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Your Boyfriend Is Making You Look Bad

February 9, 2010
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I’ve watched my fair share of romantic comedies and teen flicks. Today I want to extract a common cliche from those movies and turn  it on its head as I compare it to real-life dating.

Some examples:

  1. Can’t Hardly Wait*: Hot girl dating a huge jerk is courted by a boy.
  2. Fired Up: Hot girl dating a huge jerk is courted by a boy.
  3. Wedding Crashers: Hot woman engaged to a huge jerk is courted by a man.

We’re supposed to root for the male protagonist to “save” the girl from the huge jerk. You root against the jerk. He’s the bad guy, and it’s the dorky kid’s job to save the girl from him.

What really bugs me about this is: What’s so attractive about a woman who is willing to date a huge jerk? It’s not like she was forced to date this guy. That’s the guy she chose to date! This choice reflects extremely poorly on her. Why does the protagonist ignore that?

I think this is one of my least favorite movie cliches because of the way it portrays women as hapless victims of circumstance. Which isn’t true at all. We choose who we date, and the people we date reflect upon who we are. You date a good person–that says something good about you. You date a huge jerk–that says something bad about you.

My favorite teen movie of all time is Superbad. One of the major reasons I love that movie is that it avoids this cliche altogether. The movie isn’t about winning these girls away from their idiot boyfriends (because why would you want a girl who has an idiot boyfriend)–it’s about impressing women (and, ultimately, respecting them). I love that.

What do you think? Do the people we date reflect on who we are, or are we just hapless victims of circumstance? What are some of your favorite teen movies–and realistic, likable women in teen movies? What are your least favorite teen and romantic comedy cliches?

*In all fairness to Can’t Hardly Wait, which packs an incredible number of cliches and one-dimensional characters into its running time, it does include one of the coolest moments in any movie: When the dorky kid is singing “Paradise City” in front of the crowd, he falls down and the music stops. Then you see the him rise into the air like a phoenix from the ashes, the mic is tossed in the air, and he rocks out while the crowd goes wild. It’s awesome.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2010 12:40 pm

    I do think the people we date reflect who we are. However, I also think that some people bring out the best in us and others bring out the worst. Maybe the protagonist isn’t necessarily saving the girl, but rather bringing out her good side. Yes, she was dating the jerk, but maybe she didn’t realize he was such a jerk until someone else brought out the best in her. (The only movie I’ve seen from your list is Wedding Crashers, so it’s highly possible that my analogy does not apply. :))

    • February 9, 2010 1:03 pm

      Those are fair points. I guess I just don’t like the concept in movies of one person “saving” the other or making them feel alive for the first time. I think those things happen on small levels in real life, but in movies, I need a really good reason for the guy to like the girl AND for the girl to like the guy. There are very few movies where you really understand why the two people like each other. In the examples I used today, does the guy really know the girl, or does he just think she’s hot? I need more than that.

  2. Bryce permalink
    February 9, 2010 1:12 pm

    1. What is “Fired Up” and why did you watch it?

    2. Yea, Superbad just screams “respect for women,” good call

    3. In all fairness to Can’t Hardly Wait, that movie is AWESOME!

    • Zia permalink
      February 9, 2010 1:51 pm

      You totally just got slayed Jamey on all three of these points.

      Also, as a previous commenter alluded to, this tolerance for someone having a jerk boyfriend is probably b/c the female interest is hot. Obviously the hotter she is correlates with how much a person is willing to chase after her. For example if she is Solange Dimitrios hot or Freida Pinto hot, then you would be willing to go after her, even if her man was a serial killing crime boss.

      You’re ignoring the hotness.

      Also, I have NO LEGS!

      • February 9, 2010 1:54 pm

        I just counter-slayed.

        Indeed, there is the hotness factor. But that doesn’t excuse her from dating a jerk.

    • February 9, 2010 1:53 pm

      Fired Up is an awesome movie about two dudes who get stuck at a cheerleading camp with 300 girls. It’s actually pretty entertaining. There’s a fantastic scene with a bead bracelet that I’m not going to spoil.

      In Superbad, Michael Cera decides not to hook up with Becca because she’s too drunk and he doesn’t want to take advantage of her. That’s respect!

      • T-Mac permalink
        February 9, 2010 5:21 pm

        Superbad can do no wrong. End of discussion.

        • February 9, 2010 5:23 pm

          Would you consider re-opening the discussion to determine who is cuter: Emma Stone (the girl with the bangs over one eye) or Martha MacIsaac (the girl who throws up on Michael Cera).

          Despite her man-voice, I like Emma Stone.

          • T-Mac permalink
            February 10, 2010 7:27 am

            I’m putting my eggs in the Emma Stone basket as well. Man-voices are hot. I mean, err, she has boobs. (But seriously, I agree with you.)

      • Zia permalink
        February 10, 2010 4:06 pm

        While stone cold sober, he didn’t hook up with a completely drunk girl — that’s lowering the bar A LOT if that is what is considered respect. In many people’s legal and moral definition, to do otherwise would be rape! I agree that Superbad doesn’t have as bad of stereotypes of meek women dating jerks, but this is hardly the shining exampling of respecting women.

        Also, as hotness increases, so does the amount we are willing to excuse increase.

        PS. You cannot triple stamp a double stamp — no reverse slaying allowed.

        • February 10, 2010 5:01 pm

          I think he took a couple shots of vodka before going up to the room with her.

          I didn’t get the triple stamp reference…

  3. Red permalink
    February 9, 2010 1:14 pm

    3 points. First, most characters in these movies are 2 dimensional. He’s smart, AND clumsy. He’s a Jerk, AND a Jock. Usually she’s pretty, AND shy. The stronger personality (the jerk) starts with her because A) all her friends like the Jock quality (brings positive recognition) and because this B) he’s confident.
    Secondly, we often root for the protagonist for sympathy’s sake, rather than because he has any strong quality making him deserving of the beauty’s recognition. It’s not until they decide to be somebody and get noticed that he is recognized by anyone but his immediate friends.
    Finally, doesn’t the jerk usually implode, exposing himself as a Jerk, and making her realize that she doesn’t want to be with him? Sometimes it’s the protagonist who brings this fatal flaw to light, but 9/10 times, he stands up for her honor (his moment of recognition), and by being physically bested, somehow proves himself superior, winning for himself the girl.
    Yes the people we date impact others’ perceptions of us. But if we want to engage in a relationship with someone, we have to be either overlook or be forgiving of other people’s flaws.

    • February 9, 2010 2:00 pm

      I like your first point quite a bit (it was tongue-in-cheek, right? Except for the part about confidence and recognition…I guess we all wish we were popular.)

      I see your second point, but I don’t think it strengthens the movie. We shouldn’t sympathize with a protagonist simply because the movie tells us we should. In a well-written movie, we’re given a legitimate reason to care about and like the protagonist.

      Overlook I don’t agree with. Embrace and be forgiving I can get behind.

      I should have noted that some movies make this work. In Adventureland, Kristen Stewart is confused and doesn’t know what she wants, so she hooks up with the “jerk” of the movie. But she seems real, and you don’t hold it against her that she’s making a mistake with the guy. And it helps that the guy isn’t a true movie jerk. He’s actually a cool guy whose flaw is that he cheats. Flawed characters are fine, even great, but one-dimensional characters are not.

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