It’s no secret that a lot of non-romantic films have a tendency to tack on romantic sub-plots just for the sake of having one. Often they serve no greater purpose to the plot and can likely feel rushed or underdeveloped, which is unsurprising. It’s hard enough to write a compelling romance within regular romantic dramas, so, on paper, it should be even harder to do the same for an action-packed blockbuster or mystery thriller. It’s certainly possible to blend multiple genres together into a compelling dish, but, without proper skill and restraint, everything will likely be bland instead. From a practical standpoint, it makes more sense to focus on a singular genre and excel at it. However, Hollywood is more focused on appealing to the greatest common denominator, hoping to attract the biggest audience possible, and nothing is more pervasive than love.
Sadly, Hollywood often hinders its own portrayals of it. Often times, too much is given to us at once with too little time, and we’re expected to quickly swallow it before moving on with the story, like a discount Love Buffet with only five minutes till closing. Other times, there’s too much time spent on a love with no actual chemistry (Looking at you Star Wars Episode II). It often leads to telling instead of showing, restricting love to stereotypical gushy scenes with no real weight behind them. We’re expected to believe these characters are madly in love just because they say so while making googily eyes at each other. Instead, all we see is an awkward romance that’s more unbelievable than people who can move stuff with their minds or shoot fire from their hands.
Case in point, you can name just about any superhero show or film and easily find examples of this. An especially infamous example from the past year would be the romance between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The couple certainly has potential, but their mawkish dialogue doesn’t do enough justice to either character, turning them into romantic, brooding stereotypes (Not long ago, I showed the film to my older sister, and she audibly—yes, audibly—rolled her eyes every time Johansson and Ruffalo had to ham it up together).
Token romances certainly don’t stop there. Season 1 of Avatar: The Legend of Korra expects us to believe that two of the main characters are deeply into each other after only one or two scenes with them together, which I guess is still better than what The Hobbit films do. They give us the deep, inexplicable love between Kili the dwarf and Tauriel the (non-canon) elf, which starts when Kili tries to goad his captor into frisking him by claiming he “could be hiding anything in [his] trousers” (That’s true love right there, folks). These stories still have to dedicate the bulk of their time to action, drama, character development, etc., so there’s no time to develop any real romantic chemistry between characters, thus love pays the price.
Even if it’s awkward, Hollywood is gung-ho about portraying love like this in order to cash in on our human desire for love and connection, allowing us to vicariously and quickly sate our hunger like a fast-food run (Geez, that’s my third food analogy. I need to stop writing on an empty stomach). I’d say it’s Hollywood’s own fault for conditioning us to think like this, but we seem quick to indulge that need even without Hollywood’s goading.
The most blatant example would be “shipping,” when fans avidly support romantic pairings of their favorite characters, or even actual people, even if they’re non-canon. Non-canon ships especially show how prone people are to use their imaginations and add romance where there likely wasn’t any to begin with. I recently discovered a strange example of this regarding Ben 10, a show about a 10-year-old kid that transforms into aliens. Apparently, there’s an infamous part of the fanbase that pairs the hero Ben with—um—his 11-year-old cousin Gwen (Yeah…something tells me the creators never intended that).
When it comes to this romance glut between us and Hollywood, it’s hard to tell who the chicken is and who the egg is, but it’s gotten to the point that a guy and girl have to hook up by the end of the story simply because they’re main characters. Here’s the thing: Love doesn’t move within our timetables. As a gradual process, real Love builds off itself, just like any other good thing worth having. It’s not something that can be easily encapsulated within a span of a book, movie, or T.V show, but any show that respects its characters, viewers, and their relationships would spend some time showing that process properly happening.
If we’re meant to believe these characters can truly be in a relationship together, then we have to be shown it. I still don’t know much about X-Files, but, from what I’ve gleaned from my sister, the biggest X-Files nerd I know, Mulder and Scully didn’t start out in a relationship. For years, fans saw Mulder and Scully platonically work together as close friends and reliable partners before clamoring for them to hook-up (apparently, this is where “shipping” first came from too). A similar thing could be said for Kim and Ron from Kim Possible, as well as Oliver and Felicity from Arrow (proving there’s hope for superhero romances on the small and/or big screen).
We all desire to have a good love story, but, by definition, it can’t be a short one. Despite cultural depictions, there shouldn’t be any urgency to push your relationship to the next level, nor should anyone feel weird about not being in one. Also, as I touched on last time, romantic love isn’t the be-all and end-all of love. We’re meant to let love happen, not make it happen, and that involves having the courage and patience to do life at our own pace while still accepting and cherishing those around us. All that being said, take me home, Diana Ross!!
…c’mon, don’t act like you didn’t see that coming.