A rom-com that may be trying take the whole problematic genre down from the inside.
I may owe this film an apology. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days certainly quacks like a rom-com duck. I thought it was simply contributing to the morass of toxic narratives that comprise the romantic comedy genre. I lumped it in with the pile of confected celebrations of often dangerous, abusive behaviours that both inform and are informed by cultures which perpetuate the commodification of courtship. Specifically: I thought this was another “chick flick” portraying horrific behaviour as comedy.
But How to Lose… actively goes out of its way to say just the opposite – and it uses the rom-com’s favourite trope to do so: the convoluted premise.
A rebuttal to the kind of performative chicanery and farce that consumer culture often calls “courtship”?
Kate Hudson‘s Andie is only pretending to be the horrid girl who’ll terrify a man into submission – and the film makes sure we never doubt or forget that. Hell, it’s in the title: Andie strains to maintain the facade of the manic pixie nightmare girl – a caricature of a big rom-com trope, which she employs here to lose the guy.
Andie immediately drops that facade (as in literally: the psychotic, beaming smile falls off her face like the insupportable weight it is) whenever Matthew McConaughey‘s Ben turns his back to her. She struggles to stay in character when she meets his family – precisely because, far from being the asshole or “challenge” she needs to tame or change (another rom-com trope), he has the kind of genuine, loving family life a girl should want the object of her affection to have – and she’s human enough to get that. The family card game of “bullshit” is about reading people – and Ben’s family quickly reads, and approves of, the real Andie.
Here’s the problem though: Ben doesn’t know that. He only knows the monster he’s been dating, and whom he’s continued to date only to win a bet. And yet it’s in this same scene that he begins to genuinely fall for her. So it begs the question: who the hell is he falling for, and why? We know there’s nothing wrong with her – but what is wrong with him? What in his experience (outside of his family, clearly) has taught him that any of her behaviour acceptable, much less attractive? In one of her character breaks, even Andie asks him as much.
A Trojan horse in the war against the standard, lowest-common-denominator Rom-Com?
By the film’s end, the conflict and “growth” the characters go through in order to reach eachother really only requires them realising they created their own obstacles. They nearly lose eachother as a consequence of entering into the kind of performative chicanery and farce that consumer culture often calls “courtship” – in their case, to sell magazines; in our case, to sell “romance” itself.
So I’m sorry, How To Lose…: if you are indeed a Trojan horse in the war against standard, lowest-common-denominator Rom-Coms and the damaging discourse they help perpetuate, then godspeed to you. I hope you’re joined by reinforcements soon.