Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Valentine's Day

“Better late than never.” “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” “Fits like a glove.” “Not the brightest bulb in the box.” Clichés are a vital part of our language and our culture and they often play a key role in movies. Many films base their story lines off of typical clichés because people can relate to them. Garry Marshall’s 2010 star-studded film Valentine’s Day played to the cliché “true love will always prevail” but also subliminally communicated a problematic message of “being single is bad.”

The cliché that love always wins and true love will always find its way is communicated overtly in the overall plot of the film. This movie is unique in that it follows six or more different story lines as it documents all the characters’ issues on Valentine’s Day. One character deals with finding out her boyfriend is actually married, another struggles with his sexuality, while yet another deals with being a senior in college and knowing she will be far away from her boyfriend in a few months as they leave for college. Each character has their own unique struggles with relationships, but in the end they all find love. The first woman gets revenge on her married boyfriend and realizes she’s in love with her best friend, the second meets a cute man, and the third just learns to celebrate her happiness with her boyfriend and live for today. This cheesy and unmistakable message that “love will triumph” is very effective in this film as it relies on emotional arguments. As Andrea Lunsford describes in Everything’s An Argument, the scenes of each character finding their happiness and discovering love use pathos to “hit precisely the right note” in the heart of the viewer (Lunsford 40). This use of pathos truly makes the movie-goer feel the thesis of love and happiness. 

While the movie is a heart-lifting story of true love, it also sends mixed messages of love being the only place to find satisfaction and of singleness being embarassing.
This is communicated when Bradley Cooper explains that he doesn’t like heart shaped candy because “it reminds [him] that this is Valentine’s Day and [he] is newly single” (Valentine’s Day film). His tone of embarrassment and disdain over being recently single communicates the idea that it is something to be ashamed of. Also a particular subplot that plays well into this problematic theme is the one of Jessica Biel’s character. She is an extremely hardworking career woman that is so consumed by her work that she answers phone calls while running on the treadmill in her office. She is a single woman and she does not hide her anguish over the fact that she is single on Valentine’s Day. She even despairs, “I just want to know if in fact I am the only person on the whole freaking planet who is completely and 100% alone on Valentine’s Day” (Valentine’s Day film). She is completely miserable the whole movie and the only time we see her happy is in the end in which she ends up with a man. This subplot reflects nicely what Giannetti describes in his Understanding Movies as a “women’s picture – emphasizing a female star and focusing on typical female concerns such as getting (or holding on to) a man” (Giannetti 430). Just as the cliche message played on pathos, this problematic message relies on the argument of ethos. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel's characters both seem to define themselves based on their relationship status. Biel is a powerful career woman that clearly has made a great living for herself, but she feel worthless because she doesn't have a man in her life. This idea of identity shows that the ethos of these characters is defined by their love lives, which is frankly horrendous! 

I believe the intended audience for this film was sixteen to thirty year-old women. Although men can definitely watch the film and not be completely miserable (take their girls on an actual Valentine’s Day date?), the messages were more intended for their female counterparts. Unfortunately, this means that the targeted viewers are not just enjoying a happy love story; they are subliminally receiving the message that they cannot be happy without a man in their lives and that being single is something to be ashamed of.

For it’s subliminal message of women needing men (and my belief that women can just be as powerful without a man), I give this film a mere two bags of buttery popcorn.

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