Monday, February 27, 2012
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
The Movie: Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) writes for Composure, currently the fastest growing women’s magazine. She works the “how to” column, but wants to write something more substantial and worthwhile than what her job will let her publish. One day, desperate for an idea for a new column, and facing the latest catastrophe of her friend Michelle’s (Kathryn Hahn) disastrous romantic life, Andie is suddenly hit by inspiration. For her next column she will write about things women commonly do to drive men off. To field-test it, she’ll chose a guy at random, start a relationship, do everything she can to ensure that he will be heading for the hills within ten days, and write up the whole sorry affair for her column.
Ben Barry (Matthew McConaughey) is an advertising executive. He’s definitely good at what he does, but up to this point he has mainly worked with alcohol and sports paraphernalia. Ben has the opportunity for something better however; he’s recently brought his boss’ (Robert Klein) attention to a major diamond interest that is bound to be lucrative. Unfortunately, Ben’s two business rivals, the Judies Spears and Green (Michael Michelle and Shalom Harlow, respectively [and while we’re at it, are they supposed to be a lesbian couple or just really good friends?]) have moved into position to take the account for themselves. Ben confronts them, and the four wind up making a bet for the diamond account. To demonstrate his ability to deal with the themes needed to sell diamonds, Ben must find a random woman, get her to truly fall in love with him, and bring her as his date to the account kickoff dinner in ten days.
Of course, Andie and Ben wind up choosing each other for their respective little destructive projects, and the games really begin. Andie goes out of her way to make Ben miserable, while Ben goes equally out of his way to hold on to Andie. And to further complicate matters, the two find themselves falling for each other…
Well here it is; the movie I originally intended to review for Valentine’s Day 2012. It’s not a secret that I really detest Valentine’s Day. Now I know; the socially awkward, single guy who hates Valentine’s Day is an old cliché. However, clichés come about because there is some truth to them; and my reasons aren’t necessarily what you are probably thinking. My main reason for hating the holiday isn’t due to spite and jealousy, although they have played their parts in the past. Nor is it because of the transparently manufactured and corporate nature of the holiday; although again, that does play a role.
My dislike of Valentine’s Day is mainly due to its very nature, which sits in opposition to my own. Valentine’s Day is all about the Big Showy Gesture. In essence, it centers around the idea that all you need is a big, ostentatious display to show that you love someone. After all, what are the cards, the roses, the huge boxes of chocolates, the ridiculously expensive displays of conspicuous consumption, but a massive show for the rest of the world?
Now, I can see the occasional need for the BSG. Hell, I can even admit that it always looks impressive. Unfortunately, that’s all it really has going for it. At its core, the BSG is ultimately hollow. Unless you have something substantial to back it up, the BSG is always going to collapse after a short time; if it doesn’t immediately blow up in your face. I, personally, am about the Small Substantial Gesture; the little actions that on initial appearance aren’t all that impressive, but that slowly but surely build a stable and lasting platform for what it is you are trying to build. You will never see me propose at a football game, but you will see me doing all the little things I can to make sure that the relationship (and I don’t just mean romantic ones, either) will be a worthwhile and enduring one. And I’m not saying said gestures can’t be big, grand, or quirky either; I do those all the time. I just feel that if they are only meant for one person, then they actually need to mean something, and the rest of the world doesn’t need to be in on it.
My general distaste for most mainstream Hollywood romantic comedies is also due to this principle. They, too, are more often than not about the BSG. How many cinematic romances have been saved by the dramatic actions of one character, such as a dash to the airport just before the plane leaves or a public declaration before a huge crowd? And how many of the above mentioned dramatic actions are needed because said individual did something utterly unforgiveable?
The formula used for these movies is almost always the same. Two people, seemingly unfit for each other, fall in love; usually under some kind of contrived circumstances. They are utterly happy and devoted to each other, and then one of them does something truly despicable (or one of them finds out about the other doing something despicable) that breaks up the relationship. In the end it takes a major public act to save the romance. It’s completely unrealistic.
Now I am well aware that much of what I enjoy movie-wise is equally unrealistic. I guess that my main issue is that so many people see these movies as what love truly is. I mean, romantic comedies tend to come with adjectives such as “inspiring,” “uplifting,” and “feel-good.” Yet, they are almost always about relationships that, if brought into the world we live in, would be the epitome of unhealthy and dysfunctional.
Obviously there are exceptions; I can actually name a few romantic comedies I regularly watch and enjoy. But think about it; if I were to actually try some of the things the male lead does to get the female, at the very least I would probably wind up with a restraining order. Likewise, if a couple really was so mutually insecure and distrusting that one of the ridiculous little incidents common in these films could actually break them up; there’s no way the relationship in question could last very long, even if they were stupid enough to get back together. And finally, considering how poisonous and blatantly destructive these movie breakups tend to be; there is no way in Hell that couple could ever get back together on anything like healthy terms. There would always be resentment and some degree of mutual grudge. And yet, these “romances” are held up as positive; what we all should want and how we all should get it. I know horror isn’t for everyone, but you have to admit this for my favored genre; the destructive, anti-social behavior is nearly always the province of the villain/antagonist, and portrayed as a bad thing.
Which brings me to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, a movie that I think epitomizes these objections. Like the majority of the movies on this blog, I have a history with it. A few years back, near Christmas, my mother had to have surgery. Because the hospital where she was staying over is only a few blocks from my apartment, I visited her quite a bit. My siblings came to Idaho for the holiday, and one night found me and my sister visiting together. She was feeling board, so she turned on the television and found this movie being played. We were a ways into the movie, but my sister explained the basic plot to me. I’m still not sure if she ever figured out why I was so appalled.
The thing that really got my blood boiling was that it was all about these destructive social games. I hate games; whether we’re talking social, political, professional or what have you. Part of it is because of personal prejudice; due to my aspergers, I’m always finding myself on the wrong end of them. But mostly it’s because they are extremely destructive for no real purpose. While there are rare occasions when they are truly needed, and sometimes they can even be fun; overall they are only about somebody jumping through unnecessary hoops for someone else’s ego trip. And the games being played by the two leads in this movie are, to my mind, of the worst sort.
What I find really sad about this film after having watched it a second time (yeah, I’m a masochist), is noting the disparity of the talent of the two leads versus the characters they play. Said characters are both repulsive slimebags. Yet, the actors and the script actually make them a little more attractive as people than they should rightfully be.
Hudson, for example, is wonderful. There are a few scenes of her interacting with her friends that aren’t necessarily part of the main plot, but that are a lot of fun. It’s just little things; her tone of voice and mannerisms when joking around with them, the casual little bits of give and take between them; but I found myself enjoying them. Likewise, there are a few scenes where, after Andie has just finished her latest round of “let’s make Ben miserable” and he’s just gone out of earshot; she wipes away her tears and gets this evil smile that any James Bond villain would envy. It’s almost enough to make you momentarily forget that this is a woman who is doing her damndest to arbitrarily make the life of a man; one who, for all she knows, may actually be in love with her; a living Hell.
Ben is every bit as bad, yet I find that I have a little bit more sympathy for him nonetheless. Mostly this is due to being familiar with the position he’s in. I’ve been romantically jerked around before. Admittedly, nowhere near the level of some other people I’ve known; but it only takes one time to drive home just how much it sucks to be on the receiving end. Also, through various little tells, McConaughey makes it clear very early on that Ben is smitten. He is dealing with a girlfriend who is insecure, jealous, petty, unreasonable and manipulative (sadly, again not outside my own life experiences); yet one gets the impression that bet or no bet, Ben genuinely sees enough that’s worthwhile in Andie that he’ll tolerate anything to keep her around.
But even with these small examples of good traits, as well as a scene where Andie meets Ben’s family that I find also resonates with me; ultimately it’s not enough to make up for the fact that we are watching two people playing really nasty games with each other's lives and emotions. This is the mother of all destructive relationships here; and the only part of it that really strikes me as true is the inevitable blowup at the kickoff banquet where Andie and Ben simultaneously discover the truth about the other and have a very nasty and public breakup over it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t have left it there. This being a genre romance, there has to be a contrived reconciliation at the end. However, I really cannot see this relationship going anywhere positive after all that has passed between the two of them. So in conclusion, I wound up reviewing two movies for Valentine’s Day instead of the one I originally planned on; and I’m still not sure what to think of the fact that between the jokey horror movie and the officially labeled “romance,” it’s the movie about psychopathic slasher-killers that shows us the healthier and more palatable relationship.