There's no such thing as the perfect guy-girl "date movie." A guy explains why ...
Allow me to make three outrageous assumptions, so I don't have to keep saying "Of course, not all women…" and "That being said, some men…" and so forth. Here goes: 1) Women love romantic movies. 2) Men love action movies. 3) Men love women, and women, for some reason, love men.
I'm totally overgeneralizing and I know it. Somewhere, at this very moment, a heterosexual man is renting Beaches. But no one can deny that "guy movies" and "chick flicks" clearly appeal powerfully to their respective genders.
Hollywood's solution for the middle ground, the "date movie," is supposed to appeal perfectly to both men and women. I'm talking about films like Jerry Maguire, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, or Juno. They look good on paper: a little bit of pink syrup, a little bit of blue syrup; an an evolving relationship for the ladies; some edgy jokes or sports for the guys. You pray you get Knocked Up, and not Gigli.
But guys never love these movies. Oh, we go all right—but we're dating you (or married to you) and we want to see YOU. We always find something to watch and/or laugh at, but don't kid yourself: We definitely feel like we're taking one for the team. Jen Aniston in a towel is nice but doesn't erase the sneaking suspicion that we've been tricked into watching a chick flick in disguise.
Here's why: Movies are about getting lost for two hours in a communal dream, and men and women, generally, dream different dreams.
What WE want from a movie, our escape, is heroism. Reluctant, individual, improbable heroism. "Guy movies" always have this at the heart: Regular schmoe digs deep and overcomes superior forces. Think Die Hard. The Matrix. Star Wars. Normal dude is swept up by circumstance and rises to meet the occasion, ideally with automatic weapons.
And here's the key insight: The hero does not change. It's counterintuitive—Hollywood loves a "character arc"—but it binds virtually all "guy movies," from spy films to boobs-y comedies to space epics. Bond is always Bond; Clint leaves town on the horse he rode in on. The Blues Brothers do not repent. When a regular guy overcomes the odds and survives intact, the subconscious takeaway is: If the Federation came calling, you too would kick major alien ass.
The gentle, funny doofuses of date movies—Hugh Grant, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks—fail at this level. They make mistakes and learn from them. They apologize, learn to listen and become better boyfriends and husbands. In just two hours! It's a Hollywood fantasy created for women, and we ain't buying it. These may be good guys, but they're not heroes…and if they're only going to dutifully do what society/their girlfriends require, why bother showing them larger than life?
It isn't that men aren't interested in fidelity, forgiveness, better communication, and so on. It's just not what we're looking for when we go to the movies. We don't want to heal and unite; we want to prank, ignite, destroy. Maybe it's genetic—the successful sperm outfights, outlasts, and outruns its competition. But whatever the reason, we know from the opening moments of a date movie that it's not going to end with a satisfying, carnage-affirming explosion. Four weddings, and just one funeral? No thanks.
Men treat a date movie like a sort of benign form of couples therapy. As if you're subconsciously trying to guide us to truths about your relationship. See what happens when people lie? And did you notice how Keanu helped Sandra without ASKING if she needed help?
We fear the extent to which you buy into the fantasy—that date movies, even if consumed in the company of your girlfriends, raise unrealistic expectations. We worry that the next time you storm out after a fight, you won't be satisfied unless we chase you all the way to the airport, in the rain, running across the tops of cars, with a boom-box belting out your favorite song.
As unrealistic as guy movies are, I know I can't kickbox Jet Li, or levitate a starship, or race across rooftops like Jason Bourne. But the clichés on which date movies are built are harder to recognize. Do women remember that in the real world, Hugh Grant is a prostitute-frequenting wife-cheater? That the soul-stirring happy ending you're misting over is, statistically, 50 percent likely to end in divorce?
Obviously there are some good romantic comedies out there. But to succeed as a movie they must appeal to both genders, and that means taking up multiple unrealistic extremes. In Knocked Up, the Seth Rogan character takes a road trip to Vegas and shrooms with his buddy during Cirque du Soleil (effin' right he did!) then grows up and reconciles with his long-suffering girlfriend (awwww!). If you can remember it's just entertainment, great, but that's tough in a movie with deceptively "normal" characters and situations.
Ultimately maybe date movies should be for firmly established couples only. You wouldn't see Pineapple Express with your boss, you wouldn't see Zack and Miri Make a Porno with your mom, and you shouldn't see a date movie with a date. It's just too damn dangerous. I highly recommend dinner across a tiny square table, with alcohol and maybe some conversation. And nobody's expectations but your own.
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