light. In the movies, this person can mess things up completely but once they understand, they make everything right. To top it off, this same person suffers no consequences for their bad behaviour no matter how badly they've hurt, deceived, manipulated or betrayed their loved one.
According to the Hollywood myth as demonstrated in No Strings Attached, a girl who for years has been utterly unable to commit as a result of some deep-seated emotional trauma can suddenly become fully capable of having a long-term, meaningful relationship, and the boy who's had his heart stomped on can completely forget about what just happened and start anew with the girl. The fact that there's no psychological truth to either of their behaviours is immaterial to the filmmakers.
In real life, we have to live with relationships going unresolved. Endings are messy, people are obstinate and there are misunderstandings abound. People don't change unless they really want to. Heartbreak tends to lead not to forgiveness but to resentment and estrangement.
It's understandable that we buy into the messages these movies promote. They give us hope, false as it might be, that things will work out for us in love just because we want them to. As our own relationships crumble around us, we cling ever more tightly to the illusion of happily-ever-after.
Hollywood is undermining our relationships by fostering the expectation that if we simply practice patience, our recalcitrant loved one eventually will understand what we want and give it to us. We can waste the best years of our lives waiting for this to happen while the movies we're watching encourage us to hang on, telling us that true love indeed, will finally come our way.
It's not that we should stop going to the movies, but I think we might want to exercise some healthy skepticism while watching these romantic comedies. They portray themselves as seemingly harmless diversions but are sending out a destructive message to their unsuspecting audience, and we viewers need to take care.
We have to see through the Hollywood illusion where everyone finally gets it, everyone can change, no-one is punished for their bad behaviour and everything is resolved. As long as we're clear that our real-life relationships will never be anything like those portrayed on-screen, we can feel free to enjoy our rom-coms without risk.