Yes, after years of resistance, I finally saw it, because my parents tied me down and made me watch it. And it is very very good, I never doubted that, but it also made me think, which is exhausting. Thinking, BLEH!
The first thing that really stood out for me about this movie was that, for once, I am seeing life as I know it up on screen. Sitcoms, rom-coms, they all have young people with things like “jobs” who go on things called “dates”, and I have never known anyone to do that. A guy who is an Uber driver while trying to make it as a performer, and a girl in grad school, that fits with my experience of the modern 20-something. And hanging out watching weird movies together in scuzzy apartments is what a “date” is. No one gets dressed up, no one wears make-up, no one schedules stuff way in advance. The whole “I have to buy a new dress because I have a dinner date next Saturday” is just WEIRD. And it shows up everywhere! Like pop culture has never met a real young person.
But in this movie, it’s two young people with no money hanging out and laughing at movies at random times after they text each other to hang out. No one dresses up, no one plans things in advance, you can’t do that anyway because no one has any money or regular work schedule. That’s so refreshing! And it makes me retroactively angry at all the other pop culture products who just don’t GET it.
Other things to like in the film that stood out a lot less for me, the really good dialogue. The conversations our young couple have aren’t angsty overly romantic things, they are nice funny hang out conversations. Again, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I saw a movie where the dialogue felt like a conversation instead of a series of declarative sentences traded between two people. I’d forgotten that’s what a movie could be like! And I’d never seen something like that for my generation, I’m used to watching When Harry Met Sally or Tootsie or something and doing that kind of slide to the left to translate it all from back then to my context.
Also, the natural look to the characters. Which goes back to the realism. It’s not that everyone in Hollywood rom-coms is super super shockingly beautiful, but it is that they are styled and made-up and perfectly lit and so on until they become otherworldly. In this movie, it’s just two young people in sweats in a dim apartment. They look like people, not ideals. And again, that’s something that used to be! When I think about 70s-80s-early 90s romances, they did that, they had casual hang out looks. And now it’s all perfect perfect perfect. I don’t get it.
Finally, what makes this really stand out, is that it is less of a “romance” and more of a “relationships and emotions narrative”. This is something I noticed when I first started researching fans of Indian movies for my thesis. It’s not the “romance” that brings them in, it is that it is a narrative based on relationships. Whether that is mother-son, or brother-brother, or friend-friend, the conflict comes from that, not from explosions and blah blah. This movie is about two people falling in love and being in love. But it is also about how this new relationship and emotion effects all the people they already have in their life. There is no dumb external issue like “and he’s lying about who he is for a magazine article!”, it’s just life and people. The romance is the catalyst for a lot of really interesting statements on a lot of really interesting things.
Sleepless in Seattle, that was about aging and parenting and grief and settling for something less than perfect because you have lost faith in perfect existing. When Harry Met Sally, that was about how people change in surprising ways as they grow up. And so on and so forth, the classic rom-coms, the ones that started the trend up in the late 80s/early 90s, they were about real things in life, universal things, outside of the central love story.
In this movie, the romance is a catalyst for thinking about family, about parents, about culture, about what you want in life, about all sorts of things. It’s a good rom-com, and it’s also a good movie about American culture and family and so on, and those two things go together. Love is a stone that ripples out and changes everything about your life around you, a good romance shows all those ripples, not just the stone.