Burying the Art of Love in the Era of Facebook and the Bounty

Aug 04, 2010 Published under Education/Raising Children, Life, Movies

I worry whether my children will grow up in a culture so sterilized and digitized that they will miss out on true human bonds. Maureen Dowd just added to my worries with acute observations about the increasing superficiality of romantic comedies. People no longer fall in love or learn to love as they did in earlier movies. Read the column to join me in my worries.

August 3, 2010

Tragedy of Comedy



I got an e-mail from Sam Wasson, the 28-year-old author of “Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.,” the best seller about the making of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” thanking me for mentioning the book.

I’ve never met Wasson, a film student turned film writer hailed by The New Yorker as “a fabulous social historian.” But within seconds, after I told him that I loved the bit in his book about the on-screen/off-screen chemistry of Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in the incandescent “Two for the Road,” we were madly e-mailing back and forth on a subject of mutual obsession and depression: Why romantic comedies now reek. Here’s our exchange:

Me: “How did we get from ‘Two for the Road’ to ‘The Bounty Hunter’ and ‘He’s Just Not That Into You?’ ”

Sam: “This is the question I ask myself every morning and keep asking all day, and annoy all my friends and lovers with. Every time I see Jennifer Aniston’s or Jennifer Garner’s face I wince. Basically, every time I see someone named Jennifer. They say the problem is teenage boys and girls, that they drive the marketplace. But I say they only drive the marketplace because there’s nothing out there for grown-ups to see. Apropos, I can’t remember the last time I saw two people really falling in love in a movie. Now all we get is the meet cute, a montage, a kiss, then acoustic song into fade out. Nothing experiential, only movies manufactured from movies. Apparently, there was once a time when Jill Clayburgh danced around in her underwear. She laughed, she cried, she hurt, but it seems like a legend that never happened. Now we have ‘The Bounty Hunter’ and I don’t know what to do on Friday nights. Are you sorry you asked?”

Me: “Why can’t studios and stars find witty writers to go beyond bridesmaid dress movies?”

Sam: “I am not joking when I say that because there is nothing to see (especially, and tragically, in romantic comedy) my girlfriend and I have had to stay home and in some cases fight. If there were better movies out there, I am sure so many relationship disasters may have been averted. Also, romantic comedies, the good ones, taught me how to love, or at least instructed me on how to try. If I were falling in love now for the first time and going to see this garbage thinking this was real, I would be in deep [expletive]. It was only after I saw ‘Annie Hall’ as a wee Jew that I realized what it was to be a person in love. It has been a touchstone ever since. Back in the days of one-foot-on-the-floor, wit was the best (and only) way to talk about sex. Wit was — this is incredible — commercial. Even something as ridiculous as ‘Pillow Talk’ winks at you. If people only realized that Paramount in the ’30s and ’40s was the golden age of American wit. Algonquin Round Table, eat your black hearts out. The question is, will there be a backlash? A renaissance? I don’t think people realize how dire the situation is. I mean culturally, emotionally, the whole idea of romance is gone, gone, gone. … And I don’t care how good the novelist, I’ve never read anything that touches Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant in ‘Bringing Up Baby.’ Is it too early to drink?”

Me: “Where are new Sturgeses and Lubitsches?”

Sam: “When ‘Up in the Air’ (which I actually liked) came out last year, people were calling Jason Reitman the new Preston Sturges. What they meant was Reitman respects language. He is interested in the vernacular, like Sturges was. The major difference is that Sturges invented a dialect all his own, one that really sang with American pluck. But that the comparison was ever made goes to show you how desperate (certain) people are for real romantic comedy. If the bar were any lower, they’d be calling James Cameron the next Sturges. As for Lubitsch, there will never, ever, ever be another. Ever. A guy like that comes around once in a universe. Proof is that even Billy Wilder, whose motto was ‘What would Lubitsch do?,’ tried but never came close.”

Me: “With so many women running studios, you’d think they’d focus on making better rom-coms.”

Sam: “Even the studios that are run by women aren’t run by women. They’re run by corporations, which are run by franchises. Unfortunately for us, Jennifer Aniston is a franchise. So is Katherine Heigl and Gerard Whatever-His-Name-Is, and even when their movies bomb, their franchise potential isn’t compromised because overseas markets, DVD sales and cable earn all the studio’s money back. I’m told that ‘Knight and Day,’ that awful Cruise/Diaz movie, has already been good for Fox for exactly this reason. The worst part of it is, from Hollywood’s point of view, it ain’t broke. I never thought I’d say this, but thank God for TV. O.K., now I am drinking.”

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