My friends don’t understand why it is I’ve always been so obsessed with relationships and romance and love. And I used to always tell them that once they were finally in a relationship, they’d understand. They’d see everything for how much brighter and more colorful and more vibrant they become when they’re with someone. I just got out of the movies, and rushed home, to start writing this very late post, because I think I got that illuminating ‘a-ha’ moment wrong all this time.
I was a kid living and watching through the golden age of cheesy romances. Many were, and still remain, some of my favorite movies of all time. If You’ve Got Mail is playing on TV it doesn’t matter what time it is or what I’m doing, I will stay glued to that TV to finish it out. I happily sing along to the energy and fervor of Moulin Rouge. I remember watching While You Were Sleeping with my mother during the day, and how for a span of like, three months she used to have Leap Year on endless loop playing in the family room. Who could forget the Titanic marathons women would subject themselves to, watching this movie over and over in theatres. I swear, if the sheer demand didn’t keep it in cinemas, Kleenex certainly would have. And all these movies, for as wonderful and cheesy and heartfelt as they are, they all have this one thing in common that I thought was the end all be all for love and romance. They all built worlds and stories and characters around just that one moment where two people fall in love and…end. Credits. Every time. And what waaays they ended up together though. Oh, the heart melts. Who can forget Meg Ryan looking tearfully at Tom Hanks, saying ‘I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly’. It was always about two people realizing they should be together and then just being together and then credits roll to Hollywood happiness. And because of that, for the longest time I thought the most important part of a relationship, the part you learn the most from, was the getting together. That that must have been the hardest part in the entire process. Two people finding each other in the chaos and randomness of the world and being each other’s soulmates and the search was the obstacle and the soulmate and the life of ease and comfort was the reward. If you weren’t lovesick, it just meant you hadn’t found the right person, and it would just take the finding and the being to make a lifelong convert.
But that’s not exactly true, is it? In fact, it’s not even remotely true. It is the complete opposite, the antithesis. And over time, people began to realize that. We had, or have, the rise of the ‘anti-romcom’. Smart, witty, deliberate attempts at subverting the romcom tropes we grew up with. And I’ve seen so many this past year. Don Jon was a self-aware movie that purposefully poked holes not only in the ridiculousness and excessiveness of pornography but also in the unreasonable expectations and demands of romcom relationships. I’ll admit it wasn’t this year I saw it for the first time but it was this past year that had me constantly revisiting and reexamining (500) Days of Summer first as life model, then source of hope and optimism, muse for love and relationships, but most importantly, a reminder of what it is I’m actually supposed to be looking for. Swiss Army Man caught me by surprise because it did such an incredible job of masking its actual identity of a romance and love film with all the nonsense and distraction of a farting, shooting, Daniel Radcliffe corpse. The Way Way Back was one of the first movies I saw last summer that really made a lasting and important impression on me for its own much more mature and yet lighthearted take on pure, young love. And now, to add to the list of these new wave of intelligent romantic comedies, there is the semi-autobiographical but fully humorous, entertaining, and heartwarming The Big Sick.
I didn’t really know much about this movie, or that in particular it was actually based on the true circumstances of the first year of Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his now-wife. Is that a spoiler alert? She’s fine, everyone. She gets out of the coma. I saw an interview of Kumail on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ and they showed that clip of him in the hospital cafeteria with his girlfriend’s parents when he’s asked about 9/11 and I just knew I had to see the whole damn thing. And I’m so glad I did, and I definitely think if you have the opportunity you should as well. It’s a limited release movie so it isn’t showing in nearly as many theatres as it should, but seeing as it is an Amazon production, I imagine it’ll be on Stream soon enough. (What what get that Amazon Prime y’all.) There are such great moments of comedy and they’re written with such sharp wit and they’re delivered with perfect timing and pacing that it’s hard not to find yourself lost in laughter. And there’s certainly a lot to say about the particular skill not only in writing but in acting and perceiving to take what I don’t doubt was a scary and stressful time and reaching beyond that to the humor and heart that makes it a story worth sharing. It is a funny movie. And it’s a real story of real love. And there’s risks taken and hearts to be won and obstacles to overcome. But even the old guard, those 90s and early 2000s throwbacks, could have that and make us want to laugh. It’s these newer ones that have something else in common that to me, make them more ‘authentic’, more ‘relatable’, more ‘real’. They make you cry.
There’s this misconception in high school English classes all over the country (and maybe the world) that we read Shakespeare and Hemingway and Twain and Joyce and whatnot because we want them to know about Hamlet or fishing or the deep south or Ireland. And I would always tell my students that I don’t care if in ten years from now they remember what Hamlet’s father said to him or the symbolism of his soliloquy. I barely cared in the moment about how much they could recognize metaphors and references to southern politics and society in Twain’s depiction in Huck Finn. We read these novels because they are supplements to knowledge we don’t yet have. I want them to read Othello because a classroom and fictional characters are safe environments for young minds to develop mature attitudes towards loyalty and friendship and envy. They know so little when they’re young of great and significant issues and we use literature as tools to exercise and hypothesize and figure out slowly and gradually the kinds of people we are or want to become. And to me, movies are the same way when it comes to emotions. Great movies that are the golden standards of their genres are such because of how they awaken emotions in us that we might not normally feel. Good horrors scare us to the bone, they make us question everyday objects and feel a primal, instinctual, survival type of fear. Great dramas show us just how deeply we can feel for others, constantly pulling on our hearts to greater depths and unlocking levels of humanity and understanding. Action movies make us feel nobler and braver and stronger than we are, inspiring some of us to be heroes. And great romances, real, true, authentic romances, take us way beyond just that sheer ecstasy of the beginning. It shows us past that illusion into what really tells us why love is so important, why we search for it, why we crave it. It shows us loss.
I’ve cried more in movies this past year than I think I ever have. Way Way Back, Swiss Army Man, Big Sick, Kubo, La La Land, even Guardians 2. (Hey I never said they’d all make sense. Sometimes I’m just an emotional mess.) But the romances, the Way Way Backs and the Swiss Army Mans of them all, I was glad to have them to make me cry. Those were tears I think only people who’ve felt love and lost love could cry. You know for as happy as I’ve been this past year, I don’t think anything ever has made me as happy as losing love has made me sad. And sometimes I am afraid of that. And it’s for that reason that sometimes I feel bad for people who have never dated not because they don’t know that relationship lovesick happiness, but because they don’t know that soul crushing yet soul affirming depth of sadness of love loss. A lot of things can make me happy. And a lot of those are not dating or relationships or love. I can find it much easier and in equal or greater portions in so many other things. But nothing like love can make me feel as human as its sadness. I love these newer modern romances because the good ones add that loss. Some, like Swiss Army Man, are even brave enough to stop it at that loss. But I don’t blame most for still wanting to give us that happy ending. It’s there for everyone to have and to relate to. But those scenes of loss, of reflection, of appreciation, those are for the ones who’ve known heartbreak. To feel it again. To remember.
I look back at this year, and I think, I’m glad I had those sad days. I’m glad I could feel how big my heart is and could be, by reaching out and touching the empty expanse of where I wanted my love to be. It’s a measure some people just don’t get to know. I don’t want everyone to go through heartbreak, mind you. If a good enough movie or song or book or piece of art can get you to understand that loss, all the better. I just don’t want to see so many people never appreciate or understand their love because they’ve never had it or because they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be without it. I still enjoy my cheesy romances, but they stay strictly in the movie world. I’ve had my fill of happy endings and stories that ended at the beginning. I like the romance movies that can make me laugh and cry. That poke and prod at the sore spots to remind me not of the hurt, but of the fact that they are there. I don’t keep pursuing love because of the happy happy joy joy mushy gushy stuff. I can get that. I can do that. I do it because I know how much my heart misses it. Oh how happy am I that I could ever afford to have been so sad.
Oh right. The daily prompt. Jangle. Like, what in the fuck even is that?!
Man: 331 Loneliness: 33