Saturday, September 13, 2014

Romantic comedy: invasion of the dude-bros, revenge of the nerds, rants of the "nice guys"

I don't claim to know why the romantic comedy suddenly became the domain of the dude-bro. But as Andrew Romano observes:
Even romantic comedies themselves have become more male-centric over the last dozen years, with the Nora Ephrons and Nancy Meyerses of the world giving way to “bromance” auteurs such as Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin) and Jason Segel (I Love You, Man).
And let's not forget "Saving Sarah Marshall" and "Love, Actually", both classified as "Romantic Comedies."

But unlike romantic comedies in which the two lovers are equally balanced, the dude-bro romantic comedies are decidedly balanced in favor of the males - this is not give-and-take between two well-matched adversaries. In these movies, we are expected to root for the man to get a trophy woman. As Lindy West said of Love, Actually:
Colin Firth falls in "love" with Aurelia at first sight, establishing Love Actually's central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is.

None of the women in this movie fucking talk. All of the men in this movie "win" a woman at the end. This goddamn movie.
So what these dude-bro movies seek to do is change the formula in a romantic comedy from a man and a woman to a man and his prize. In other words, to make a romantic comedy more like all other movies, which are almost always about a male protagonist. 

The male protagonist who got the girl was originally an action hero - manly and attractive, like James Bond. Yeah, you had to be a part of a virtual harem, but at least he looked like Sean Connery. In these new movies women are no longer handed out as prizes to the alpha male -  they're being handed out as prizes to the men at the bottom of the social/aesthetic hierarchy. Revenge of the nerds indeed. And the expectations such narratives create are sure to lead to problems, according to Arthur Chu:
But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well. 
So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?
How far does this giving women to nerds as prizes scenario go in denying women their right to be "protagonists of their own stories"? Joe Queenan gets it exactly right:
Thus, even though Knocked Up - like The 40 Year Old Virgin and all its other kin - focuses on immature, misogynist, porn-obsessed male losers who revel in one another's smelly, unhygienic company, there are apparently insights and laughs aplenty to be found in this tale of a loser ultimately saved by the love of a good woman - a good woman, naturally, endowed with a stunning rack. 
There is, of course, another way of looking at this subject: that the new genre of romantic comedies are not really upbeat, coming-of-age motion pictures about young male schmucks who are saved by the love of a good woman, but heart-rending tragedies about beautiful young women who are doomed to spend the rest of their lives with juvenile, not especially good-looking dorks.
In dude-bro "romantic comedies" for men to win, women must lose. And not only that, they render women's ambitions pointless. Kathryn Hegl's character in Knocked Up is not only beautiful, she has a television career. Now why would a woman be ambitious and career-driven? So she can end up supporting a stoner porn addict baby-daddy? Only in dude-bro fantasies.

Or as I said a year and a half ago: it's the misogyny, stupid.

But what do these men think women are getting out of these scenarios? That's where we get into "Nice Guy" territory. From a much shared "Nice Guy" rant:
You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy.
That's what dude-bros and revenge nerds and "nice guys" think that women get out of these unequal relationships - emotional intimacy. And in exchange they owe men sex.

And that's why it's OK for the woman to be much much hotter than the guy. You don't need to be hot to provide emotional intimacy. Women are not allowed to want emotional intimacy with a hot guy - that's too greedy by the "nice guy"'s standards. This will not be allowed in the dude-bro "romantic comedy." That's why gorgeous Paul Rudd doesn't get to play the romantic lead in Knocked Up.

Joe Queenan again:
Where is all this leading? It's leading to a future so dark that women will look back on the decade that brought them The Runaway Bride, Notting Hill, My Best Friend's Wedding and My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a golden age. 
So can the romantic comedy be saved from the dude-bros?

And what about the portentousness and cynicism of the theater?