The Last Act

The only thing I know about this movie is the billboards, which look just like the above.  They are all over town, and every time I see one I think that the traditional romantic comedy industry is so burnt and anemic from trying to combat the new era of love in hoodies (key symptoms include Michael Cera, Zooey Deschanel, indie music, awkwardness, aching angst in surprisingly real domestic scenes) and the Apatowian bildungsroman/antibildungsroman (key symptoms include tender men, cock jokes, unfair worlds, big houses with children, and Paul Rudd) that it is finally surrendering.

This movie is the last wave of the white flag.  We give up, it says, we understand there can be no more He’s Just Not That Into Yous or The Wedding Planners.  The age has ended.   We will put our scripts written for Meg Ryan, Debra Messing and Diane Keaton away.  We will not try to make Jessica Alba funny anymore.  We get it, quirky women with quirky jobs in charming towns will no longer be on the last hunt for love before going home to eat alone.  Jennifer Anniston is the last holdover from this genre, perhaps because her public persona mimics the traditional romcom plot so well.  She is always this close to finding The One.  We know it’s gonna happen for her one of these days.

The sign of this surrender is the title.  The writers have given up trying to lure us with charm or nostalgia.  Instead of Sleepless in Seattle or Runaway Bride they are getting right to the point: Love Happens (aka It’s Over).  What you see is what you will get.  Anniston will rub noses with an equally tan man.  We are all gonna make it, one last time.

And then, the prop departments will rearrange:  bouquets of tulips and freshly sharpened pencils will give way to bongs, love letters to returned topless photos, less candles all around, and more T-shirts for everybody.  The shine is off the story a bit, and I think in general, we like it this way.  It is more of the kind of love story that High Fidelity foretold, now fully mainstream.

I am a fan of the deadening genre.  I will miss the high production and gold lighting, everything always crisp and catalog perfect– —You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, The Wedding Date— — but the veneer they demand isn’t going to hold up except as camp or in homage to the simple moments their conflicts always came to: blindness, revelation, running, adoration and reciprocation.

Are they now part of the romcom hall of fame, along with the Doris Day and Rock Hudson set, or am I wrong, and they are still alive and kissing?



Bildungsroman BigFun!

Dear Millicent,

I just finished reading Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and the ending very much reminded me of an old Jezebel post from this summer about the quarter life crisis versus the return of Saturn.  You know, how everybody in their twenties tends to have a moment where their world breaks a bit, and it is often framed as, oh are you 27 or 28, must be your return of Saturn? Or, oh, are you isolated and living in Tokyo, you lucky full-lipped thing?  They did a great job or parsing the subject, pretty much boiling it down to the flummox before we get a sign that our life is going to make sense.  In the Jezebel writer’s case, she got a job, and calmed the fuck down.  This calming does seem to depend on that very important thing (job, plan, opportunity) actually arriving (which I liken to the comet Dimmesdale sees in the sky in The Scarlet Letter).

Lessing’s characters seem to go through a similar process, all self scrutiny and intense panicked thought, until, voila, jobs and marriages are agreed to. Then it is a fast, slap-of-the-hands, end.  Which, brings me to the bildungsroman ending where the young hero, after his or her adventures, has to decide whether to return and join the community through marriage or job taking, or keeps going into the wilderness, decidedly a lone wolf (much like the Amish rumspringa tradition).  Molly and Anna are not immature women, and their decisions arrive in middle age, after children and full histories.  They also need less of each other once their decisions have been made, much like Scarlett leaving Bill Murray and going off to her future, probably publishing her first book through her richie-pants connections and going on to write provocative things about how boring the culture class in America is.  I want to puke on my future version of her, and also be her, wear her clothes, and write her scathing richie-pants words.  But that is not the point.  I wonder if we leave behind the structures of support we find in the wilderness when we agree to go back to the fold, something like Tarzan waving good-bye to the apes as he puts on his tuxedo.  But, isn’t part of why Tarzan is awesome is that he never actually does that? He and the apes keep in touch?

Back to the bildungsoman, there is something in this…is all angst calmed by an acceptance of purpose, with the search being traded in for any answer at all?