Thursday, August 2, 2007

starry skies

It's past my bedtime. But I can't really fall asleep. So here goes.

I was talking with Ben earlier tonight about why I particularly appreciate one of Kevin Smith's several cult films, Chasing Amy. Without going into too much detail, Chasing Amy is real, and it's honest, and the characters are so well developed that they almost step off the screen and sit on your couch with you. But in the context of our conversation, Ben and I were talking about movie endings. So here's my comparison. In brief.

Chick flicks are fun, but they're kind of disappointing for the cynical moviegoer. I watch and enjoy them, don't get me wrong. But here's the problem. I watch these chick flicks and I think, hey! Wait a second! This kind of stuff never happens to me! This is bullshit. ("Bull-SHIT, mama!" - sorry other readers, if there even are any, that's a little shout-out to my favorite doctor.) Then I start thinking, maybe if it doesn't happen like this, then it doesn't happen at all. I vacillate between holding out hope for some sort of fairy tale ending in my own life, feeling depressed about how my own life has worked out so far, and discounting the entire movie as fictional bullshit created to maintain socialized gender roles.

Then there's one of my personal favorites, the indie film. Seriously, I LOVE indie movies. But in this genre, usually nobody ends up happy at the end. They're gritty, they're real, they're raw, they're fantastic. But there are rarely happy endings, not much works out quite right, and the endings are often either artsy and hard to understand, or cliffhanger-type endings with just enough closure to figure out that there's no hope for anything working out, ever. I said earlier tonight to Ben that I think I'm doomed to be one of the pitiful girls in an indie film. Let's hope that's not the case.

Here's what I hate: the chick flick with the indie film ending. Case in point: My Best Friend's Wedding. They set you up with the chick flick premise. A classic, "girl and boy have known each other their whole lives and might be with the wrong people now but will end up together because they're perfect for each other" story... with a terrible ending. You're all set up for some classic fluff, and the first two hours of the movie are fluff, as expected. All systems are go. Then at the end... wham! Or, whammy. Julia Roberts' character ends up dancing with a gay guy at her dream lover's wedding to someone else. Yikes. I hate that kind of movie. Don't pretend to be an indie film when you're not. That kind of disappointment is only acceptable in true gritty honest emotional indie films, not any film headlined by Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, or any of their younger chick-flick-famous counterparts.

Which brings me to movies like Chasing Amy. These movies don't quite end how you'd like them to, because let's admit it, what in life does? They're honest and real throughout the film; they chillingly smack of real life; you know people in real life who remind you of those characters. And yet, they're heartwarming in some way. The honesty isn't pessimistic or cynical, it's just real. And most importantly, although the endings aren't wrapped up in tight, neat little Spielberg packages or spoon-fed like sickeningly saccharin chick-flick fare... they still contain a little hope.

And hope is what I'm talking about here. Life isn't always depressing, painful and artsy, as indie films would lead you to believe. Life isn't always hearts and bubbles either, like Meg Ryan's cute little pixy face taunts from the screen. Nor is life merely one big huge two-hour set up for massive disappointment, like My Best Friend's Wedding. Nope. And before you say anything, stop and think about it a little. Don't just spit back a programmed cynical response. (I know how that works. I've been a huge cynic these last few years.) Seriously, though. Think about it.

Usually, things in life fall into kind of a gray area. You get a dream job. It's not quite what you expected it to be. But you either find a way to make it work and be happy, or you make a big life decision to start doing something else so that you can be happier. You move to a new city. You love it there, or you hate it there. Or you're somewhere in between. You gather up your experiences and you either move back to where you came from, or you make it work out where you are. These are the gray areas we wade through every day.

And that's just regular old life decisions. Nevermind love. The article Ben mentions in this post starts to delve into the realms of grayness wherein love resides. My favorite quote from that article is this: "See, at a certain point, all the variants become so astounding, so dizzying, so universal, that you finally realize (yes, for the 1,000th time) there is no rule. There is no pattern. The exceptions are the rule. There is no approach that, overall, seems to work for most people most of the time. There's not even a hint of a possibility of a whisper of a rule and anyone who deigns to tell you differently, be it a church or a parent or a relationship guru, is, to put it gently, astoundingly full of crap."

But a lot of that article's a little too cynical for a hopeless romantic like me, and there's something about it that has bothered me ever since I read it, I just didn't know what. But I was talking to my friend Brian tonight, giving him a little hypocritical advice on his latest romantic foray, while he gave me a little hypocritical advice back, and I started thinking about it all again in the context of these movie genres.

(Caveat: As I sit here and think about this, the less tired I get, so I'm going to finish this up instead of going to sleep. Looks like tomorrow's going to be a hair-in-ponytail, roll out of bed type of day. Please send coffee in the AM. I'm going to need it.)

When it comes to love, I think all these gray areas get a whole lot more confusing. But confusing doesn't have to mean hopeless. Although I'm kind of pessimistic, I am always holding out some kind of hope. Not hope that I'm going to magically turn into Meg Ryan and some kind of upbeat-yet-mellow soundtrack is going to play behind the picture-perfect, amber-tinted events of my life or anything like that. I've been watching those movies since I was like 8 years old and have had lots and lots of heartbreak between then and now. I know that's not how it goes.

But I do think some hope is called for, no matter how big of a cynic you are. Isn't that part of why you're a cynic? Because deep deep down you're holding out the greatest hope of all? I hadn't thought of it before tonight, but I think there might be something to that.

There's a lot I think I want to say about this, but it's getting late now and I'm starting to lose focus.

I'll just venture one last metaphor here for good measure. If an indie film's ending is a big night sky, vast and expansive and deep but pitch black as far as the eye can see, then I think movies like Chasing Amy are like a star-filled night sky. It's not a bright screeching blinding white daylight like chick flicks, and it's not... I don't know, an eclipse (ok maybe I'm taking this too far) like crappy My Best Friend's Wedding movies.

Instead, it's a star-filled night sky. It's big, vast, expansive and deep, but when you look up into it you can see little specks of hope. The ending might be unclear; it's not bathed in a bottle-blonde, clarity-endowing sunlight that leaves no question unanswered. But it's meaningful, it's honest, it's real, and it leaves some hope in your heart. Little stars in the darkness.

And if we don't have hope, we don't have much. Indie endings be damned. I'll take my night sky star-filled, thank you very much. And I'll take my life star-filled, too.

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