KR and I went to see “Friends With Benefits” last night. Of course, JT was fantastic and Mila Kunis (who normally annoys me) was actually pretty good herself. Rom-coms are usually unyieldingly sappy and for that I love and loathe them simultaneously. (Yes I have Bridget Jones, 27 Dresses, and The Devil Wears Prada on DVD.) But for a movie that fits snuggly in its genre, it also makes fun of its genre, as well.
Jamie is a 20-something NYer who has a very specific narrative constructed of her love life. She wants Prince Charming, horse carriage, etc and she finds that guy after guy don’t measure up. Dylan is an emotionally detached but exceedingly talented art director who is new to NY. Emotional baggage in hand they enter into the proverbial “friends with benefits” relationship.
So why does this seemingly formulaic movie break the mold of its sister movies? It actually mocks romantic comedies, as well. Throughout the movie there is a cheesy rom-com that Jamie watches ad nauseam, they discuss how wretched happy endings are, and, for purposes of our blog today, how relationships never look the way we want them to.
This brings to mind a conversation I had with my friend MS about Kelly LeBrock. Stay with me. We were talking about the idyllic romances that women create in their teenage years that oftentimes affect their adult life and romantic good sense. Mine personally were Christian Slater (Pump of the Volume) and Ethan Hawke (Reality Bites). I wanted someone subversive, intellectual, and with hidden romantic tendencies. Never mind that one got arrested and the other never got a real job, I still adored the notion and dated some someone who resembled each of these characters.
What MS reminded me was that guys had teenage idyllic romances, as well. It’s just that it was Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science. I cannot deny her hotness but really? This is what guys want? It’s so silly and unrealistic.
And Ethan Hawke isn’t?
I guess girls sometimes forget that guys have fairy tales as well (though they include considerably less clothing) and that their idea of a relationship is no better or worse than our ridiculous need for rose petals leading to the boudoir (which I think is silly, by the way). Both are adolescent mythologies that we have tucked right beside our heart – the nagging feeling that when we think we are happy with someone, it’s just not quite good enough. That is, until we’re exhausted from the heartbreak, our taxi light goes on, and we find someone who we can compromise and communicate with.
Now, I am not saying that I am against romance. GAD would say that I am obsessed with it, but I have to admit that romantic narratives are so formulaic that even when I have dated guys who fit the bill, I have scoffed at them. (No. 1 — a Saxophone player wrote a poem for me. It was bad. Really bad. I made him cry. No. 2 — a guy sent me flowers on my first day of work and I was so embarrassed by it that I broke up with him for not being understanding of the delicate nature of new jobs. )
So where does this leave me and “Friends With Benefits?”
I cannot help but love to hate romantic comedies. Pretty Woman (which was alluded to in the movie) is timeless and the ultimate tale of prostitution turned socialite. But when the music starts swelling and the grand but generic proclamations of love start spewing vomitously out of a business-man-turned-love-interest-who’s-screaming-out-of-a-speeding-limo-holding-red-roses, it’s hard not to be annoyed or perplexed. Really? This is what love looks like?
And though each of us long for our own Christian Slater or Kelly LeBrock, could they even give us what us what we want? Aren’t they just mental masturbation? If our own notions of romance were enough to satisfy us, wouldn’t we just date ourselves?
Though “Friends With Benefits” ultimately gives us the final romantic grand gesture, it is not entirely what we expect it to be, but just enough to make us feel like we’ve been to the movies. There are no real relationship lessons in this movie and no Academy Award winning acting (though it was better than I thought it would be), it was definitely worth the prices of admission. And, if nothing else, it reminded me that romance happens in all places and in surprising ways. Ways that we could never calculate and if we just let it be, we might find Prince Charming looks less like Christian Slater and more like the boy watching Sunday night HBO with you.