Hollywood’s Best Love Lessons

If you look for the more realistic portrayals of romance that Hollywood’s been turning out recently in film, you could learn some valuable lessons about life, love and long-term relationships.

By Christine Champ

ometimes, romantic movies do tell the truth.

Though a study by Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University cited Hollywood romance films as one of the culprits behind many of the misconceptions audiences have regarding love, not all cinematic love stories are
Even she can’t fault Hollywood for trying to tell a good story.
to be automatically mistrusted. Lately, it seems that filmmakers have taken to serving up healthier alternatives to these sugarcoated, modern-day fairytales. Alternatives to the stereotypical rom-com, like the recent (and successful) film (500) Days of Summer, offer more genuine depictions of romantic relationships that help negate some of the myths disseminated by flimsier fantasies. Or, as Dr. Mary-Lou Galician, an Arizona State University professor and author of Prescriptions© for Realistic Romance phrases it, these movies carry “antidote” truths to the toxic love lessons taught by many romance films.

Love Lesson 1: Keep Your Heart Open to New Loves
Let’s examine the troublesome Hollywood trope that states everyone has a cosmically destined soul mate. Buoyed by new-love bliss, we see greeting card author Tom dancing through downtown in one scene from (500) Days of Summer, as sure as the scene’s Hall & Oates song lyrics that Summer will make his “dreams come true.” Throughout a series of flash-forwards and flashbacks totaling 500 days, however, Tom realizes that Summer isn’t the only woman that deserves a place in his heart. In He’s Just Not That Into You, we see a combination of healthy and unhealthy love lessons, perhaps the best of which shows character Kevin finally connecting with a cute, compatible girl once he ceases pining for an unobtainable, sultry yoga instructor. As Galician reminds us, dating is a numbers game and you should “consider countless candidates” in your search for love.

Love Lesson 2: Make Love, Not War
Or, as Galician says: “love is peace, not war.” Even she can’t fault Hollywood for trying to tell a good story, admitting: “What’s good in a dramatic narrative is often bad in real-life relationships.” The couples depicted in films like Away We Go, I Love You, Man, and The Blind Side share common values and mutual respect for each other. These couples’ passion for each other isn’t measured by the severity or frequency of their squabbles. The expectant parents in Away We Go can’t even pretend to bicker well enough to elevate their baby’s heartbeat. In I Love You, Man, bride-to-be Zooey supports her fiancé’s bromantic quest to find a suitable best man, no matter how silly it gets. Real-life couple Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, portrayed by Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw in the award-winning film The Blind Side, complement and support each other in every way — whether it’s politics, religion, or their Ole Miss alma mater.

Love Lesson 3: You Can’t Change Another Person
Anyone whose name begins with “Bad” is bound to be trouble. Nevertheless, the film Crazy Heart shows journalist Jean Craddock succumbing to downand-out country music legend Otis “Bad” Blake’s rebellious charms. With a sense of charity bordering on codependence, Craddock takes the boozing, yet charismatic Blake into her heart and home, trusting him to watch over her young son. But when alcoholic Blake loses her boy at a bar, Craddock recognizes and accepts the truth: she can’t change Blake, but she can let him go. Craddock then bravely ends their dysfunctional romance and moves on. To paraphrase Galician, even the love of a good and faithful woman can’t transform a beast into a prince.

Love Lesson 4: Prince Charming Is Really a Player
In the film An Education, expert con man David sweeps 1960s suburban schoolgirl Jenny — who just happens to be -
The realistic romance film is hardly a trend in Hollywood.
half his age — off her feet and away from her parents for weekends filled with cocktails and expensive dinners. David is, in fact, so disarming that he convinces Jenny’s parents that these trips are meant to cultivate their daughter’s own cultural growth. Unfortunately, Jenny’s family is forced to learn the hard way that charmer David’s not exactly what he seems — and that his intentions were anything but princely in regards to their daughter. Cautions Gottlieb, “some guys are good first dates for a reason” — i.e., they’re accomplished players and nothing else.

Love Lesson 5: Handling Unexpected Baby Bumps in the Road
Unlike Knocked Up, The Back-Up Plan, Baby Momma and other movies that portray pregnancy as a lucky love charm of some kind, Away We Go portrays the reality of impending parenthood and how it affects one couple’s relationship more seriously. Committed boyfriend and girlfriend Burt and Verona travel the country to find the best place to raise their first child together. This tender tale addresses the demands and anxieties that an unexpected baby bump in the road can bring for a financially strapped couple and explores how to best tackle these issues as a team, with thoughtfulness and patience.

Love Lesson 6: When the Honeymoon Ends, True Love Begins
First comes the kiss, then the elaborate proposal, and then… marital misery? Romantic comedies don’t often reveal what happens after the wedding’s over, but when they do, it’s usually a shallow depiction of hen-pecked husbands scrambling to respond to their wife’s Wicked Witch ringtone, like in The Heartbreak Kid. Berit Brogaard, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri, observes that romantic films would have us “believe the love has gone” when it’s “barely started to become real” according to real-life standards. However, the sweetness of a lifelong romance is perfectly captured in Up, the critically acclaimed Pixar animation adventure. During a montage at the beginning of the film, we see Carl and Ellie’s love grow from childhood through marriage and old age as they hold hands while reading, pick out shapes in the cloudy sky, contemplate their future dreams of adventure and weather their disappointments in life together. Date Night shows married couple Phil and Claire Foster worried that their mundane marriage is headed for the rocks. But when a disastrous case of mistaken identity tests them to their limits, the Fosters realize they wouldn’t trade their tried-and-true marriage for anything else.

Is Romantic Realism on the Rise in Hollywood?
The realistic romance film is hardly a trend in Hollywood — at least, not yet, according to Galician. Even the films she bestows annually with the “Realistic Romance® Grand Prize™” honor often contain some misleading stereotypical Hollywood myths mixed in with their more meritorious messages about love and relationships. Does this mean you should cut romances out of your cinematic diet entirely, then? Thankfully, no; simply watch them with your “head and heart” fully engaged, as Galician advises, and you’ll learn to separate romantic fantasy from relationship reality.

For another perspective on Hollywood’s portrayal of romance, read Hollywood’s Worst Love Lessons.

Christine Champ is a freelance writer based in the Northwest. Her writing has appeared on,, and in The Seattle Times.

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