Sunday, July 5, 2015

What ever happened to the courtship?

Legendary screenwriter William Goldman talks a lot about the shortcuts a good screenplay must take, which may happen to circumvent a little something called "reality." One example in his book Which Lie Did I Tell?: Why does the character hurrying to the courthouse in time to bust in on a trial always find a parking spot right in front of the courthouse? Because the movie doesn't have time to slow down, to show him circling the block three times to find the one available opening three streets over.

So yeah, I get that there's a certain shorthand at play which, in this case, essentially says "The character arrived at the courthouse without incident." It's a necessary bridging shot to get us to the next piece of action, nothing more.

But I'm starting to wonder if a few too many liberties are being taken in the interest of getting us to the next piece of action ... which is a "piece" of "action" indeed. In movies involving romance, what ever happened to the courtship?

This is a rather too-perfect subject for this post, but I have to explain it for you to understand just how perfect. Hateship Loveship, which we watched on Saturday night largely because of Kristen Wiig, is adapted from Alice Munro's short story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The "courtship" is not only gone from the title, it's gone from the movie itself.

But this is a larger trend of which Hateship Loveship is only the most recent and probably not the most emblematic.

Namely, how often does it seem like characters in the movies go immediately from their first kiss, which one of them usually was not expecting, to having sex? Only the time necessary to roughly remove each other's underwear passes between the first moment in which mutual affection was even established, and the moment of doing the dirty deed.

This happens twice in Hateship Loveship. The first is not actually between Wiig and her romantic interest, played by Guy Pearce, but between two seniors. Nick Nolte is leaving a dinner at the home of Christine Lahti (who at 65 is just looking better with age), ready to part without any amorous demonstrations passing between them whatsoever. Lahti blocks the door, which is Nolte's cue to kiss her. He does so for maybe five seconds before grabbing her around the hips as she straddles him, and carrying her upstairs to her bedroom as she laughs naughtily. How chaste.

Then it's Wiig's and Pearce's turn. Wiig has been staying with Pearce after a catfishing hoax by two teenage girls has prompted her to relocate to his city from another city. At this point in the story, Pearce has acknowledged no romantic intentions toward her, because he's basically an innocent pawn in the catfishing scheme -- completely in the dark about it as well. He's basically letting her stay while she cleans and they try to figure out what should happen next. Then one night she plants a kiss on him. No sooner does this happen then he has her horizontal and they're "going all the way."

I don't know about you, but any relationships I've started by sleeping with the person have not been destined for greatness. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to let the mystery of someone I really like linger for four or five dates before "doing the nasty." Jump in between the sheets too quickly, and that's how quickly the relationship will be over. So says my experience, anyway.

But I'm sure the reverse is also true for some people, where 60-year-marriages were consummated after too many margaritas at the corner Chi Chi's. (Did they have Chi Chi's 60 years ago? Does anyone reading this actually know what Chi Chi's is?) And then of course many movie characters are not really thinking that far ahead -- they are just responding to a moment of passion, and perhaps defined by their short-sightedness anyway.

So it's not like it's unrealistic, per se. I just think that some of these characters might proceed with just a wee bit of trepidation, if they did really like that other person. Which is definitely how Wiig's character feels toward Pearce's. I mean, can you just imagine Wiig's character saying "Whoa, hold on there dude. Yeah, I kissed you, but that doesn't mean I want to have sex with you right now."

Typically when a movie inspires me to write about a "trend," I can't think of the many other examples I've recently seen that would give me cause to label it a "trend" in the first place. In this case, though, I have to go back only three movies. Just last week I watched And So It Goes, where Diane Keaton's and Michael Douglas' characters hop into bed at about the same level of familiarity. (Speaking of seniors getting it on.) I suppose maybe that's a senior thing. Maybe "mystery" isn't so important anymore. Maybe the only "mystery" about a fellow senior is how long they're going to be alive. Zing!

But it does get back to what Goldman was talking about. The point in most movies where characters are drawn to each other -- either as a major or a minor part of the plot -- is something other than how they got together or how long it took to happen. A lot of times the point is to show that they've developed a level of intimacy that warrants or explains subsequent behavior in the story. The consummating of the relationship is what's important, not whether it took one, five or 50 dates to reach that consummation. Why not get there by shorthand?

As usual, when it comes to screenwriting, Goldman isn't someone to doubt.

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