By Nicolle

My interest in relationship research has eliminated my ability to enjoy a romantic comedy without critique. Granted, on the food chain of cinema, romantic comedies fall almost as far away from the top as plankton when compared with a great white shark, but until recently, rom-coms had their place in my movie repertoire.

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This weekend, I managed to squeeze in two movies, and though both would easily fit into the genre of “chick flicks,” the messages they present demonstrate a dichotomy in our society. One promoted relationships based on feelings; the other stressed how often feelings change. One told viewers that relationships are easier than climbing the corporate ladder; the other displayed how difficult maintaining a long-term relationship can be.

No wonder we’re all confused about relationships. Here’s what else got me thinking (note: if you haven’t seen these movies and are planning to, stop reading now, as the spoiler alert starts here):

Movie 1: Valentine’s Day

With an all-star cast (the “the movie industry is struggling due to the economy so all the actors have to be in one movie” joke has been made numerous time in reference to this 2010 release), and an interconnected plot, I expected this movie to provide mindless enjoyment. But instead, Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba’s storyline eliminated my chance to escape relationship analysis. After she says yes to his proposal at the beginning of the movie, she recants – and with excuses that only a true Gen X or Y-er could come up with.

“My job is more important,” she says. “I have time to find a relationship later, but right now I need to focus on my career.”

“Did you even consider marrying me?” he asks.

“Yes. But, don’t you want to be with someone who doesn’t have to consider whether or not she wants to marry you?”

Not only does Alba’s character base her decision about marriage on her ever-changing feelings, she also buys into the myth that Prince Charming will be waiting for her once she decides she’s had enough of her career. In reality, the longer she waits, the less likely she is to end up with someone as great as the guy she just dumped.

Movie 2: Did You Hear About the Morgans?

In most cases, I wouldn’t laud a movie that features Sarah Jessica Parker as a must-see (few things in life scared me as a child as much as she did in 1993’s Hocus Pocus), but this movie shows a complex, realistic view of marital relationships.

After husband Hugh Grant has an affair, Parker can’t decide if she can trust him again. As a self-described romantic, she has to come to terms with the fact that Grant can’t meet all her needs or live up to all her expectations. The movie slowly reveals the reasons for Grant’s infidelity and the couple’s original issues (complications and emotions surrounding infertility; high expectations; overbearing attitudes; passive-aggressive tendencies; an inability to communicate with each other), all of which are realistic issues that married couples face, but are not reasons to throw in the towel.

Near the end of the movie, after the couple has gone through witness relocation due to their accidental observance of a crime and Grant risks his life to protect Parker, Parker says that she’d rather ditch her expectations and live with him and his faults, than not have him in her life at all. “I want to meet your expectations,” he replies, “but I’m not going to do it perfectly.”

That sentiment is the crowning glory of this movie. Though they still have to work through their issues, once they’ve changed their mindsets about what marriage should look like (easy, fun, always passionate, completely fulfilling), they avoid letting an endless trail of failed expectations rule their relationship.

These two recent releases point to the fact that we’re a society of confused, high-expectation-holding people. Unfortunately, breaking those expectations and facing reality is the only way we’ll ever be able to escape our generation-wide relationship crisis. And while removing my rose-colored glasses might ruin my ability to enjoy the next Kate HudsonMatthew McConaughey movie, I’d rather increase my personal opportunity for relationship success than watch a couple of attractive movie stars fake it onscreen.

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