It is my fault, of course. I took a quick look at the available films playing in a nearby cinema and simply chose one with a conveniently scheduled screening. The title rang a bell – wasn’t that the film that had been partially shot in Amsterdam, where I now live? Plus it had great ratings on imdb. I hopped happily along to watch “The Fault in Our Stars”, by director Josh Boone.
I shouldn’t have gone to the movies to see a Hollywood-concocted romantic comedy for teenagers. Truth be said, like the Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw puts it, “you have to concede the laser-guided accuracy and psychotic vehemence with which it goes for the tear duct. It’s like being mugged by a professional whose skills in mixed martial arts you can’t help but notice and appreciate, even as you are savagely beaten, then dragged upright, bruised and bleeding, and forced to watch as your assailant gives fully 45% of your money to charity”. So I am not going to start a rant about the phoniness of the film. Because I should have known better, and also because I became immensely indulgent towards bad stories since I started writing my own and discovered how hard it is to achieve worth.
What I want to talk about is Hollywood’s idea of a romantic relationship. The way “The Fault in Our Stars” portraits love feels so fake, so outright absurd, that I felt embarrassed throughout the film, averting my eyes as if to spare the characters of my witnessing the appalling things the storytellers had had them do and say. Take this scene: the two youths, (both struck by cancer at a very young age), visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Touched by the tragic story of the Jewish girl, they kiss there for the first time. Random tourists notice their tender embrace and appreciatively start clapping hands.
The first kiss. Has to be meaningful. Very meaningful. Against a background of pure meaningfulness, like the one conveyed by Anne Frank. Has to be special. Has to be sanctioned by eye-witnesses, its powerful, inspiring quality confirmed through applause. This scene may be extreme, but it is hardly one of a kind in Hollywood cinema. We have all watched enough public love declarations and marriage proposals. We have all encountered that idea of a “pure love”, the one that just happens, often against exterior obstacles (cancer in this case) but perfect and all-powerful otherwise.
This article briefly describes some research about Hollywood models of romantic relationships and their impact on real couples. The idea of love as epiphany, as a magical, effortless connection between two souls that many Hollywood films (and telenovelas, and other kinds of sugar-coated dishonesties) convey may be creating unrealistic expectations as people engage in a relationship. I am now thinking of a great scene in “Don Jon” (by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), in which the character played by Scarlett Johansson is in ecstasy before a number of romantic comedies that convey and idea of love that is as fake as the one in the porn films the protagonist is addicted to). She was looking for a Hollywood-kind of feeling, he was looking for a porn-kind of feeling, both drowning in their own pool of media culture. I do not want to point my finger at the media, destroyers of diversity with their mainstream laser guns. Fairy-tales and cum-shots, please proceed. It’s not (only) your fault, I guess.
In the end, what strikes me, and what I take for myself as a lesson from this viewing experience, is the way the storytellers just bent the world in order to convey their idea of love. This I cannot endorse; this is real danger to be averted. In what world do passers-by clap when they see a random couple kiss? In what world do waiters in a restaurant exchange kind, approving smiles over random clients? It is forbidden to change the rules of the story world (in this case, a fairly realistic one) to serve the purpose of you vision. This is the real cause of phoniness. I would be willing to believe in clapping witnesses of pure love – if that would be happening on planet Lollypop.