Was 2010 an especially heartless year? There may have been the usual lot of (bad) romantic comedies and a few romantic dramas out last year, but for the most part it seems the most popular movies were those without any fairy tale endings filled with love and happiness. Many films were simply not romance-based stories. But many of those that did appear romantic, or promising of such in the end, it’s easy to believe their reality was something quite different. This was a year when some of the best studio pictures featured dead wives, seen only in dreams and delusions, or otherwise lost loves, particularly as a result of the protagonist being a misogynistic prick.
On this Valentine’s Day, let us recall those movies of the past year that were sadly unromantic, often surprisingly so, if only to remind ourselves not to rent any films that will turn us and our dates off from love. Or, for those who hate the “Hallmark holiday,” here are some movies to keep you cynical and grounded, possibly also lonely. Certainly there are some SPOILERS down below (after the jump), so be warned of that. Many of these start out appearing to be love stories only to change halfway through or at the very end. Most of the unromantic moments are in the last minutes.
If you don’t want to keep reading because of the spoilers, you can just go see “Blue Valentine.” That counts as “unromantic,” too. Just not as unexpectedly so. And of course there’s the title/holiday link.
“Audrey the Trainwreck”
This is the one movie I hate to spoil the most, partly because few people have seen it (someone put it on video asap) and partly because the last moment is a total shock. So I won’t give away any details of that final scene. But I want to include the film simply for the fact that it is brilliantly unromantic, even if somewhat sadly so, in the end. However, it’s also somewhat up in the air if the main characters could live happily ever after. I have my doubts, though, not because of the very last thing that happens but because of a subtly revealed bit of carelessness on the part of the protagonist’s memory and/or devotion just before it. Am I being too vague? Well start the campaign to get this distributed further so you can see what I mean.
I’m sure everybody knows by now that the romantic pursuit driving this documentary’s narrative is a failure. However, just when Yan Schulman discovers that his Internet lover is not who she seems to be is up for debate. Is it actually before the moment he and filmmakers Ari Schulman and Henry Joost display skepticism onscreen, when “Megan” is revealed to be lying about her songwriting talent? Or is it not entirely over until concrete proof is discovered during a visit to the young woman’s supposed home? Whatever point, on or off screen it happens, is up to you. But that point is devastating not only for Yan but for all who’ve thought about making a similar connection on the web.
For Olive (Emma Stone), the end of the film’s story is completely romantic. She gets together with the boy she likes (Penn Badgely), who overcompensates for her affection by mimicking and referencing three of her favorite teen movies, “Say Anything,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Fine. But for the film’s audience, this shouldn’t be romantically sufficient in the least. Because we’ve already seen the boombox moment in “Say Anything” and the lawnmower moment in “Can’t Buy Me Love.” We as moviegoers need original romantic spectacle. And this recycled mash of familiar, memorable endings is as sorry as a cliche box of chocolates and a dozen roses. Sweet, maybe, but so very unoriginal.
This is such a masculine movie that there’s absolutely no room for romance, not even in the traditional sense of heroes always getting the girl in the end. Much of the plot and action is for the cause of saving a female contact (Gisele Itié) left behind during a mercenary mission. Sylvester Stallone’s character decides to go back for her, but after all the killing and explosions and other awesome stuff that he and his team do in the name of action movie violence, he again leaves the woman behind. It’s a noble conclusion, since she gets to stay in her country and help it recover after her evil dictator father has just been killed. But it still feels off for Stallone and her not to have any kind of romantic closure. Meanwhile, a subplot involving Jason Statham’s character saving his ex-girlfriend from an abusive new guy also falls ambiguously flat, romance-wise.
“From Paris With Love”
With a title like that, there’s bound to be a few accidental rentals of this action film today. But it’s not the latest from Julie Delpy or any other similarly romantic filmmaker. Instead, here’s a crazy twist: a special agent (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) stationed overseas finds out (as do we) his hot French girlfriend is really a terrorist. But that doesn’t matter. He still loves her. And during a stand-off, during which she’s wrapped in explosives ready to give herself to some cause, he tries to tell her just how much he still cares about her. He doesn’t care if she loves him, but he is totally in love with her and so that should keep her from triggering the suicide bomb strapped to her chest. Nope. She goes to push the button and he shoots her in the head. Did he really still love her or was he simply trying to bring her out of her extremist ways? I think the former, and so this wins the romantic bummer of the year award for worst way to lose a lover.
“Going the Distance”
In the final minutes of this long-distance-relationship rom-com, it appears it will end “Good Will Hunting” style, with Garrett (Justin Long) being told by his best friends to leave them behind and go see about a girl (Drew Barrymore). But then the true finale comes and it turns out Garrett did not move to the Bay Area to be with Erin. Instead, he surprises her in San Francisco with the band he’s managing but reveals he’s living in L.A. Yes, it’s much closer than NYC was, but it’s not exactly the most perfect scenario for a couple to be spread about 6-7 hours apart, by car. Or, maybe it’s only an hour and about $150 by plane, but that’s still ultimately too costly and bad for the environment. And it’s unclear why Garrett couldn’t have just completely moved to norther California and managed a band there. Is it really commitment issues? Not really very romantic, whatever the reason.
“Hot Tub Time Machine”
Not everyone agrees with me on this, but the end of this time travel comedy is not very romantic. In some ways it is happy, yes, mainly for Lou (Rob Corddry), who is now rich and famous and married rather than a suicidal loser. He also got to stay behind in 1986 and live out the next two and a half decades aware of every great thing that happens to him. Meanwhile, his three friends return to the present and have better lives than they had before, but it’s still kind of sad how they missed 20 years experiencing the journey. Especially consider the turnout for Adam (John Cusack), who arrives in 2010 and discovers he’s married to April (Lizzy Caplan), whom he met briefly 24 years ago. Yet he has no idea what their relationship has been or is like. And he didn’t get to go through the best parts of falling in love and settling down. He’s just dropped into the middle years of the marriage. How is that any fun?
There is one almost creepy moment at the end of an ironic romance montage where Roxanne (voiced by Tina Fey) discovers that her new boyfriend is just Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell) disguised as a guy named Bernard (voiced by Ben Stiller). It kind of reminded me of when Lewis basically rapes Betty in “Revenge of the Nerds” by pretending to be her boyfriend. Now, I don’t know if Roxanne slept with “Bernard,” and obvious DreamWorks Animation is not going to go there, but even the rest of their activities together, up to and including a kiss, are considerably violating. Anyway, ultimately Megamind becomes a hero and saves Metro City from the relatively worse creep, Titan (voiced by Jonah Hill), and so Roxanne forgives him and they’re buddies. But not a romantic pair. They never kiss. Why? Any other film of this kind would have the hero get the girl. Is it because he’s got blue skin? Not only is the ending of “Megamind” unromantic, but it may well be racist.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”
I can understand why some geeks think this movie is romantic. But it’s really only as romantic as “Donkey Kong” or “Super Mario Bros.” is romantic. Edgar Wright does a very fine job of deconstructing romance and love with both this and (more so) “Shaun of the Dead,” but because he’s so mechanical and analytical there is no real emotion in these movies. And it certainly doesn’t seem natural because it follows a calculable video game structure. We may as well be watching robots act out a romance play. Even if the main characters (played by Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) weren’t so thinly developed they would still anyways seem entirely unfit for each other. There is no chemistry, but the movie says they go together and that is all we have to go with. I almost have a similar problem with Richard Ayoade’s festival hit “Submarine,” so maybe it’s a British thing? Still, the latter, which I consider ultimately very romantic. It starts out relatively mechanical but more in a nervous sort of way and does more naturally and realistically unfold. If you like “Scott Pilgrim,” I hope you’ll see “Submarine,” and I hope you see that it’s better. One major fault in accepting the romance of “Scott Pilgrim,” by the way, is knowing about its possible alternate ending. The fact that this movie could go either way makes its love story less believable.
Is it possible for a human person to be intimate with a humanoid incarnation of an algorithm? What about if it looks like Olivia Wilde? For some reason when Quorra visits the real world with Sam (Garrett Hedlund), and they seem to find each other as attractive as people and computer programs can find one another attractive, they never seal the deal, romantically. They never kiss, anyway, and that’s cinematic representation of love eternal when it comes at a film’s end. Instead she just gets onto his motorcycle and the ride and ride and ride off through the sunlight, which may likely be what tickles her fancy more than a man. I’d like to assume they go back to his place and play “Mannequin,” but that final shot doesn’t give us too much hope on its own. Fortunately, this unromantic scenario could turn around in the expected sequel.