Reel Breakers: A Single Cinephile’s Recipe For A Blue Valentine

(Originally posted on Justin + 7.)
27-dresses-melancholiaHow important is cinematic compatibility in a relationship?

For most, it’s probably nowhere near the top of the list. Intelligence, looks, hygiene, values, spirituality… there are a whole lot of other compatibilities that take priority.

But not for me! I have a cinematic agenda. I don’t often watch a movie just to, you know, unwind. A lot of people put in a DVD to stop thinking, but that’s when I start. I can’t help it. I was a film major, and that means movies on dates is serious business. It’s like taking a lawyer to court on a first date and asking them to not have an opinion. Or inviting someone who went to med school to an open-heart surgery. Think that will be relaxing?

It takes a little more than the average film to entertain me. There are so many good films out there that I hate to waste time watching the mediocre ones. And inevitably, that’s what I end up having to watch on a date more often than not. I can fully understand why someone wouldn’t want to be emotionally devastated by a film like Melancholia or Amour after a first date… believe me, I am well aware that Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke are NOT your first date friends. (On a second date? Maybe.) The thing is, I find a well-made but downbeat independent film a lot less depressing than some phony cash grab with a script that seems to have been rescued from a burning building, and they decided to just guess what might have been on those charred pages. December is the worst, because I’m far too busy seeing every possible Oscar hopeful to even consider seeing a movie that won’t be nominated. I go into a frenzy. If you aren’t seeing Lincoln or Django Unchained or The Impossible or The Sessions with me, you aren’t seeing me at all.

Bridesmaids-wiig-byrne-singI mean, I get it. Relationships are give and take, and I can’t always be in charge. (Except, you know… in certain places.) I’ve certainly sacrificed my cinematic preferences on numerous occasions, like the time I saw Prometheus for the second time because my date wouldn’t go to Ruby Sparks. Or that time I agreed to watch 27 Dresses on the guarantee: “I promise, it’s really cute!” (Promise broken.) Or that shameful moment when I actually saw the fourth Fast & Furious movie in theaters, surrounded by people who were actually enjoying themselves. There are a few me-approved titles that tend to work for both me and the general public, but you can only watch The Devil Wears Prada or Bridesmaids on so many dates before it’s time to put in Zodiac. (It is admittedly problematic that all my faves tend to be an hour-plus longer than all yours.)

It always helps when people let me decide what we’ll see. I am, after all, a professional. (Sort of.) I try and work within people’s tastes, and I know a lot of people who trust my judgment and know that I’ll never take them to anything too challenging. This is smart. Because if I was dating a food critic, I’d probably let them choose the restaurant every time. I wouldn’t refuse to eat unless we went to McDonald’s every time, because of course, McDonald’s is more “fun.” My last ex dutifully watched the Korean thriller Mother, eventual Oscar-winner The King’s Speech, and the depressorama Blue Valentine with me. (A lot of people enjoy being attached during the winter for warmth. Luckily, this coincides with awards season.) And I did end up watching Ruby Sparks on a date when it hit DVD after all, and he liked it. So take that, person who wouldn’t go with me! (Granted, after that I made this person watch The Loneliest Planet, an interminable film that even I could barely sit through. He fell asleep twenty minutes in, and we agreed to end things amicably.)RUBY-sparks

I don’t know about anyone else, but I look back on relationships largely by what forms of entertainment we consumed together. There was that relationship that involved a lot of driving to Pasadena to catch the few Oscar-nominated films I missed, and the one where all we did was watch my newly-purchased complete set of Sex & The City DVDs. (It ended when we ran out of good episodes.) In my experience, relationships are primarily about eating and sex and watching movies, and so cinematic compatibility is a hugely important factor. I don’t think this is as much a problem for most, whose tastes run more general and mainstream. But I need a man who will, on occasion, at my request, watch a movie that is independent, or foreign, or black-and-white. Sometimes, all three. A lot of these movies are probably downers, but at least they prompt a lively debate. To date me, you must be willing to be occasionally emotionally obliterated… and well, frankly, that’s going to happen regardless of whether or not we’re watching a movie.

I recently went on a date with someone who said he preferred Argo to Zero Dark Thirty, and I wanted to walk out right there. I had to fight it, because for me, bad taste in film is the ultimate dealbreaker. Well, it’s right up there with halitosis and snoring. I asked, “Why?” and he laid out some halfway-legitimate reasons why he preferred Argo, and it turned out that we just had very opposite points of view on the film. He found the artificial third act of Argo really suspenseful, but was less than riveted by the real-life manhunt for Osama at the end of 0D30. And I realized that just because he experienced the movies differently than I did doesn’t mean he’s wrong about them. It’s just that I’m a little more right. And knowing that, I was able to put aside my very strong feelings about this issue and continue the date. (It helped that I was drinking.)

Zero-Dark-Thirty_chastainWorse, though, is another recent one, where Zero Dark Thirty was the culprit yet again. “I don’t want to see that,” he grumbled. “I don’t want to have to think.”

We watched Heartbreakers. My heart, however, had already broken a little.

That’s what sucks about entertainment being your business. You can’t turn it off. I’m going to notice bad writing regardless of whether I’m reviewing a movie or simply trying to get laid. And there’s nothing less sexy than forced dialogue or predictable story beats. In school, I was trained to notice these things, to find ways around them in my own writing… but never trained on how not to. So while most people won’t necessarily notice how lame their favorite movies are, I do. And that’s roughly 90 minutes where I have to wrestle with keeping my mouth shut. There’s nothing more terrifying than entering someone’s room for the first time and seeing a DVD shelf lined with nothing but Bride Wars, The Ugly Truth, and The Back-Up Plan, and then being told I get to “pick.” It’s a reverse Sophie’s Choice, like I’m choosing between chlamydia or gonorrhea.

On a first date, I’m usually willing to concede. Yeah, I’ll watch Georgia Rule… and I have, multiple times. Oh, the things I’ve done for love. But eventually, you’ll have to make sacrifices just as I have, because for better or worse, film is a huge part of my life and I’ll want to share it with you. You might learn something, you might feel something, or you might be bored to tears. It’s a gamble! But I guess that’s true on any date.

Paul-Walker-Vin-Diesel-The-Fast-And-The-FuriousAnd, when you want to take me to a bad romantic comedy or another Fast & Furious, you are paying. Not just for the movie, but also, let’s say, $20 an hour. Because sitting through that is work.

Given the above, you should not be surprised to learn on this Valentine’s Day that I am still single. Now, and almost always. And while there are a variety of factors that have led to this, it’s quite possible that the greatest is cinematic compatibility. Tonight I may reengage with my Valentine’s tradition of drinking a bottle of champagne (Veuve!) and watching Casablanca by myself, possibly accompanied by some Red Velvet ice cream and a heart-shaped pastry of some kind. I don’t mind. I rather enjoy the life of a bachelor, cinematically, because I get to spend it with the one thing I desire above all else: a man with excellent taste in movies.

And I will. At least until I figure out that all the way up to the fifth date or so, we should probably just stick to dinner.gosling-williams-wedding-blue-valentine

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