A Touch of VD
Sadly — as a lonely, pathetic, loveless, feminazi hater of men, romance, puppies, and everything light and fluffy and wonderful and good in the world — I have seen 98.7 percent of all Hollywood romantic comedies (perhaps in an effort to cure myself? my team of analysts has not yet come to a consensus on this). Which means I’d already seen Valentine’s Day before I saw it. Perhaps screenwriter Katherine Fugate and director Garry Marshall should be honored for discovering some heretofore undiscovered realm of quantum physics regarding Mobius wormholes that allow people to see movies before they’ve seen them. But that’s about the extent of the praise that should be heaped upon them.
My big beef with studio rom-coms is that they typically have no idea what to do with themselves: They posit a couple that is clearly destined to be together while simultaneously needing to keep them apart for at least 90 minutes, so they throw all manner of preposterous obstacles at them. Because, as everyone knows, the barriers to true love for most people aren’t things like their own hangups or mismatches in availability between potential couples or overwork or a simple lack of likely prospects — the barriers are always the fact that your long-lost cousin just turned up to tell you that she’s about to marry a guy next week in Paris and you absolutely must be a bridesmaid, and then the groom turns out to be the college sweetheart you thought was dead but suddenly turned up with amnesia and you just can’t bear to break your cousin’s heart in Paris, even though it later turns out you shouldn’t have worried at all because your cousin will get over her broken heart really quickly thanks to Jean-Luc, the cute French wedding caterer.
I hate all that forced shit. And I guess Fugate does too, because she just eliminates it all. She cuts right from “OMG I just totally know that Handsome Young Buff Stud and Sexy Hot Scantily Dressed Thang have to end up together, they’re so totally adorable! *squee*!” to them actually ending up together. And so why isn’t Valentine’s Day only 10 minutes long? Because — and here’s the evil genius part — she threw in 187 such couples. All in the same movie. And they’re running around Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day missing connections and moaning about their relationships and generally behaving as annoyingly unconvincing caricatures of real people in love, or not in love, and spouting whatever fortune-cookie wisdom they have to offer on their conditions.
It’s like being force-fed, all in one sitting, an entire box of cheap-shit heart-shaped chocolates from the dollar store.
Rom-coms are inevitably masses of clichés, but when it’s 187 gloopy, mechanical Hollywood rom-coms all rolled together, the pain is intense. What do you think will happen with Anne Hathaway’s (Bride Wars, Becoming Jane) phone-sex entertainer (who’s so stupid she takes these calls on an office phone where anyone could overhear from the next cubicle and, perhaps worse, she has to cut off her paying customers when her boss comes by! that’s no way to build a business) when her new boyfriend, Topher Grace’s (Spider-Man 3, In Good Company) immature, naive little boy (a character the 30something Grace is waaay too old to pull off), finds out about her sideline? What do you think will happen to Jennifer Garner’s (The Invention of Lying, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) schoolteacher and Ashton Kutcher’s (Open Season, The Guardian) florist, bestest platonic friends ever, when both of their romantic relationships fall apart on Valentine’s Day?
We girls should know, by the way, that by this point, if you’re in a romantic comedy, and you’re praising your new boyfriend for being a real grownup, a real man, he’s a lying scummy married jerk. It’s like being a cop in an action movie who’s retiring next week and just bought a boat: Dude, you’re gonna die in second act.
The unsuprisingly scummy jerk boyfriend — are you stunned to learn that he’s played by Patrick Dempsey (Made of Honor, Enchanted)? and that he’s a heart surgeon? — is VD’s idea of drama. Its idea of wit: having Taylor Lautner (New Moon, Cheaper by the Dozen 2), who serially appears shirtless in public, say, “I’m a little uncomfortable taking my shirt off in public.” Also: the notion that the only people who hate Valentine’s Day are either lonely misfits or commitment phobes. (It’s funny because everyone secretly wants to conform!) And not because Valentine’s Day is prepackaged commercial crap… just like this movie!
VD — it’s sort of perfect that the film’s title can be abbreviated as VD — also thinks it’s being clever and “suspenseful” in how it acknowledges, rather grudgingly and as if it’s keeping it a secret, that not all love worth celebrating is of the romantic and sexual kind, and that not all romantic and sexual love is of the heterosexual kind. The movie does this by walling off those characters it finds to be daringly “unconventional” and treating their lives as something surprising, instead of allowing itself to embrace them full on. These characters might have had something interesting to say, and their lives might have been the stuff of a fresh take on love, but VD doesn’t dare do more than poke tentatively at them, lest the tedious “norms” it is otherwise regurgitating see any real challenge.
Kudos, perhaps, should go to Fugate and Marshall (Georgia Rule, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement) for updating a hoary cliché: the ol’ “running to catch the train before it leaves the platform and takes the person you just realized you can’t live without out of your life forever.” They turn the “Homeland Security felony at the airport” into the grandest expression of Teh Romance. We all know that, in real life, the lovesick Handsome Young Buff Stud would end up behind bars and the airport would be shut down for hours while everyone was rescreened, and maybe a real romance would blossom between delayed travelers as they queue up again to be Constitutionally violated again. There’s a premise for a potentially funny romantic black comedy. And Hollywood can have it for free.