Updated: Feb 19, 2021
by Paul Deeter
We've idolized the old-school "Hollywood" romance for years now without understanding entirely where the roots of these relationships lie. While there's certainly something romantic about the past love-letter films of classic Hollywood, there in the same genre exists a truly toxic sense of emotional abuse, flawed romance and misguided intentions. We have come a long way in the journey of equal representation of male-female romances from both perspectives and the exploration of what makes a healthy romance. That being said, there's a lot of still existing issues in particularly American films in romanticizing relationships that aren't as picture perfect as they seem on the big screen. Some of these films raise self-awareness to the issues of their protagonists' flaws and problematic behaviors, while others remain blissfully ignorant. I've compiled a list of both sides of the argument, with some love films focused clearly on exploring what makes a relationship healthy and others that are too doe-eyed by "classic" romance to justify their movies' flaws. These films are dissected in no particular order.
Don Jon (2013)
There's a certain celebrity trend to focus on issues that are considered taboo to some but almost routine to most. I AM NOT going to take a side on the issue of the porn industry or whether or not it is healthy to explore internet pornography of different creators or producers. In a world of sites like Only Fans I am happy to understand the business is being re-written by women as a positive exploration of re-branding the sex business. That being said: a few celebrities have gone and publicly renounced porn, including vocally Terry Crews who discussed an addiction he had with it and his recovery: "Ultimately, Crews entered rehab, where one of the treatments involved abstaining from sex with his wife for three months." This is clearly a serious issue for Crews, and one that seemed to be tackled with Don Jon in 2013. Don Jon for those unfamiliar with the title, is a film about a young man addicted to porn, and how that effects his love life and one night stands negatively. In his experience, the overt obsession with online pornography ruins his performance in real life, and becomes debilitating. And while Levitt claims the film is not about pornography , it certainly gives a black and white to love in real life versus internet fantasizing. And by the end of the movie (SPOILERS) he ends up having sex and a relationship with a woman twice his age, who even says DJ reminds her of her passed son. What? I don't know. Whatever the intention was, Don Jon arrives to a blurry conclusion of what makes a relationship healthy, and therefore falls into problematic territory.
2. Dan in Real Life (2007)
I am a gosh-darn sucker for a good serious turn performance from a comedian in a movie, and in 2007 I was head-over-heels for Steve Carrell's depiction of Dan. Dan is a troubled character, seemingly out-of-touch with his three daughters from little to teenaged, who recently lost their mother. His brother Mitch (played by a surprisingly good Dane Cook) is dating Marie (Juliette Binoche) who Dan is immediately smitten for after a chance-based meet cute in a local bookshop. How adorably cliché!! Before I go into my issues with this movie I want to clarify that Dan in Real Life is adorable, well-acted and successfully sentimental. The movie doesn't make too many faux-paus with the organic romance between the two leads, but it does fall into an all too familiar Hollywood trope. The daughters, who have been through quite a bit of loss, are unfortunately used as tropes, and Dan's arc with Marie seems to imply that he can't quite be the same type of father without replacing the "mother-figure" in their life. There's a pretty cute acoustic performance of "Let My Love Open the Door" by Carell that ALMOST makes up for it.
3. Love & Other Drugs (2010)
This stupid f--king movie that succeeded financially due to the appeal of its trailers featuring a naked Anne Hathaway and a naked Jake Gyllenhaal boning, was something I watched in college in one of my first relationships. While the movie isn't offensively bad in any way, it's advertisements implied a grand and explorative film about sex in an authentic way, with an R-Rating and two distinguished leads. What came of it was a project by a so-so Hollywood director that had high ambitions but basically no brain. Sure the concept is there, and sure there is an element of sexiness to watching two uninhibited leads boldly perform in their birthday suits with admirable sincerity to their roles. However the film's tone and sense of humor is best put
"from the East Bay Express ...as "a spectacularly maudlin and repellent piece of work" where the two protagonists "try to outdo each other in the 'who cares' department with their alarmingly off-putting interpersonal communication", leading to "callous salesman jokes, (and) callous sex jokes"
Even in 2010, with my piqued interest in a romance that I could appreciate as a newly committed boyfriend, it sucked. Still does.
4. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
I'm not entirely convinced this film is that crazy or that stupid, but it's certainly got issues. I wouldn't commit this film to a psychiatric hospital for one thing, but I'd be stupid not to hold it accountable for some of its decisions, including it's flighty and fun depiction of Ryan Gosling's character who is sleeping with women as if he's trying to get a high score in a chauvinism contest. His character "mentors" our lead (hey its Steve Carrell again) falling into the territory of playing into the idea of women as a game in a hunt. This movie isn't as reckless to justify the actions of some of the men involved as politically correct, but it toes a fine line with its edginess towards the pursuit of casual romance. The films cringiest decisions lie with it's underage stars, including an arc with a 17 year old's naked Polaroids that end up in the wrong possession. And even by the end of this movie they're given away to a younger teenager as "something to keep him busy" until he's older. What? No. Ew.
5. 500 Days of Summer (2009)
Our worst offender should come at no surprise to both the folks that have been discussing the issues with the relationship between characters like these in TV and movies, (or those who looked at the first image in the link). These romances have been beaten to death throughout time with the idea of "the nice guy" and the coquettish "manic-pixie-dream girl". Even in more realistic depictions of down to Earth comedies like The Office one still has to wonder if Jim's actions towards "winning" Pam over aren't a bit manipulative. So when we have a movie like 500 Days of Summer with a cutesy-narrative and two cute stars and an oh-so cute soundtrack, it's hard not to be easily smitten. And in 2009, when this film came out it was a hit, and won over young men and women alike for it's "indie-style" of romance. The soundtrack sure is good, and there are some genuinely funny and sweet moments of chemistry between the lead actors. That being said, I'm beating a dead horse here! There are tons of (better) articles about how problematic Levitt's lead character is here in his "woe-is-me" attitude to the relationship and the male-fascination with taming a quirky woman into a one-sided relationship. I'll let Princess Weekes from The Mary Sue put it best:
"We are, generally, spoon-fed stories about love in media...Most of us aspire to love and go through a phase of being romantic in some way. We are taught to “go after” love, to hold on to people closely, and that relationships are worth fighting for—heck, worth dying for...Instead of listening to people’s words, we dissect their actions, purposefully looking for contradictions in their words in order to convince ourselves that we can “win.”' - Princess Weekes
Let's just agree that 500 Days of Summer hasn't aged the finest, like the other four movies haven't. But every day Hollywood becomes a platform for approaching love stories with different points of view, so let's hope some of these 10 year old flicks learn from their lessons.