Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Love Affair with Rom Coms


For a few years there, my favorite genre of movies, bar none, was romantic comedies. I am not ashamed of this. I am not. Ahem.

It makes sense now why it happened. Boy in Pakistan hits puberty, any thought of sex induces unholy (literally) amounts of guilt, so he starts fantasizing about himself in loving relationships where the sex was implicit, not explicit. It's a story oft told, people. Get over it.

I had little to no contact with girls. Most of my schooling happened at what was ostensibly a coed school, but the girls and the guys had classes in different sides of the building. And there was a dude with a big stick who sat in between the two, thwarting any attempts at infiltration. Not that I would ever want to go into that other side. The only thing scarier to me than the big dude with the big stick, were the girls who studied past him. I was nerdy, I was scared, I was told talking to girls was wrong. Which was probably just as well, since I had no idea what I would say to a girl. "You look soft," is probably the best I could muster. I wanted to be suave with girls, of course, but I could also hide behind the rules laid down by my religion. "The only reason I don't talk to them, is because God told me not to. Which is probably the best reason possible, if you think about it. I would totally be suave to girls. If it weren't such a sin."

In such times, when the twin forces of hormonal changes, and debilitating fear (of girls, or consequences) govern my life, I would turn to romantic comedies. Where the men were smooth, the women beautiful, and the endings happy. Oh, let me lay down some ground rules about what makes a rom com. The audience has to know right from the beginning who will end up with whom, and the entire movie is about the barriers leading to that. These movies stop the moment that the two get together, so that nothing in the actual relationship is explored. Oh, and the main point of the movie is the two getting together. There may be other things going on, but those are secondary plot points.

I cant remember exactly when my affair with rom coms started, but I can tell you I watched them almost every day. When Harry Met Sally, Hope Floats, If Lucy Fell. If it had love, I was watching it. And I was the main guy in every single one. I was very explicitly aware of that. I wasn't watching two other people fumbling towards love. I was watching an alternative version of my own life, where I was smooth and I was always got the girl. I was a scruffy yet likeable French rogue in French Kiss, a washed up golfer yet likeable golfer in Tin Cup, a slightly dickish yet likeable whatever-Billy-Crystal-was in When Harry Met Sally. And I watched some terrible ones too. Addicted to Love (Meg Ryan in a stealthy robber outfit?), I.Q. (Einstein had a lot of accomplishments in the field of science, but they pale in comparison to his accomplishments in field of match making) . I even hated Sleepless in Seattle, which takes the whole barrier to love thing to an extreme, so that the principals don't even meet till the END OF THE MOVIE! Hey,Nora Ephron,, if I wanted to see a movie about a guy not talking to a girl I would hit stop on the vcr and go live my life!


Then, things changed. I went to a different high school for my last two years, one a bit more liberal than Big Dude with Stick High, and found myself sitting in classes with girls. It was terrifying. I would sit all the way in the back, so that they couldn't see me. Long story short. I had a crush on a girl for a year, we "dated" for either 2 or 4 weeks, I can't remember which, and it took me a year to get over her. "dating" btw, was more like pretending to date. It meant talking to her every other day and deciding that we were going steady. NO kissing, no phone talking, no hand holding. Just a label that we would have proudly displayed for everyone to see.

Around the time that I was trying to "win" her over, I watched Four Weddings and a Funeral. This would be the peak of my rom com "period." Hugh Grant was the perfectly idealized version of myself. Attractive, funny, and possessing an awkward bumbling nervousness that came across as charming to the ladies. I watched the movie over and over. And when I finally asked the girl if she wanted to be my "steady", I based it on the moment when Hugh Grant tells an engaged Andie McDowell that he loves her.

Except, I replaced all the talk of "love" of course, with talk of "going steady." I also realized that nervous stuttering is cute only if there is swelling music in the background, and if you look like Hugh Grant.

Anyway, after our 2 to 4 week stint, she dumped me. And then started "seeing" someone else. I was Hugh Grant in Four Weddings still, and her new boyfriend was the aging Scottish asshole that Andie decided to get engaged to. For no apparent reason. Why the fuck would she wanna marry that guy? He is ugly and useless. Look at how adorable and nice Hugh Grant is. Stay with him. And then eventually she comes back to Hugh. Just as this girl would back to me. But she never did. How could I be Hugh Grant if our stories weren't parallel. So I moved on to Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman does leave our hero at the end, but not because she wants to. She does it because the fate of the world depends upon it. Finally, that made sense. She left with the other guy because, in some secret but very real way, the fate of the civilized world depended upon it. Heartbreak is so much easier to take if it occurs due to the threat of Nazi world rule.

I now realize just how unrealistic most depictions of romance in rom coms are. There is no such thing as love at first sight. Love is much more complicated, and beautiful, than first attractions. And all rom coms end when the couple gets together, which is obviously when the actual "love" part begins. In some ways, the simplistic depictions of love in rom coms has been more harmful to us than any other genre of movies. Sure, movies are too violent, but we are rarely in situations where we can use guns to mow down our enemies. But all of us get into relationships, and the over simplified view of love can cause so much harm. The real "love" happens not before you meet the person, but after. My fiancĂ© and I live together, and my concept of love now is very different from the one I had during my "rom com" phase. Its about two people connecting on a deeper level than a series of "meet cutes", and about trying to find fulfillment and satisfaction individually while using each other for strength, comfort and… love. Our relationship does not make us one person, but two people stronger than they were before.

Also, I wanna see a rom com called Rent Check, where two people who really love each other try and come up with money to pay the rent every month. That's the rom com for me now.

3 comments:

Emily said...

Ditto. And also, I would totally watch Rent Check. <3

Mo Diggs said...

Top notch, Kumail. See Tao of Steve if you haven't already

Chris said...

nice post.

weird how Hugh Grant started out playing innocent guys who don't (or almost don't) get the girl - and now pretty much exclusively plays letches that good women want to reform.

maybe some sort of high-profile event in his private life motivated people to see him differently?