I grew up watching romantic comedies. My childhood was full of screen stories about semi-cynical modern women fussing over strangely materialistic courtships, all of whom ended swept up off their feet by men who accepted their flaws and redeemed them by dissolving said cynicism with, of all things, love. I’m a feminist and this is what I watched in theaters as a kid. There’s proof that feminism is an innate force!
So, what do I think of this mushy drama? I mostly like it. It is truly likable. Fun, light, relatable for most women- it’s all very easy to watch. This stuff happens, after all- that which we see on screen is a mirror in so many ways. This is how women (as a group) saw themselves in the 90’s and beginning of the new millenium: this is what they bought (along with tons of Haagen dasz and Rosés).
One of my favorite romantic comedies is ‘Someone Like You’ (Tony Goldwyn) starring Ashley Judd (an awesome feminist activist) Hugh Jackman (the handsome star with the heart of a teddy bear). In this story, a production assistant, Jane Goodale, falls in love with a producer at work (Ray, played by Greg Kinnear) . She knows he’s with someone else, but trusts him when he says they’re breaking up. She packs up her apartment to move in with him, but at the last minute he breaks up with her.
In comes another producer, Eddie (Jackman) the tall, dark, handsome romancer of the office. Casual sex is his game. He’s looking for a roommate but his many (many) exes keep sabotaging his flyers at the office. Jane clearly despises his ways, but decides to move in with him as a not-so-subtle F.U. to Ray. She’s the only woman in the office Eddie hasn’t slept with and it doesn’t seem like they are at all compatible, but HEY: this is a rom-com. Unlikely couplings are the spice of irony. Rye amusement commences as Jane softens towards Eddie’s attitude towards sex and Eddie empathizes with Jane’s failure in serial monogamy. Jane has a few more mistakes to make before they can be together, but they definitely bond.
The major plot twist is when Jane publishes a column under a pseudonym about how all men are, factually, cheaters. The column receives praise and every talk show host in the country wants “Dr.” Maria (Jane) on their program. Jane’s therapeutic approach to dealing with her break-up turns awry. She doesn’t feel so very alone, now that millions of women are dying to hear her validate their relationship woes. But then there’s Jane’s new friend, Eddie the womanizer, and of course he disagrees. It isn’t that all men are cheaters, it’s that woman don’t own their own ability to take sex lightly. Basically, if Jane treated her own pleasure the way Ray had, she never would’ve been hurt. Jane promptly admits she’s a fraud on her bosses talk show and rushes into Eddie’s arms just before he gets away.
Oy. I know, I know- that’s a lot. Let’s step back for a second. Yes, it’s very easy to stand back and say that heteronormative rom-coms in which women find love by breaking down their defenses are not feminist. It’s also easy to say, in a broader sense, that feminism should be a foundational aspect of heterosexual relationships, which…yes. Still, in practice, with experience, emotion, and hormones, this kind of story about a woman finding fault in her attitude towards the world around her is not far-off from reality (ugh), so this story has actual social value because it’s relatable.
When I say I like this movie, I mean I can reason with what shallow things the plot comments on- radical sexism of women (“man-hating”) won’t help anyone, casual sex is freedom (meh….), love is real (!): even womanizers like Eddie can love- and yes, this is how the society this film came out of works. I like to make the distinction between film plots that examine what is (pop-cultural documentation of sorts) and the ones that push boundaries, and this is quite successfully the former. The character of Eddie is ironically preferable to Ray because he is honest in his dealings. Jane can trust him because he says what things are, whereas Ray says what others want to hear and does the same things as Eddie. Eddie invites Jane to join him on an honest plane, which is actually in-line with feminism as it stands. He isn’t a mush, but he’s admirable.