This Means War: Everything I Hate About Rom-Com’s and Substandard Romance Novels Personified

I made the unfortunate decision to watch This Means War last weekend. I didn’t pay for it, and I suppose I got enough of an intellectual reaction to it that I won’t even snark about paying with 97 minutes of my life, but…it was still an unfortunate decision. Perhaps what made it most unfortunate was that it had potential to be actually kind of fabulous.

this-means-war-reese-witherspoon-chris-pine-tom-hardy

The problem I had with the movie is who she ends up with (spoilers ahoy, maties!).  I am sure the intention was the irrational nature of love and that you can’t choose who you fall in love with off a list of traits you’re looking for, but the end result was a movie that made me believe in the power of divorce and disillusionment, not romance and happily ever after.

Reese (sorry, didn’t bother to notice the character names) supposedly wants to settle down and find her best friend and marry someone who is solid and loving and dependable. You know, like women all claim to want. She is matched with Tom Hardy on a dating site and has a great first date with him–a man who is exactly what she claims to be looking for. Then she meets Chris Pine on her way home, and he is the stereotypical playboy jackass but very handsome and someone she is wildly attracted to. She dates both of them, and since they are both spies they bug her apartment and get to hear all about her doubts regarding both of them. Naturally they then compensate for those doubts on their next dates with her, continuing her confusion as to which is the better guy for her.

So, on the surface this is either equally legitimate or ridiculous, that she can’t choose between them after they tailor their behavior to what she wants. BUT. And this is the but that made me dislike the movie. When she was with Tom, he wasn’t putting on any pretenses or pretending to be someone he wasn’t. He just picked a date that would show her a new side of himself, but one that was true. They had an actual compatibility based on personality and interests and values.  Chris, however, spent his dates trying to be someone he wasn’t in order to impress her. So all the confusion she had about them? Was because one of them actually was compatible with her and the other was pretending to be compatible with her.

Have you guessed where this is going?  Have you figured out that she picks the wrong one?  That she choooses the guy whose entire behavior toward her was a lie?

The only thing she had more in common with, with Chris, was sexual chemistry. And while I don’t mean to imply that chemistry isn’t important…when you have one guy you’re attracted to and have all the other bases for a good relationship with, and one guy you’re wildly attracted to but have nothing else with, if your actual goal is marriage you pick the first guy.  But in this movie, she picks the second guy.

By doing so she killed my ability to believe in the romance of the moment. All I could think was what happens when she learns he knows absolutely nothing about all the subjects they supposedly shared passions for? What happens when the lust wears off and she takes a step back to see how shallow, insecure, and pathetic that guy is?

This is a problem I see a lot in romantic comedies and romance alike–a couple that has little to bind them but a superior lust, that we (as an audience) are told is totally good enough to base a lifetime on. No. No, it isn’t. It’s why I appreciate romance novels that take place over weeks or months rather than days, and why I prefer stories that are only about the relationship (rather than a mystery or a spy ring or an adventure), even if they are slower and a little “boring.”  At least by the end I can believe the characters know one another well enough to make an informed declaration of love rather than be left wondering what they have when the adventure is over.

So, to sum up, This Means War could have been awesome if it had been a story about a woman choosing the slightly less handsome man who actually had some character over the super-hot playboy who had nothing more to offer than great sex, but instead it just pissed me off. The only reason it wasn’t an irretrievable waste of time is that it delineated so starkly my own romance aesthetic…and sometimes that kind of validation can be inspiring.

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Filed under Film, Reflections on Romance

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