The Cinematic Formula

As I was sitting in my bed the other morning, I decided that I should take a mental break. In the midst of finals week, I wanted to let myself breathe and watch an entertaining movie. I would watch a light-hearted, romantic movie—a “rom-com,” if you will. It seemed so indulgent, so tantalizing to not think about anything else for two whole hours. I chose Nina Dobrev’s new movie Love Hard, a romantic comedy starring a woman named Natalie who writes about online-dating failures. Time after time she is catfished (misled by a falsified or overly-exaggerated internet profile), and finally Natalie seems to find the perfect guy. She flies to Lake Placid, where he lives, only to be catfished once again and meet the antithesis of everything she was looking for. In the same town, however, she meets the real guy depicted in the internet profile, and sets her sight on her “real soulmate.” It seemed to follow the basic plotline of a forlorn, love lost woman who is down on her luck, only to find love in the most unexpected place. There was a formula, and it followed the formula to a “T”. 

As I watched Love Hard, however, cliche after cliche pounded my skull. I was drowning in the matchmaking, the inadvertent lovebirds brought together by comedy and fate. I was tired of the woman falling for the wrong guy, only to realize her mistake when it seems to be too late. I felt exhausted by the crushing innuendo and constant miscommunication. Do the producers of these movies never think to themselves, “Maybe, just maybe, we should be original” or “For once, let’s not slam our audiences with unrealistic expectations of love and life”?

So, if this genre of movie, that we all know so well, is so formulaic, so satirical, why are these movies so popular? Why have we integrated so persistently The Notebook, Sleepless In Seattle, and countless other movies into our culture and our sense of romance? 

In a world where everything is so complicated and messy, we appreciate movies in which the characters find simple, happy endings. We want to believe that there are people out there who have straightforward  lives, who find happiness in meeting The One. Rom-coms are just one type of movie where we feel that sense of simplicity, knowing exactly what comes next. These movies are what we wish for, and producers, not for a lack of creativity, create a narrative that we understand because we yearn for it. It’s not really about love at the end of the movie; it is about curating a life for yourself where you are comfortable and you know what comes next. 

Normally, I would not like that the producers and creators of these movies dumb things down to just the building blocks of life, to an immature reality that is really unachievable for pretty much everyone on the planet. Why would I want to enjoy something that isn’t real? I don’t want to indulge in a reality that is unattainable. But yesterday morning, life was getting stressful. It got to be a little too much and I wanted something comfortable. Something I knew well, something that was predictable. For me, that was a rom-com. To go back to the basics and mindlessly watch a movie that had no substance because it was easy. 

The reality is, no matter how much I try to deny it, I enjoyed Love Hard. Despite—or rather, because of—the cliches. I enjoyed predicting the formulaic plot. I enjoyed that it allowed me to inhabit a world where I didn’t have to factor in the complex calculus of everyday life. I didn’t have to think about going to conferences, or about calling my parents as often, or calculate how many hours I had to spend outside of my dorm to feel social. I felt happy and positive. Yes, after watching the movie, my head was swimming with how the story could have ended, how it should have ended. But also, I felt less stressed, and I felt comforted by the formula. It was something I understood. Even if the movie in and of itself was not Oscar-worthy, it served its purpose. It’s nice to be simple every once in a while.