I just watched Letters to Juliet after my mom gushed over it. While it is a sweet movie, with lovely scenery, I kind of predicted most of what would happen after the first twenty minutes.
If I'd written the script to that movie, I would have tightened the Romeo and Juliet allusion by making Sophie and the guy she ends up with bump into each other and be attracted at first. The wise writer should take her cue from works that are established as great. If this were being workshopped in the class Myth in Writing I'm taking, that'd be the first suggestion for sure. Say the guy's wandering around lost trying to make himself understood by Italians (it drove me crazy that most of the Italians in the movie, even the older ones, understood English, when that was hardly the case when I was in Italy--they were so gracious as to make all effort to communicate even if they had difficulty with English, though). Say they bump into each other in the street and she's blown by his chivalry and he by her wit. Then later when he's settled in his hotel he goes looking for the secretaries of Juliet and find out she's the one who wrote the letter encouraging his grandmother to find her true love after fifty years and is furious ("My only love sprung from my only hate!").
And how about making a travel movie reflect what it's really like to travel in Italy? It's not all scenery and being invited to dine by people you've just met. There's the struggle with language, the heritage and history. The protagonist is characterized as an intellectual but she doesn't spout facts on the sights that she planned to see or try to find out about them? She longed to sightsee, but her gaze doesn't linger on the architecture? The setting isn't as integrated into the story as it could be.
But my main problem with the movie, as with most recent romantic comedies, is the hackneyed plot of a long-term relationship discovered to be unsatisfying and replaced by a fresh new romance. No wonder so many people don't stay married if the main solution presented to an unsatisfactory relationship is a replacement.
Why aren't there stories where partners decide to endure in their long-term relationship by rekindling romance? And how about reviving some old obstacles to love? Family disapproval still matters these days as much as it did in Romeo and Juliet's time, if in less dramatic circumstances usually. And while we hate to admit it, money matters in these tight times. How come the only story I remember exploring the difficulties posed to a relationship by lack of money is Henry James' The Wings of the Dove? Perhaps scriptwriters are afraid it seems petty. But that's precisely in the conflict--between the ideal that true love transcends money and the unsavory reality that we need money to survive even if we're in love. And why in this age of Internet romances hasn't anyone mined the quirks of long-distance relationships?
I had thought that I had gotten bored with romantic comedies because I no longer need the vicarious thrill now that I'm happily married. But now I realize it's because their explorations of the dynamics of love are too narrow.
What's the use of the vicarious thrill from the movies when love in real life comes out as more romantic, and not just because it's real. In real life, couples who end up together are usually feel an instant connection--this was found by a student who interviewed me for a thesis on healthy marriages. In real life, people acknowledge the difficulties posed by money, work constraints and other realities, not ignore them--and find ways to make their relationship work. In real life, happy couples are best friends and laugh a lot together.
The best romantic comedies include these elements. You've Got Mail--instant connection and friendship, albeit through email. In the successful romances in Love, Actually, this instant connection and friendship is clearly seen. There is friendship too in While You Were Sleeping, made warmer and cozier because the girl is presumed to be engaged to the male lead's brother. In The Wedding Singer, she actually is. "Sex gets in the way" in friendship between opposite sexes, as pointed out in When Harry met Sally, also a classic in romantic comedies because it truly developed the aspects of friendship and humor. Indeed, romance develops most natuarally when characters are not focused on finding sexual partners, as demonstrated in The Holiday, where two women go on holiday to forget the men they have to let go. This is seen too in Music and Lyrics, one of my favorites because the couple work together with each bringing out the best in the other, another hallmark of healthy relationships. Fifty First Dates is one of a few that have an original conflict and resolution, and it highlights the importance of sacrifice and effort in maintaining a relationship.
For hero quest journey's there's a favored pattern--the hero cycle of Joseph Campbell. There's a pattern to good romantic comedies too, I think, or at least definite elements that should exist. The connection between the two, then the division. Then each must go on a hero's journey of self-discovery either together or apart then come together, having discovered not only that they love each other but what makes them right for each other.
This is a little late for Valentine's Day, but I hope it gets us reflecting on what makes the fulfillment of love thrilling and satisfying.