Love, By Numbers
March 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
So it goes: Boy meets Girl. However, Boy isn’t the “typical” societal standard for masculinity. Nonetheless, he catches Girl’s attention with his witty quips, off-kilter humor, and quirky sensibilities. Girl is hesitant at first, but Boy is persistent. Needless to say, Girl eventually falls for Boy. Insert: montage set to relevant, low-fi, alternative music, with the aforementioned couple partaking in everyday activities, heightened by an amorous sense of whimsy. Nevertheless, despite the wholesomeness of the relationship, Boy manages to screw things up with what he mistakenly believes to be an innocuous comment and/or action stemming from his newly acquired false bravado. Girl says she “needs time to think,” but really just consumes an unruly amount of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream in one sitting, crying hysterically into her pillow as she does so. In short, Boy ultimately wins back Girl by standing in front of her window, holding a boom box above his head while blasting “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. Now, love rekindled, their future together is uncertain, strangely exciting, and most importantly—left up to the interpretation of the audience.
Essentially, the description above is an example of every romantic comedy in the past twenty years. If you can believe it, there was once a time when this now formulaic plot structure was original. Regardless, the vast majority of studio-produced “Love stories” tend to follow this framework without giving it a second thought. That is not to say that these types of films are altogether bad, rather, they just tend to follow somewhat of a paralyzing formula. When a film, or more specifically a character is boxed in, and forced to adhere to a set standard, the capacity to grow and likewise belong to a larger world beyond the silver screen diminishes. As a result, the margin of personal relation lessens, curtailing with the attendance of every rom-com. Oddly enough, the allure of the typical “McConaughey-esque” romance film stems from a level of disconnect. The average movie-goer is inherently aware that the goofy hi-jinks taking place on screen are gingerly misappropriated for their own sake. Ultimately, this is the reason we watch romantic comedies to begin with; to latch on to some disfigured hope that somewhere in the world there exists a love such as this. That alone is the intent of every major movie studio pumping out timeless “classics” like Valentines Day, Gigli, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past; not to mention the obvious “game changer,” From Justin to Kelly. Heaven forbid any self-respecting movie studio dare inject a little reality into romance.
My diagnosis? Get out while the getting is good. The only thing we can really take away from these films is the fact that reality sucks, and thus we should stoop to an even lower level of theatrics, binge drinking the proverbial elixir that is banality. The fact is, reality doesn’t suck, and is often more interesting than fiction. Not to point fingers, but a particular story revolving around a certain frenetic teenage Labeouf, an indelibly plastic girl, and a group of inter-galactic English-speaking robots, all of whom seek the same goal (which is still a mystery to me), is a prime example of the latter. This particular film is disposed to the idea that, when shrouded with overbearing generalities like the “hot” girl falling for the “geek,” anybody can relate; which simply isn’t true. Then again, its irreverent sequel Fighting-Robots-Who-Speak-English-and-Transform-Into-Stuff 2, proved that the same formula can be used twice. Needless to say, just because it can, that doesn’t mean it should.
As of late, a recent movement in the film industry known as Mumblecore provides a new venue in which to explore different aspects of filmmaking; doing so in a hyper-realistic manner. This sub-genre is implored by uncharacteristically low budgets, improvisation, non-professional actors, and a strong focus on personal and intimate scenarios. More specifically, Mumblecore has served to bring to the screen what is perhaps the hardest emotion to capture on film: Love. Oddly enough, it has done so in the easiest of ways. Once you cut out the unnecessary fluff, you’re left with the bare essentials. And love is just that—a bare essential. John Lennon said it best: “Love is all you need.” If one tries to shift this paradigm, the result will not be pretty (i.e. Transformers: Revenge of The Sequel). Perhaps the most obvious reason a lot of modern films fail in their portrayal of romance is the simple fact that love, in all of its glory, is fickle and unpredictable; and that simply can’t be structured.
Like Crazy, a film that premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, is a perfect depiction of this ideal. Written as a detailed fifty-page outline, the indie flick, which largely consists of improvised dialogue, centers on Jacob, a young man who falls for a British collegian as her student visa is on the verge of expiring. Rather than forcing the actors to churn out recycled cliches, Director Drake Doremus allows his players to create the characters they’re portraying—themselves. Although the story and events taking place are fictional, the characters are not. Through this process, the actors are able procure emotions like love in an organic and honest manner. And whilst what is caught on camera is at times awkward, uncomfortable, and shoddy; isn’t that love at its core? These characters are visual representations of the vulnerability that everyone harbors, and similarly, what we’d like not to admit. And, while Mumblecore provides a vast canvas for its audience to explore, it does not limit them to the events at hand. It accepts that there is no story, nor is there a structure, but rather life; and life is not living, if painted by numbers.
By Zack Campbell, staff film writer.