Monday, 15 June 2015

The Problem With Modern Romance

When Fifty Shades of Grey first came out, it was met with a huge public outcry for more than a few good reasons, mostly related do to its treatment of the central sexual relationship. Critics and audiences alike discussed the problems with the "romance" that served at its core. Usually, the more positive reviews were the ones explaining that Fifty Shades of Grey's sex scenes were ridiculous and either implausible or unbelievable. However, the worst reviews were those of audiences criticizing the nature of the relationship itself. Most viewers agreed almost unanimously that the film was basically a glorification of an abusive relationship, with the abusive man treated as a perfect romantic partner.

This approach naturally drew a lot of concern. Word got out quickly about how backwards this film was. Plenty of Facebook posts dedicated themselves to illustrating the problems with this film. One of the best ones was an image that said something along the lines of "Fifty Shades of Grey is only a romance because the guy is a billionaire. If he lived in a trailer home it would be a horror movie." The sad thing is that the attempts of people to raise awareness of the issue may have had the reverse effect of what was intended. All the press about Fifty Shades of Grey's issues only fueled interest in the film, and motivated more people to see it to see if it was really as bad as they were told. People spent actual money to go see this film, adding to its box office revenue and unwittingly telling the studio behind it that they want to see more films like this. It is how Hollywood works: when one film makes money, they try to replicate its success with other projects.

Fifty Shades of Grey at least had an excuse for being as messed up as it was. It might not be any justification for glorifying an abusive relationship, but it does explain why the story ended up coming off that way. Fifty Shades of Grey originated as a Twilight fanfiction, which I can only assume was originally supposed to center around the characters of Edward and Bella. Given the questionable relationships depicted in The Twilight Saga, it should come as no surprise that it would carry over into fanfiction (at least that written by actual fans). Some publisher found this fanfiction published online and thought it had potential to make money. Unfortunately, there were some issues of copyright that would make it hard to market the story, so it had to be hastily rewritten so that it could be called an original narrative.

Fifty Shades of Grey was literally just bad fanfiction hastily re-written so that it could be professionally released and called "original" as a way of making money. The sad thing is that it worked. The book became such a huge media sensation that a film adaptation was inevitable, and now two more sequels are already in development because it made so much money. Understanding this, it makes sense that the movie would be a disaster in terms of quality. The problem is that should have been the end of it. Fifty Shades of Grey should be a relic from a bygone era no different from the racism, sexism, and homophobia of a typical Michael Bay blockbuster. Unfortunately, it was not so simple.

Fast forward a year later, in 2015, and a movie comes out called The Age of Adaline. Once again, this one begins emerging all over the press. Everyone is reviewing it, and I find myself going to see it just because everyone is talking about it. At first it actually seemed like it had potential, and then Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) showed up. Throughout The Age of Adaline, Ellis is treated as the ideal romantic partner. He is cast as someone who gives Adaline's life meaning. He is referred to as a "good man", but he is precisely the opposite, as is evident when he first appears.

During this scene, he sees Adaline leaving, and proceeds to force his way into the elevator she is standing in. He then follows her outside, using every excuse he can think of to avoid leaving her side. It is not until Adaline is able to get into her car and drive away that she finally escapes him. This man is supposed to be a sympathetic love interest, but his introductory scene has him come off less as a romantic and more of a pervert. He literally tries to do everything in his power to have sex with Adaline.

Now this could just have just been a bad first impression, but his later appearances would suggest otherwise. After chasing Adaline out of a party, he proceeds to track her down to the library where she works and offers her some "flowers" in the form of books that have flowers in their title (very unsubtle). He then tells Adaline that he will only donate the books if she agrees to go on a date with him. Adaline ignoring him at the party was not enough, he is determined to have sex with her in some way, and now what he is doing could be considered harassment. If Adaline had any common sense, she would have rejected Ellis on the spot, but those books are apparently too valuable and she agrees. This leads to both going on a few dates that are played as charming, even though it was clearly shown that Adaline was pressed into accepting his offer.

Unfortunately, it gets even worse. After being chased out of a party and getting sexually harassed at work, Adaline gets home to find Ellis waiting for her. Turns out he actually went behind her back to get her address, and now has shown up at her house without her permission. Ellis is not only a pervert but also a stalker. Adaline quickly realizes this and decides (correctly) that she needs to get away from this guy. This would be great if there was not a scene immediately after in which Adaline's daughter tells her to go back to Ellis, claiming that he is a "good man" and she actually listens. Adaline then willingly enters a relationship with a man who has both sexually harassed her and stalked her, and the  whole thing is played as though it is somehow charming.

Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, The Age of Adaline had no excuse for its glorification of sexual harassment and stalking behavior. There was actually a good idea at first, with this premise of a woman who struggles to cope with an inability to age and subsequently has to live through different periods of history. The film could had there been a more concerted effort to actually make Ellis a likable character. Instead, he comes off as a creepy stalker, and once again, a horrible person is presented as the perfect romantic partner.

It does not take a genius to piece two and two together. The financial success of Fifty Shades of Grey has convinced Hollywood that the public wants to see more films like it. The presence of similar elements in The Age of Adaline only a year later is upsetting as it suggests a new trend is beginning to emerge in the modern romance genre. Fortunately, The Age of Adaline was not as successful as Fifty Shades of Grey, with a return on investment of 67.64% of its budget. However, the fact that such a film was even attempted is upsetting.

It appears that Hollywood has come to believe that there is money to be made in romances centered around abusive relationships. People unwittingly inform Hollywood that they want to see these films by paying money to see them. As a result, The Age of Adaline suggests that Fifty Shades of Grey has started a new and absurd trend in modern romance that sees a horrible man being treated as the ideal romantic partner. In 2015, people should know better, and this trend needs to be stopped before it starts. It is time that we stop giving money to see films like Fifty Shades of Grey and The Age of Adaline so that Hollywood realizes that we do not want to see any more of these kinds of movies.


  1. I haven't seen Adaline, and from what you've said, it definitely sounds a bit creepy in terms of what we're supposed to accept as romance. (I did see 50 Shades, though)

    But without the specific details, and an actor I find creepy, your outline if what he does seems to mirror a hundred 'romantic' films. Haven't we seen the guy relentlessly pursue a likely uninterested woman for years? Isn't that how it goes in movies?

    I'm not disagreeing with you, especially because I haven't seen 50% of what you're referencing, I'm just thinking it's a very fine line.

  2. John-- I read the book Fifty shades. I can't tell you how bad that book was. It was the absolute worst book I have ever had the misfortune of reading. It was like a 13 year old's dream journal. I didn't bother watching the movie, although I'm sure the movie improved on the book. I really do wonder why hollywood holds on so tightly to this terrible formula. I haven't seen Adeline yet.

  3. You look at the kind of romantic movies Hollywood used to make back in the '80s and '90s and they just don't make 'em anymore. Movies like BULL DURHAM or WORKING GIRL are made independently now. Even James L. Brooks and Cameron Crowe are having problems getting people to see their stuff these days. Such a shame because what passes for such nowadays is pretty lame. The last really good one I enjoyed was maybe DEFINITELY MAYBE or ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.