Mission Statement Police avert your eyes – because I am once again talking about a movie, rather than a book —- although it does segue into book tropes, and then back out again…so who knows really??
NOTE: This is both a post and a mini-rant. I ask questions but I haven’t answered many of them, because frankly, I am still searching for elucidation. But I thought I would share where I have landed.
I was, just the other day, re-watching Laws of Attraction (LOA) – a 2004 release starring a still-quite-sturdy-around-the-jawline Pierce Brosnan as Daniel Rafferty (gosh does that guy age well) and a luminous Julianne Moore as Audrey Woods (who looks fabulous in anything).
It also has an almost unrecognisable Michael Sheen, a belligerent and scowly Parker Posey (but when isn’t she?) and an ageless Frances Fisher. (Who is apparently only 8 yrs older than Julianne Moore in real life, but plays her mother in the movie… Ahh Hollywood…)
Rafferty and Woods are both divorce lawyers, both single despite being so very attractive, (and as we find out during the movie) both avid watchers of the weather (channel or otherwise). Well clearly they are soul mates.
But drunk sex and courthouse shenanigans are not enough to fill the 90mins, so we are taken on a whirlwind divorce case that requires a visit to a castle in Ireland (twice), an accidental marriage, and further drunken escapades, before they both call it quits, admit their attraction and TWUE WUV for each other and end, ostensibly, happily ever after.
There’s nice music, nice costuming and nice set design (despite Rafferty’s awkward arts & craft movement inspired apartment that SO CLEARLY was not really in Chinatown, even though that’s where his suite supposably was). Overall – it wasn’t that great, but it wasn’t that bad…
But the more I watched it, the more aware I became of my lack of engagement with the characters, my lack of involvement with the storyline and my complete and utter dislike of Daniel Rafferty.
This was interesting. Previous viewings hadn’t impacted me in this way, and this movie had generally listed in my top 75 rom-coms to watch when depressed, needing a good costuming fix, and wanting a souffle-like happy ending.
Sure, it was near the bottom of that 75 list, (the acting is fairly workmanlike and the chemistry non-existent) BUT it still made the cut. I know this, because I have a separate DVD cabinet for these. (It’s right next to my ‘break glass in case of emergency’ kit.)
y’all think I’m joking… but I know whose going to survive the Zombie Apocalypse…
The thing that I was most disturbed by? This sense, that from the very beginning, Rafferty seemed to be the one in control of the relationship; that he could dip in and out of it as he pleased, and always have the upper hand. He exerted influence, forced reactions and sat back and watched in jaded amusement, as Woods tried to unentangle herself from the messes she created, as a result of her interactions with him.
To put it bluntly:
Rafferty treats Woods like crap.
He’s mean and vindictive; he humiliates her without compunction, and it’s laughed off like not just that it’s ok, but that it is an acceptable form of courtship. COURTSHIP.
My, and Webster’s Dictionary’s meaning of courtship: ‘ behaviour designed to persuade someone to marry or develop a romantic relationship with one;’ was apparently in a different spectrum to LOA, where courtship meant controlling behaviour designed to confuse, perplex and generally befuddle someone into developing a romantic relationship…
Ok – I provide evidence:
The first meeting between Rafferty & Woods takes place in court. She asks for a continuance, he objects, shows her up to be wrong and makes her feel like an idiot, because she doesn’t get all her facts straight. Then after ensuring that her request is going to be refused, proceeds to ask for a continuance anyway.
He wanted the same thing she wanted, but first, he needed to prove her error, make her feel stupid, and take control of the situation.
Later on, they go out for a meal, have drunken sex and the next day in court, he uses it against her to win. (He also stole her underpants – which in my opinion is fairly unforgivable. Who wants to front up to a judge knowing that there is only one small weave of fabric between them and your nethers?).
He then goes on to tell Audrey that his playing low-down and dirty was actually a compliment – because – shock – it showed her how good she really was… Yes – that’s right – He needed to be horrible to win, but he didn’t enjoy doing it. He needed to treat her like crap – BECAUSE she was so good at her job…
Daniel: Are you suggesting that because the number is so large, your client is entitled to more than what was agreed upon in the pre-nup? Because that was not your position last night, assuming you remember last night’s… position.
Slow clap ladies and gentleman, for the wank in isle 3.
So the reason that my re-watch became a reconsider, was this: I never actually noticed how nasty his actions were before. They were wrapped in the lovely pink tissue paper of a romantic comedy, and never really challenged.
In a nut shell: Rafferty can’t stand to be wrong, must always have the last word. He enjoys ridiculing Woods about her weaknesses and/or using them against her (in particular her secret sugar/snowball stress eating); he will demean, undermine and sabotage her professional choices to gain the upper hand, and all the while, manages to make Audrey (and consequently, the viewer,) feel that she is the one with the issues. She is neurotic, managing, over-controlling, overly single, has issues because she has a beautiful mother, and really, is just overly uptight, (because probably she hasn’t had a good lay).
Now, he does change his tune eventually, and becomes this white toast version of repentance, with long sighs into the distance and talks about making a marriage work by trying . But this in no way reconciles me to his change of heart. It is neither believable nor credible.
Daniel: But I do care about you. And so I will give you a divorce, gladly. Because call me old fashion, but when you love someone, I believe you should be unselfish enough to give them whatever they want. I’ll be around later to pick up my things.
I suppose we could get all technical and start differentiating between Alphas and Alpha-holes, but my beef is not that they are a legitimate book/movie stereotypes, but that the movie pushes us to accept this premise and let him continue to be an ass.
Now tell me – why is that ok?
Why is this a theme in a movie?
Why is it that all of this is supposedly FIXED, because she ends up with Rafferty?
ASIDE: Why all this kissing in the rain??? (Does anyone get that? Have you ever actually kissed in the rain? It makes me think of cold and wet, chaffing clothes and uncomfortable shoes…definitely NOT romance. I blame Nicholas Sparks.)
Why can he be awful for the first half of the movie, and turn into a milk sop in the last half – AND even after betraying her in court – again (you think she would have learnt the first time round,) be the one with the upper hand?
SHE is the one who chases him back to America (even though he only left 30 seconds ahead of her – but – PLOT…) She is the one sobbing into her 3000 thread count sheets.
She is the one who has to be all PLEEASEE LOVE ME – I’m desperate and single and did-you-know-80%-of-women-who-say-they-are-happily-single-are-desperately-unhappy? (yeah – that happened.)
By the end of this re-watch – I was secretly hoping she would ditch him for a nice Irish lad.
And this got me thinking…
1) Why did I notice it so prominently in this movie? Did the distinct lack of chemistry have something to do with it? i.e Does Unresolved Sexual Tension between h/H distract us (or maybe just me) from the larger issues at play?
2) How much of this have I read this in books and never really noticed it either? How many plots have I read/embraced that trafficked in humiliation-as-flirtation without actually noticing that it was there? This route was the hallmark of all good Tracy-Hepburn, Day/Hudson rom-coms, but does that make it acceptable? Or unacceptable?
Is it age? If they were younger as opposed to the more mature Rafferty/Wood, would that make it more ok? Perhaps it is the grown up version of Gilbert and Anne-with-an-e: teasing to get any reaction or attention, even if it’s a slate to the head?
Is it primarily a female geared trope? i.e. mostly females who are humiliated? And deep down, are we a little small-minded and petty and like to see the heroine go through some hate before she deserves a HEA? Like a version of the Break the Haughty Trope?
The thing is but – Audrey was NICE. She didn’t deserve to be broken. She was a little uptight perhaps, and dealt with stress via comfort eating snowballs – but who hasn’t done that?
She was good at her job, honest, hard working, had a rather pleasant relationship with her nuts-like-peanut-butter mother; And what exactly did Rafferty add to her life? A bohemian taste in clothes and extra mess around the house? Is it simply because he had man-bits? Otherwise I can’t really fathom it.
Is it the times?
Is it society?
Christopher Orr wrote a fascinating article offering up the idea that romantic comedies from early 2000 to present are in the doldrums, because in the attempt to create an effective romantic comedy, there needs to be a near-insurmountable obstacle for the couple to overcome, and these are now scarce across the ground. Gone are the days of parental disapproval, social class differences and taboos against premarital sex. Orr suggests that because ‘society has spent decades busily uprooting any impediment to the marriage of true minds,’ there is very little grist for mill.
And whilst this doesn’t exactly answer my question, it does lead me to wonder if we are resorting more and more to the humilation-as-flirtation, the slap-slap-kiss or belligerent sexual tension simply because we have run out of any other obstacles. Because external circumstances are no longer so prohibitive, we are forced to internalise the obstacles to that between the hero/heroine and this trope (or worse) is increasingly what we end up with?
Frankly, it’s disappointing.
Then I stumbled upon a post on Dear Author about emotional justice, and I thought – Aha! That’s part of the reason I feel so incensed about this. There was a complete lack of emotional justice; and it’s not, as Robin Reader points out, ‘just romantic fulfilment, but an unbalanced distribution of power that pissed me off because…it seemed to feed into some negative stereotypes about men and women’
According to Robin Reader, emotional justice, although often related, or perhaps confused with, love conquering all, is not the same thing at all. There needs to be a tangible sense of emotional justice, to make a story believable, in ADDITION to the protagonists being in deep, true love.
Her example: when one protagonist hurts the other, and is not adequately humbled. If they don’t go through enough to win back the love of the other, love may not be enough to overcome the reader’s sense of unfairness or imbalance between them.
Emotional Justice – I wants it dammit!
This ties in with a post by the marvelous Miss Bates, and her views on The Grovel, and the need for atonement within a relationship.
Perhaps I never felt the emotional justice of protagonist’s relationship, because Rafferty never really had to grovel – never had to fix what he had broken, never had to rebuild on what he had so carelessly destroyed – at least no where near as much as I thought he should. (Balls for earrings, hair shirts, tarring and feathering – these were all in my top 10…but nada.) And even worse, it was never made out to be his fault.
So where does this leave everything?
Well to be honest – I’m not exactly sure. I know I am disgruntled and have banished LOA from my rom-com section. It is now mouldering away in the dark recesses of a bookcase along with Intolerable Cruelty, Wicker Man (Nicholas Cage version) and that hot mess known as The Happening.
For myself, a true romance is one where the protagonist finds that one other person who balances them, complements their deficiencies, and still likes being near them when they are three days into a winter cold, haven’t showered and are pronouncing all their vowels with a ‘buh’ sound.
This movie was in NO WAY like this. That it can be ushered into the halls of romance, and take its place along side When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and the Princess Bride? It’s just depressing. We may as well just let Nicholas Sparks have the floor.
apologetic-about-the-length-but-now-carthartically-purged-from-the-grumps: Valancy Blu.