Reel Romance: Do the Movies Get It Right?

By Josie Brown

pic1Lights. Camera. Action. Make it a kiss. A tear. Or the sort of clench between two lovers that makes your heart leaps before the screen fades to black. When we go to the movies, we seek the kind of emotional satisfaction that we want in our own lives.

Particularly if we’re not getting any in real life.

Romance, that is.

Where has all the love gone, anyway? Moves like Atonement, with their retro look, feel, and unrequited passions, are few and far between. These days, the hook-up is more prevalent than the commitment. Divorce rates are skyrocketing, particularly for twentysomethings who view starter marriages as a mere steppingstone to the true big event. And how can you expect him to respect you in the morning, if you were one of the girls gone wild the night before?

And yet, when we see any on a twelve-foot screen, we imagine it’s real. That goes for love, too. Which brings us to heroine archetypes: do they truly represent us?

Here’s who shows up at any casting call, and their reel life rating (out of five stars):

pic2The Film Femme Fatale

Perception: Yes, both Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were packing heat in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. And apparently, where there was smoke, there was also fire: the Brangelina combustion is still burning long and strong.

Reality: While Jolie has made a film career from kick-ass assassins, few of us can run in stiletto thigh-high boots, let alone lock-and-load an AK-47 while applying mascara. And let’s face it, if you could, wouldn’t that scare the bejeebus out of most of the men you know?

Reel Life Rating:  2

pic3The Chick Flick Cutie-Pie

Perception: They are too cute and too smart for their own good. So, why must they be insecure, too?

And why do they always have such great wardrobes, on assistant incomes?

In the chick flick, the heroine flips the plot sideways: now it’s Girl Meets Guy. Girl Leaves Guy for Player. Girl Realizes Her Mistake before the 90-Minute Mark and Credit Role. Oh yeah: and Actress Who Plays Girl Keeps Adorable Designer Wardrobe as Part of Her Contract.

Anne Hathaway played her in The Devil Wears Prada. The genre is Kate Hudson’s (How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, Raising Helen, Fool’s Gold) stock in trade. Now both of them get to share the screen-and the wardrobe perks in the upcoming Bride Wars.

Realty: In real life, cute is cloying. Tossing over great guys for the local lothario is just plain stupid. And seriously, who can afford the clothes? If life were this simple, we’d all have health insurance. And cute apartments. And pets who don’t pee on our bedspreads. But I digress.

Reel Life Rating:  3

The Sexy Sidekick

Perception: She’s the new millennium girl next door: sexy, sassy, but unattainable. Saffron Burrows gets her just right as The Bank Heist money honey. Amy Adams played her as Tom Hank’s good Girl Friday in Charlie Wilson’s War. The are loyal, but unattainable. And of course, lovable, both to the hero, and to the audience.

Reality: In true life, the sidekick is rarely the hottest girl in any guy’s life. And if she is, he knows he can take advantage of her-and usually does. Which is why sidekick types usually move on: bitter, but better for the experience. At least, one would hope…

Reel Life Rating: 4 stars

pic4The Tear-jerking True-Hearted Tragedian

Perception: On the big screen, reality bites the tear-jerking, true-hearted woman pretty hard-and yes, we feel her pain.

Great examples of this are In America’s Samantha Morton, who must deal with poverty and the death of a child yet keep her family together. And in Pieces of April, both Katie Holmes, as April, and Patricia Clarkson, as April’s mother, Joy, turn the Thanksgiving holiday on its head by using it as the forum to address all that is not spoken: presumptions about ourselves and our loved ones, particularly during terminal illness. (Ah, Katie, please: go back to making real women movies!); and then there’s Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger and The Ice Storm, who shows us the tragedy of the disconnected marriage, and the consequence of one wrong turn or misstep on the lives of those we love.

Reality: We love them. We feel for them. But, no: we wouldn’t want to be them.

That said, then perhaps they are the women we know, see around us, live next door to us.

Maybe they are us. At our best.

Reel Life Rating: 5 stars

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