Behold, the relationshipocalypse

Ugh, you guys. I saw He’s Just Not That Into You last night and as you might imagine I HAVE SOME THOUGHTSICLES.

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First of all, where they get off calling this clown show a “romantic comedy” I’ll never know, because it was neither romantic nor particularly funny. Actually, it was totes depressing. Which, you know, is fine generally; none of our lives are sunshine and roses all the time, and the manufactured, solipsistic bullshit suffering most romantic comedies put their characters through for no reason is not preferable, but man. I’ve never wanted to die in a theater more than during this movie.

I won’t say, though, that the movie is “unrealistic” in its portrayal of women disecting a man’s texts and verbal cues and body language for signs that he’s “into” her, because of course people (all people, men and women) do that all the time. I’m a completely reasonable woman and I found myself doing that over and over for about nine months in recent memory, and while I don’t need a movie to remind me of how stupid that is, remind me it did. So, ugh, stab me in the eye. Some moments of this movie were physically painful to watch, and even though I’m loathe to admit it, some of those moments that made me want to vom had the imprint of recognition on them. As in, I’ve done that before. I did that yesterday. Kill me.

So, spoilers ahead, for those who care.

But most of what made me sick in this movie was just the godawfulness of the characters. When the lights came up, I turned to my friend Cambria and said, “I just wanted to set them all on fire.”

In retrospect, though, it wasn’t all of the characters. I really like Ginnifer Goodwin, and while her character, uh, Gigi was it?? was horrifically self-involved and so obsessed with getting a guy to like her that she never, ever asked herself, “Do I like this person?”, I sympathized with her unlikeability predicament and secretly hoped that she’d wise up and calm down. And she did, kind of. So that was an achievement. Although, even when she figured out that Justin Long was “into” her (I’m sorry, I just can’t write that without quotation marks to indicate my complete dissociation from the term), she was more like, “Yes! He likes me!” instead of “Yes! He likes me and I like him!” And anyway he didn’t like her, and then she made that impassioned speech, “At least I put myself out there even though I might make myself ridiculous most of the time and who cares if you think I’m a moron because at least I try!” and while I don’t think that would have made Justin Long either fall in love with her or realize he’d fallen in love with her without his own knowledge (something else I don’t buy, the whole “I loved you but I didn’t know it” thing, a common conceit in romantic narratives that annoys me), I fell in love with her a little bit because, yes, own it girlfriend. You get points for trying. So yeah, when he came to her door and professed his “into”-ness I was happy that she held back, referencing the fact that he is a totally emotionless tool who treats women as if they’re disposable and that he hardcore rejected her not such a long time ago and that people don’t change. But then I was like, “He’s cute and he’s there so just kiss him already,” and that’s what happened so I was glad-ish.

Drew Barrymore was hardly in this mess, but I’m glad she got a happy ending anyway, because, while her story was asinine, she was just generally confused more than anything else and, whatever, MySpace is a black hole from which many people never emerge. I could give a damn about Kevin Connolly generally, and his character in this movie was not that great, but it was nice to see how sincerely he wanted to be with someone for real, it just wasn’t Ginnifer Goodwin. So him getting together with Drew Barrymore was fun at the end, especially because they had known each other the whole movie but had never really interacted.

And, FINE, the Jennifer Aniston/Ben Affleck story was all right. I hate reading reviews that say she “demands” that he marry her because, uh, she doesn’t, unless finally admitting what you’ve been too afraid to say that you want is a demand. That’s what you’re supposed to do, be honest about what you need in a relationship, right? But it was pretty obvious the whole time how much they loved each other, and both of their characters were sympathetic and easy to like. I would’ve preferred that he would’ve capitulated about the marriage thing when she came to the boat to capitulate about the non-marriage thing, because that would’ve been very Gift of the Magi, instead of later in their house, because “now that she doesn’t need to get married I’m sort of okay with it” is kind of passive aggressive. But whatever. No complaints, that was a totally tolerable storyline.

BUT OH MY GOD YOU GUYS. The Scarlett Johansson/Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Connolly storyline made me SO. ANGRY. I hate the idea of cheating, I hate it when people do it, I always think it’s completely, totally morally indecent to do it, and I absolutely hate Hollywood’s ongoing attempt to normalize and glorify it. Bradley Cooper’s character was literally the scum of the earth. If you don’t want to get married to someone you don’t get married to them. If you get married to them even though you didn’t particularly want to you find a way to make it work or you end it in as dignified, respectful a way as possible. You do not, I repeat, DO NOT cheat on them repeatedly while feeding them lies about wanting to make it work and ambushing them with the fact of your infidelity in a Home Depot! UGH. I really don’t like Scarlett Johansson at all, and I like Bradley Cooper in Alias but now…I don’t know. Poor Jennifer Connelly. She should’ve been all, “YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME” and been done with it.

So there. Sitting through He’s Just Not That Into You was, on the whole, a terrifying experience for a young single gal like me. I comfort myself with the knowledge (delusion?) that romance and happiness are not easily quantifiable, nor is there a formula for human interaction or a “rule.” There’s just common sense and mutual respect and if you lose on both counts, well, there’s your answer. Happy Valentine’s Day, you guys! (It is not Valentine’s Day yet, calm down.)

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Comiromantitragedy

As I’ve mentioned previously, I saw the Sunday matinee performance of Spring Awakening, the musical interpretation of a nineteenth century play by German writer Frank Wedekind. It won the Tony for Best Musical in 2007, and for good reason–it’s an amazing show. But I have to admit that it left me feeling a little bit off for some reason; it was hard to shake off the, for lack of a better word, dark and melancholy feeling that sort of settled over me throughout the entire performance. Another word I’ve used to describe the show is “creepy”, which is hardly illuminating. I think I might have isolated in part what makes the show so damn creepy, and while it rankles even after you leave the theater. (This discussion will probably be of no use to anyone who hasn’t seen but plans on seeing the play and doesn’t want to be spoiled. Just a warning.)

The show starts out like your typical adolescent coming-of-age comedy, for the most part, sort of like American Pie but everybody’s a bit younger. Sure, it’s taking place in 1891 in Germany, but whatevs, same diff. There’s masturbation humor and homoerotic subtext a la History Boys and Stiffler’s mom-type jokes and girl/boy meet-cutes, everything you could want in an adolescent Apotovian comedy, basically. The show opens with a funny scene between main female protagonist, fourteen-year-old Wendla Bergmann, and her mother, as Wendla begs to be informed finally where babies come from and her extremely agitated mother simply tells her that when a woman loves her husband, she becomes pregnant. Now, the contemporary feel of the play distracts you from the blatant irresponsibility of this act on the part of Wendla’s mother; my parents never explained sex to me, but I had sexual education in school and I watched television, so I got the message pretty quickly and way before I turned fourteen. But Wendla is a young woman in 1891 and all her girlfriends are just as clueless as she is–they literally have no other way to learn about sex but from the adult women in their lives, who refuse to teach them and thus leave them unprepared for real-life sexual situations that, I’m sorry, have existed since the beginning of human history, namely: TEENS ARE GOING TO HAVE SEX. Ignorance is not an obstacle to that fundamental condition.

This is problematic for several reasons, the biggest being that Wendla has sex without connecting it with the act of procreation; if she had known that was how babies were made, she probably wouldn’t have submitted to Malchior in the hayloft. Once she finds out she is pregnant, she reminds her mother that as far as she knew you could only get pregnant by loving your husband, and since Malchior is not her husband she figured she was pretty good on the contraception front. DUH. But I’m getting off topic. Here, an originally comic situation–parental discomfort with teen sexual curiosity and avoidance of the issue, which we see in a hundred sitcoms every year in some form or another–becomes a devastatingly tragic one when Wendla, completely clueless, has sex and gets pregnant and then ultimately (SPOILER! SERIOUSLY) dies from a botched abortion.

Another example of this is the relationship between Wendla and Malchior. Here, we have another typical teen comedy set-up: the smart, secretly sensitive radical falls in love with the sweet, mousy virgin, and vice versa, but forces–parents, teachers, various other teen dramas–conspire to keep them apart. Except that, almost from the beginning, the relationship is tinged with–and then drowned by–darkness, because Malchior and especially Wendla misinterpret sexual and romantic longing and the desire to feel something translates into a violent encounter where Wendla begs Malchior to beat her and Malchior becomes exceedingly aggressive. Though Wendla and Malchior eventually have what appears to be relatively tender (though awkward) sex later, the fact that Malchior knows about sex and its physical consequences (although he, like Wendla, must be ignorant of the social and emotional ramifications of having sex at such a young age) and Wendla so obviously does not makes the scene seem, if you think about it, a little bit like rape. At least, a sort of taking advantage, since if Wendla knew she could get pregnant from having sex with Malchior she probably wouldn’t have done it. And, indeed, in the original Wedekind play Malchior does explicitly rape Wendla, but of course they dialed it down a bit for Broadway audiences. So, what is first a romance fit for a teen chick flick becomes much darker and more tragic, especially after Wendla dies.

What I meant to point out about all this is that Spring Awakening is able to effect an emotional resonance by taking the audience’s expectations based on reasonable indicators of tone and content presented early in the show and completely subverting them. Light comedy and sweet romance are transformed into haunting, angry tragedy when the characters start connecting sex with violence and never look back. It’s an interesting–and effective–narrative strategy that, I think, comes from a narrowing of perspective, like, it’s all masturbation jokes and hot for teacher fantasies until you start examining individual relationships and the dark underbelly of sexual exploitation. I don’t have much to say about it other than I think it’s cool that they’re able to so flawlessly cause that effect, and that they manage to say something really meaningful in the process.