I have a thing about love stories. I hate ’em. Okay, that’s over-selling it a bit. But I’m a tough critic when it comes to actually letting a love story pass mustard in my book. My wife and I go back and forth all the time about this subject. The other day she said to me, “If you hate love stories, why do you love Romeo and Juliet so much?” It was a tough question. Not because I don’t know why I like (“love” is going too far) R&J. It’s a nice tragedy, with the usual Shakespearean brilliance in wordplay and plotting. The question was tough because she’s wrong; I don’ t hate love stories. I hate bad love stories. And I hate seeing people develop a taste for these watered-down love stories, then slowly letting this appetite influence their expectations for future stories.
Now, let it not be said that I’m some sort of Grinch when it comes to stories which involve a guy and a girl, and, well, you know the rest. My heart is not six sizes too small. I beg to differ. I’m a softie. I’ve cried at E.T. Those Olympics montages get to me. You know the ones: athlete from Slovakia lost mom to painful wasting disease, lived in a cardboard box and donated one kidney and six teeth while training just to realize THE OLYMPIC DREAM. And a small piece of metal around the neck will make that all worth it. Well, maybe I’m a cynic, too. Can one be both a softie and a cynic simultaneously? A softic? A cynie?
The way I see it, I’m not a mean one, Mr. Grinch. I just have high standards. Like most stories, the love stories I dig are the ones where the characters are authentically drawn, speak like real people, and have real-people type motivations. I also like love stories where the men are not from a planet where they have perfect hair, loads of cash, and never sweat. I can’t relate to that. Now, that’s not to say all I want in a love story is for a guy like me to end up with a girl like Jennifer Garner. That’s equally far-fetched. I just ask for a story where the love feels like a real relationship and the resolution, however it goes, feels earned. Not to beat a dead Pixar horse, but the relationship between Carl and Ellie in Up is a good one to me. In real life, people are drawn to each other not because of some yellowy-orange glow surrounding each others’ face at first meeting, while melodic pop music plays. They’re drawn to each other out of their own weakness, their own frailty, an ineffable mixture of desire, regret, hope, fear, and the baggage that we all carry around. We drag ourselves up to someone and out of an overwhelming desire to surge past the fear and weakness, we summon the courage to just say “Hi. You make me feel something inside.”
That’s a love story I’d like to see.