Friday, February 10, 2006

Stop, in the name of love

"I'm finally going to see Capote," he said with a big smile, walking to the counter.

"You are?!? Great!" I happily responded.

We'd talked about the film - our very first conversation - back in October. Only the hottest guy ever to share my airspace (and birthday week) he's also a would-be writer. Perfect film for him.

"So, did you see Brokeback?" I asked.

"Yes, I did. It was good. Did you like it?"

"Weeelll...." I said.

"You didn't? Why not?"

"Oh, a couple of reasons, actually. First, I hate love stories."

Just then the clerk's office cordless phone started ringing in his hand. That's generally our daily routine: a few sentences surrounded by constant interruption. Maybe that ringing sound was the death knell for our nascent friendship. Without benefit of explanation, I sounded like a cranky cynic.

What a way to leave a discussion.

I hate love stories? What the. . . I sounded like someone stole my romance gene. Maybe they did. But the truth remains: for lots of reasons, I loathe a big old love story.

Blame it on David O. Selznick.

As a child, I adored Gone With the Wind. So epic. So sweeping. Four hours of pure pageantry and undying love, it was for many years my favorite film and story.

The minute details still filling my head about Selznick, Vivien Leigh and author Margaret Mitchell are the main reason I couldn't get calculus. Just too much flotsam in the cranial region. Much of it humming along to "look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land."

By 1995, I was sick of love stories. Consider these three words: The English Patient.

It was supposed to be so epic (that word again), this tale of forbidden love and regret drowning in sand. I got totally swindled, again, and bought into it - until seeing Fargo.

That quirky little intense, thoughtful, consuming film was an unhyped gem. It made me really think, and not about that old elusive feeling, l'amour. But about human nature, and what makes people do the things they do, and about the merits or problems of a life of crime.

Someone from a news station happened to ask me what movie would win Oscar that year, for a "man on the street interview." I had no hesitation: "The English Patient will win, but Fargo should win."

There was no turning back for me.

And as it came to pass, I was correct. Now look at both those pictures, and tell me which one was really superior. Which is still interesting and continues to hold-up over time?

Just when it was safe to be a love-hating curmudgeon again, along came Titanic.

Not only did it boast of love, love, love that was doomed, doomed, doomed -- but it was historically relevant and full of wicked special effects. Rose and Jack, those poor sad kids. To find true love only to die a few brief hours after losing your virginity. . .could anything be more depressing?

Yes, actually. One thing can be more depressing: watching Titanic on television now.

Lousy dialogue, totally unbelievable relationship sub-plot, hollow script; to watch it is to cringe. What was AMPAS thinking, naming this clunker Best Picture? Worse, what were we thinking, believing it?

It's no wonder some folks are calling Brokeback Mountain , "Gaytanic."

More than a simple play on words, the comparison is both campy and apt. Take away the mountain or the boat and you're left with the same story: two people meet, fall in love, and one of them is inevitably doomed. Young hot leads, vast romantic scenery, others who come between the budding love affair. . .it's damn near too close for comfort.

More importantly, the only thing really epic about either film was the amount of hype surrounding them.

"Simply breathtaking!" might've been some ad campaigner's idea of the closest to honesty he could come when describing a love story where lots of people drown in the end, or a cowboy meets his demise under questionable circumstances. But for me, it really was breathtaking: pure strangulation of thought and character development.

Yeah, yeah. I know.

I'm supposed to be entranced, swept away by the love factor.

But to me, a love story is just a cheap ploy, a way to tug at audience emotions without doing the requisite legwork of true character development and a believable, meaningful plot that makes you actually care about the erstwhile lovers of said film. A hook, and we are nothing more than bait to a giant fisherman hell-bent on snagging an Oscar.

If simple love is bad, doomed love is the laziest cheap trick ever invented by a writer. Two people getting together and making googly-eyes at one another is great. Having one die in the end? Priceless. Ratchets-up the emotional quotient to a six or seven on the Kleenex meter.

So, keep your stories of doomed love. I'm not buying, anymore. When all is said and done, they're almost as big a let-down as really breaking up with someone.

Thanks, but no thanks.

You want to impress me, keep my interest, get my butt into a theater?

Bring me a complex study of a marriage or partnership that's not boring and/or completely dysfunctional. Show me the hot romance in daily life between two people who really put themselves out there, neither of whom is slated to drown or be murdered for 50 years after they hook-up.

Make them believable, complicated, messy human beings who aren't cardboard cut-out bookends practically wearing signs that say "I love not wisely" and the other "I love not well." Show me how they keep it together when the mortgage is late, they're on their 20th grocery store trip for the week, or their kid gets cancer.

Bring me something real. Something worth thinking about. Worth fighting for. Worth actually investing in.

Better yet, skip the love completely. Bring me a story of someone with inner conflict, wrestling their demons, and not always winning, not backed by a Rocky-esque theme song. Show me a heel I can root for, whose transformation into good guy or girl doesn't rely on prosthetics and makeup. Who really suffers and changes, but lapses into heeldom every now and again. And let me guess as to what his reasons were for doing some of what he did.

In the meantime, wake me up when Brokeback fever is over and we can get back to movies that have something more worthy of discussion than love.

Then we'll talk about what makes a film outlast its hype, and characters transcend the screen. And when such a movie comes around, I promise to love it, cheering it on to Oscar glory.
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