Sunday, 1 February 2009

Hollywood Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations About Love

Despite our ongoing need for the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl routine, somehow we consistently have to remind ourselves that as a rule, Hollywood’s depictions of love are far from realistic. It’s because of such films like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail (both co-written and directed by Nora Ephron) that we are conditioned to expect a happily ever after: a dizzying motion as we are swept up in an all-consuming kiss and a drive off into the sunset with a ‘just married’ banner strung to the rear bumper. What is so easily forgotten about these films is that they all deal with the same stage of a relationship – the thrill of the chase. The road to love is only ever exciting when obstacles are put in its way – a love rival, a set of awkward parents or a geographical divide. What these films rarely consider is what we in life have to face – what happens after the happily ever after?

Why is it we rarely consider this part? In our own lives we are constantly looking towards the future yet when we watch a film, we are perfectly content to accept that the satisfying, well-rounded resolution to the story is the end. There will be no more changes. No one would dare to question Annie and Sam’s future in Sleepless regardless of the fact they have only exchanged a handful of words during the whole film. Without question they will be together forever. Similarly, in Casablanca, we don’t expect that Rick and Ilsa will make attempts to reunite – we are left satisfied that they will go on to enjoy the rest of their lives regardless of their separation.

The films which started the whole comical routine of falling in love were the screwball comedies of the 1930s beginning famously with Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. These comedies emerged as a result of the Motion Picture Production Code which in 1930, stated that ‘the sanctity of marriage and the home shall be upheld and scenes of passion should not be introduced when not essential to the plot’. Consequently Hollywood devised its own way of bringing men and women together in a comedic battle of the sexes. Like its successors, these films would also only let their leads get together in the closing frames of the film, quite often with the hint, or perhaps vivid depiction of holy matrimony.
Sleepless in Seattle deliberately hones in on the female aspiring to love in the movies. The characters of Annie (Meg Ryan) and Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) weep over the romanticism of An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey) telling themselves ‘you don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie’. Women’s preoccupation with great romances of the past is not by any means a unique theme in romantic comedy. Several films – You’ve Got Mail, Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire) and The Jane Austen Book Club (Robin Swicord) make reference to one of literatures finest romantic novels, Pride & Prejudice. The saddest part is, if you take the time to watch the biopic, Becoming Jane (Julian Jarrold), and read about the real Jane Austen you will find that she lived a lonely existence and had very little experience of romance at all. The fact is these films offer a sense of hope and a sphere of escapism. They deliver the opportunity for us to nostalgically daydream about a fictional past. They are essentially fairytales for adults with love as a product, marketed by the movie industry to sell films. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day – is it not?

Joanna Beard


  1. How many hollywood playwrights,screenwriters&other artist were blacklisted during McCarthyism?
    Thank you
    Brad Fallon

  2. Hollywood? Playwrights and novelists have been providing unrealistic looks at romance long before the advent of Hollywood.