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Don’t Blame the RomCom

I’ve been scarce online lately as I finished a draft of a book, and I have another draft to go and a lot going on this week, but I have a rant brewing that must come out.

Twitter’s been all abuzz about this article about a man playing the piano in a park as a way of getting his ex-girlfriend back, vowing to keep at it until he knows that she knows what he’s doing. It was initially presented as a romantic gesture, until people pointed out that it was creepy, manipulative behavior. If she wants to get back with him, she knows where to find him. The big, public gesture to get attention and acting like she owes it to him to listen to how much he loves her is a huge red flag.

And I totally agree with that. What I have issue with is that most of the commentaries that have come out on this issue have blamed romantic comedy movies for teaching that this kind of grand gesture works. They criticize the fact that stalking and big public manipulative gestures are shown as positive things in movies. However, as a huge fan of romantic comedies, I can’t think of any that really fit this circumstance. Movies are being unfairly blamed here. When there is a big, public gesture, it’s usually the person who did the rejecting or who otherwise messed up showing that he/she learned a lesson and is trying to make up for it.

Usually, the image used to illustrate these commentaries is the scene from Love Actually in which the guy who has a crush on his friend’s wife comes to their house and declares his love in a series of posters. And, yeah, that’s creepy, and rather a jerk move to declare his love to his friend’s wife. Also, very selfish, because it’s about making himself feel good, not about what it does to her. The movie does treat it like it’s a sweet gesture — but it’s also unsuccessful. She more or less pats him on the head and goes back inside to her husband. He later moves on and finds someone else. This is not shown as a successful way to get the girl.

The closest I can think of to the “stalking will win you the one you love” message might be Bringing Up Baby, but there it’s the woman going after the man. She keeps arranging ways to make him be stuck with her as a way of getting to know him and forcing him to get to know her.

Maybe there was some stuff like that in the Doris Day era, but there was a whole lot of creepy stuff going on in those movies. In the modern era, I’ve seen the reference to the boombox outside the window from Say Anything. It’s been a while since I watched that movie, but I don’t recall it being him forcing her hand. It was more of a declaration of his feelings and a show of support for what she was going through.

Otherwise, there was Billy Crystal’s public declaration of his feelings on New Year’s Eve that was his way of showing Meg Ryan that he didn’t see her as just another conquest. In Notting Hill, she made her declaration of love that he rejected, then regretted rejecting, so he made an even more public declaration (though I always felt she owed him an apology for jumping to the worst possible conclusion about him earlier). Leap Year was essentially a remake of It Happened One Night, where she realized she had chosen the wrong guy and went back to see if the right guy was interested. And I could go on.

Now, there may be some selection bias, as I’m not likely to remember or have in my collection a movie I found creepy, but I can’t think of any romantic comedy film equivalent of playing the piano in public to force an ex to deal with him. Where you’re more likely to see that kind of thing is in TV sitcoms or in romance novels. I can think of way too many books in which the guy declares at the beginning that he’s going to win the woman, she rejects him, and he spends the book relentlessly pursuing her until she gives in.

But stop blaming romantic comedy films in general. Cite specific examples of the behavior being referenced.