Brilliant Romantic Comedy Let's The Man Be The (Clueless) Man ... For A Change
Mar 25, 2014
One of the reasons I tend to struggle with romantic comedies is that, despite perhaps the best intentions of the involved creative types, the uniqueness of the male perspective just gets lost in the translation. Instead, greater time is spent on the truly female aspect of romance – the need for a soul mate or an immeasurably deep emotional connection which tends to ‘wussify’ the male partner whose needs don’t garner much (if any) attention in the main narrative. To make matters worse, often times the man has no real personality and, as such, simply finds himself in love with a woman he doesn’t understand – nor seek to understand – leaving the audience with an entirely cinematic version of romance that lacks any organic appeal. Instead, these two are in love entirely because it serves the purposes of the story and not the heart – or, better, BOTH hearts.
(And, FYI, people: adapting chick literature to the big screen? That only further exacerbates the stereotype!)
The last genuinely romantic film I’ve seen in theatres was 1981’s CONTINENTAL DIVIDE. It starred John Belushi and Blair Brown as two people who find love despite themselves, and it worked because the relationship didn’t take the cheap way out for the sake of the characters. There have been other screen romances I’ve enjoyed, but none as felt as authentic as this one did.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
A nameless bachelor suddenly finds himself in a relationship with Marianne. Seemingly, she arrives in his life without any introduction; he just opens his eyes one day, and there she is. Suddenly, they’re in a friendship. Next, they’re having sex. Before you know it, they’re a couple – despite neither of their honest attempts to become one – and they’re living together, laughing together, vacationing together. But were they ever meant to be … or is this just life’s way of toying with him?
In the opening scene, he (played with terrific likeability by Trond Fausa) sits in an easy chair quietly munching on what looks to be a piece of microwaveable pizza. He wears a T-shirt that reads (simply) “harmony.” Before he knows it, there’s a woman sitting there named Marianne (the lovely Marian Saastad Ottesen). In this cleverly deadpan world, he isn’t quite certain where she comes from or what she wants, but – as the days wear into weeks – she shows up with increasing regularity. They’re sitting together. They’re eating together. She’s sharing her hopes and dreams with him.
Suddenly, she buys him a pair of swimming goggles, and their relationship explodes sexually in ways he never quite imagined.
GONE WITH THE WOMAN is a film-lover’s delight. It’s smartly assembled from start-to-finish with the kind of clever antics – both subtle and even predictable – that make us laugh over seeing our own shortcomings wrapped up in them. It’s grounded by two winning main performances – Fausa and Ottesen gel as often as they mix like oil and water – as well as a host of secondary little bits that try to define what it is we’re all feeling in life and lust. Its scathing indictment of the crazy little thing called love isn’t so much a scathing indictment as it is an exploration of how relationships typically end up being a one-sided affair because so much effort gets put into avoiding one-sided affairs. What gets lost in the process is that spark – that irrefutable glimmer of true attraction – and, despite our best efforts to recapture it, we can’t … because it may’ve never been there before.
The beauty of the script – it’s all based on the novel by Erlend Loe – is that for a refreshing change the male is allowed to be truly, uniquely male. In short, he can’t even begin to understand why Marianne behaves the way she does. She repeatedly chalks her quirkiness up to female intuition (this is not to say that she sees it as ‘quirkiness’; she’d probably tell you it was being ‘human’), and, despite his best efforts, he can’t seem to develop his own form of male intuition with which to engage her combativeness. This isn’t to say that they aren’t a legitimate couple because for some stretch of this story they probably resemble couples I know; rather it’s to say that they’re probably not destined to be so much as “in love” as they are “in a relationship” that looks like love, and that’s what insufferably confusing to the male mind.
She wants to go on a vacation. He’s cautioned by his male friends to, instead, buy a couch.
She wants to travel the French countryside in search of herself. He just wants to sleep in safety.
She wants to have her cake and eat it to, meaning that his will always be a home (erm, an apartment) where she can lay her head when she needs it. He wants to be stirred in his soul.
This is smart, winning, stylish, and – best of all – accurate … at least, that’s what my wife tells me.