February 4, 2014

BYRNE | Five Movie Clichés We Could All Use a Little Less Of

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As I mentioned (ahem, wrote a column about) two weeks ago, I’m in Paris. While this does translate into what one might expect about studying abroad — seeing the Eiffel Tower, going out, eating lots of crêpes — it also means that I have an inordinate amount of free time. I never realized how crazily busy I was at Cornell. I mean, I did, but I just thought it was normal. Without 25 meetings every night and hundreds of emails per day, I’ve found time to read books, which I haven’t really done since high school, and watch movies! Shockingly, not all of the movies I watch are artsy and French; in fact, more than I’d like to admit are romantic comedies. And as I watch these and other movies, I’ve been thinking about the stupid scenes or moments we see in them and blindly accept as accurate interpretations of reality. Let me give you some examples:

1. Character is upset, therefore swallows a whole drink: If you haven’t noticed this already, you will now. Whenever someone is upset, for some reason he doesn’t want to talk about with his friends, but instead he goes to the bar, orders a drink and then gulps it down in one swallow. Afterwards, he walks away with determination, presumably to conquer whatever is on his mind. I’ve definitely seen people drink a lot because they were upset; that’s not what I’m arguing about. The issue here is the sudden rage-fueled ability to chug large quantities of liquid; it just doesn’t happen.

2. Boy lies to attract girl, girl loves boy anyway: This is actually one of my absolute least favorite conventions of the genre, and countless movies abuse it. From You’ve Got Mail to How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days to 10 Things I Hate About You, romcoms are all about the stealth relationship. The boy creates an elaborate persona and web of lies to entice the girl into falling in love with him. Subsequently, either he reveals or she finds out that he’s been lying. And although you might think at this point she would be long gone, she decides she loves him despite the trickery! How?! Your whole relationship is based on literal lies! Sometimes/often, he has been paid to date you! These girls need to pull themselves together, and these writers need to think of something a little more original.

3. All good people go to Harvard: First, I must shamelessly admit that I rewatched High School Musical over winter break. While I did not watch the diminished-quality sequels, I recall that most of the characters attended the likes of Yale, Stanford, etc., even those who weren’t considered the “brainiacs” of the franchise. This might be the lingering jealousy of my high school senior self, but not everyone gets to go to a good college. Just because you didn’t fail out of shop class doesn’t mean you get a full ride to Princeton. This myth perpetuated by television and movies really only serves to get everyone’s hopes up about college admissions, which in reality are pretty much a matter of luck.

4. Husband/wife accidentally finds out sex of the baby: This one comes with a lengthier story. First, one spouse discovers the sex. Then, she agonizes over telling the husband. She doesn’t know whether her loved one will rejoice or be secretly let down by the reveal. She herself feels overjoyed that their future child is a boy/girl/whatever-they’ve-always-wanted. Finally, the one who knows tells the other, and the other is appropriately ecstatic. Haven’t you guys seen the other movies like this? Calm down and tell them; in nine months or less everyone’s going to find out anyway.

5. Someone says, “I love you,” the other says, “thank you:” Come on, by the end of the episode/movie we all know you’re going to say “I love you” back. It’s only a matter of time, spent thinking about all of your failed relationships and how you always jumped in too soon and you don’t want to ruin this one and you really do love him/her, before you come around. Let’s save everyone some agony and viewing time and just pack all of that internal reflection into one meaningful moment. If you try really hard, you can probably even eliminate the long, awkward silence before you say it back.

As I’m writing this list, I’m thinking through all of the movies I’ve seen recently, and honestly I find it hard to come up with plot points/camera angles/lines of dialogue that aren’t tropes in one way or another. And as a self-professed romantic comedy addict, I must say that I secretly love a lot of clichés. What would Love Actually be without everyone finding love, actually, at the end? I would appreciate fewer recurrences of identical plot lines, but a bit of that movie magic romance has to be preserved. I get it. As long as I don’t have to watch another movie about the inevitable true love that blossoms between friends with benefits.