Idiots in Love

Feed frenzy of the day: anti-RSS feed discrimination

I had the opportunity to screen most of my mother’s chick flick collection recently, plus a couple of others here and there. They were all DVD’s someone actually thought were worth buying; in no case was that someone me. (I have no other directors beside M. Night Shyamalan.) The short story is: the oldest movie was the best one.

Notting Hill and What a Girl Wants were notable for their music-video sections. If I wanted a music video I’d watch MTV, thanks. Although there is one nice bit of camera work in Notting Hill where the seasons pass as Our Anti-hero is walking the streets of, presumably, Notting Hill, music-video interludes are mainly a directorial cop-out. If I’d sprung for the DVD I’d feel cheated at this sort of cheap filler. You can’t get away with playing a pop song instead of plotting the story in a novel, so feel free to dismiss my concerns as jealousy.

What a Girl Wants is Colin Firth; otherwise the movie was entirely undistinguished and the romance was just a subplot. Notting Hill was slightly better, though it did suffer from a touch of Idiot Plot. You recall the Idiot Plot. That’s the plot that would be solved in an instant if anyone on the screen said what was obvious to the audience. (Roger Ebert) The concept of an Idiot Plot goes back to scifi author James Blish: Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots. (See similar terms in the Turkey City Lexicon.)

Romantic comedies tend to feature a special brand of these Idiot Characters - people who would live happily ever after if they’d just stop acting like flaming idiots for five minutes straight. It’s hard to sympathize with Julia Roberts when she’s stomping all over the guy of her dreams, and the boy with the “kick me” sign on his back (Hugh Grant) only gets as much sympathy as he does because he’s pretty. At least it’s not hard to believe that a famous actress would be self-centered or a stereotypical Brit would be terminally self-effacing. The same can’t be said for Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which hapless Hugh gets himself caught up in Andie MacDowall’s drive to ruin her own life and those of everyone around her. The four weddings and one funeral don’t provide nearly enough character background to justify this level of idiocy.

Julia Roberts does better as a pining third wheel in America’s Sweethearts, mainly because she’s the sane one waiting for the Romantic Lead to get a clue. The major protagonists of idiocy are Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack. Once again, Our Male Lead gets sympathy only for being cute, and the movie is funny only because of supporting cast members like Billy Crystal, Seth Green, and of course, her Julianess.

Speaking of Catherine Zeta-Jones, I didn’t detect even a smidgen of chemistry between her and Sean Connery in Entrapment. Maybe it’s that he’s old enough to be her great-grandfather, or maybe it’s that I never thought he was particularly cute. So he gets no sympathy from me, not even when he’s about to plunge off the Big Bank Building to a terminal-velocity death. (This was a Thomas Crown Affair rip-off with the same romantic subplot.) The end did surprise me, though.

The Wedding Planner started off so well, with very nice camera work and some snappy dialogue when Our Wedding Planner discovers that her new flame is also a customer. Unfortunately, like so many romantic comedies before it, this one gets bogged down in the middle when Our Characters must act like idiots to keep the movie going long enough to fill the required DVD space. The plot quickly degenerates into cliches, including the poorly done Italian family of the non-bride and her imported fiance. Matthew McConaughey gets by on his looks.

The thing all these romantic rejects have in common is the idiot characters. Maybe the target chick audience is supposed to believe that you can be an idiot and live happily ever after, too. Not being an idiot myself, I just can’t identify with Idiot Love. I prefer a real, live plot involving interesting, non-idiot characters, like Moonstruck. On the surface, it seems to have the same plot as several of the others - someone is engaged to the wrong person when the right person comes along - but Cher doesn’t get bogged down in slapstick and stupidity. There’s no pining away after anybody or sacrificing anybody’s happiness for the sake of the idiot who happened to propose first.

And, of course, everyone lives happily ever after.

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