Sleepless in Seattle is currently playing on Lifetime, and because I've decided to be a total lady cliche today, I'm watching it. I've probably seen it 20 times, and the more I watch it, the creepier it gets.
Almie Rose at Apocalypstick rrecently wrote a piece arguing that society only finds the elaborate gestures of men romantic: "when women try to be romantic it's seen as desperate, strange, and sometimes even creepy. Imagine every romantic comedy. Now flip the genders of the two leads. At some point wouldn't the audience think of the lead women, "Oh my God girl, let him go. People think you're a stalker. He's just not that into you."
Rose has a point: watching Sleepless in Seattle is the perfect example of this gender-flip scenario, as Meg Ryan's character, Annie, is a legit stalker who uses her job as an excuse to track down Tom Hanks' character, whom she heard on the radio—going so far as to hire a private detective and show up outside of Hanks' house, uninvited, just to get close to him. (The re-cut trailer attached to this post illustrates the horror film potential perfectly.) She is completely obsessed with Hanks' character, based only on hearing him and his son speak on the radio, and though 95% of the time, while watching this movie, I can overlook it and just submit to the romcom fantasy of it all, there's always that other 5% screaming, "Why is she at his house?! Why is she looking him up at work!? Why is she going to meet a total stranger on top of the Empire State Building? She's crazy!" If Tom Hanks was the one doing these things in an attempt to track down Meg Ryan and her daughter, we'd probably see the "Sleepless in Seattle" title as a bloody, scary mess: she's sleepless because there is a psycho out there who thinks they're meant to be together because he heard her talk about love on the radio.
Rose asks a very interesting question in her piece: "For women, where is the line between being romantic and coming off as desperate?" It depends, I suppose, on the point of view of the recipient of such romantic gestures. We are so trained by the the over-the-top romances portrayed in films to believe that elaborate declarations of love are not only normal, but expected, though at times we don't hold realistic expectations of what those elaborate gestures might look like to the person being presented with them.
I had a boyfriend in high school who was constantly giving me things and hiding presents in my locker and attempting to impress me with flashy shows of money, which always made me feel weird and obligated and turned off, though I think to him, it was simply a means of trying to be "romantic" in the typical Hallmark consumer-driven sense. Roses! Chocolates! Cards with sweeping poetry! It was all too much. I'd reciprocate with love letters that—at the time—I thought were terribly romantic, but in retrospect I view as really obsessive and creepy and intense. We were both in love with romance, though we didn't share a view of what romance actually was, and we kept missing each other by attempting to impress—and perhaps push upon—our idea of love as we gathered it from various fictional sources.
It's strange to watch a romantic film you've always loved when your mind is in a different place: when you are in love with a certain type of romance, all you see is the adoration between say, Edward and Bella, or Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, and it becomes easy to dismiss the creepy undertones that lie beneath the romantic overtones. I can still enjoy Sleepless in Seattle as escapism 95% of the time, though there are certain days where I'll flip by it and mutter something about Meg Ryan being "kind of creepy" without a second thought.
The reality is that most romantic gestures seen in films don't translate too well to real life; they're cinematically sound, but in attempting to replicate them in reality, one has to take a realistic view of the situation. Meg Ryan can dreamily stalk Tom Hanks and his kid because it's fiction, it's just a movie, but attempting to do the same in real life will most likely end with one person in prison. We look to those overblown portrayals of romance because they're so insanely fictional: they are our own romantic histories blown up to poster size and shot through with steroids, a loud stage production of the quietest and sweetest moments of our lives. Nobody wants to see those moments on the screen, as, in a way, they are too personal to give away to everyone: it's the scene on the top of the Empire State Building that we look for, the grand, sweeping gesture that gives us the kind of warm feeling that makes us forget the truth of love, the difficulties, the darker times, the things everyone goes through in order to get the happy ending they're after.
Bad Romance [Apocalypstick]