Hollywood's new love story

So what is this thing called love &

that bundle of emotions that can grip the human heart, turn reason into a pretzel, move people to sonnets, gilded language, and soggy prose? Some, searching for clinical ballast, describe the palpitating emotion as mere chemistry and lapse into discussions of pheromones. Whatever love (aka romance) is, it's a thread that is stitched into the human experience and one that Hollywood has turned to again and again, ever since celluloid was first flashed on the silver screen.

Of late, however, there have been few Hollywood romances that sizzle. Writers and producers are still willing to try &

"No Reservations," "Notting Hill," "Catch and Release," "Love Actually," "License to Wed," "Becoming Jane" &

but the audience reaction has been, at best, tepid. Recall the buzz caused by "Gone With the Wind," "Love Story" "Officer and a Gentleman," "Pretty Woman" "Ghost" and, of course, "Titanic."

It isn't that audiences have lost interest in films that explore the vagaries of the male/female relationship. But the movies that are scoring at the box office are of a different ilk than the standard Hollywood love story. These "new" Hollywood romances have turned the traditional formula upside down. In films such as "Superbad," "Break Up," "You, Me and Dupree," "Wedding Crashers," "Failure to Launch" and "Knocked Up," the courtship ritual has been redefined.

But can these box office winners be called romances, meaning that dance of hormones in which two vital and equally matched young people circle and spar and test one another? Or are they about something much different?

Consider the final scene of the lavishly praised film, "Superbad." Seth and Evan, nerdy high school buddies, are walking through a mall. They've been friends all through middle school and now high school. Graduation is mere weeks away. They bump into two girls from school (in a nut shell, they are two hotties the lads have long coveted). One of the girls says she has to run an errand and would Evan like to join her. The other girl suggests that Seth help her do some shopping. The guys agree, and the couples go their separate ways. In a tight shot, we see Seth, on an escalator heading down, looking over his shoulder, watching Evan walk away. Here he is, the girl of his dreams next to him, and yet, for the briefest of moments, he is sad, conflicted, resisting the full meaning of the moment, sensing that it might portend a future he is not ready to embrace: life without his best friend.

The separation of these best buds, however, doesn't last, as we see in "Knocked Up," which is, in all respects, a sequel to "Superbad." The boys are still together, having formed a fraternity of slackers &

young men (some looking like Shrek), fighting a pitched battle against growing up.

In these "new" Hollywood romances, women are not simply objects of desire, but are viewed as intruders, visitors from the tribe living on the other side of the island, intent on severing what is the real romance of the slacker films: the bonds of brotherhood that connect "the guys" to one another.

The boys-to-men live the carefree life, play touch football on Saturday mornings, hang together in Sam's Bar until closing, throwing darts, and sucking up beers, spend long Sunday afternoons sitting in stomach-scratching contentment, slouched on the sofa, watching back to back football, surrounded by crushed beer cans, bong pipes and empty pizza boxes. Or they play pool as the day wanes, betting on hockey games and downing boilermakers, grousing about the lack of really hot women, and, on occasion, making plans to get seriously employed, while their free form conversation is delivered through a haze of alcohol and grass. These are guys who have internalized the urban myth that women are the butterfly collectors, ready to stick a pin through their chests, impaling any one of them to a mortgage, kids, work and a new washer and dryer.

Why would any woman be attracted to slacker Ben of "Knocked Up," or any of his hang-time buds? That question is never adequately answered in that film or any of the arrested development films. After all, these are accomplished, professional, gorgeous young women who have jobs and goals. In "Knocked Up," Alison discovers after a drunken one night stand with Ben that she is pregnant. And yet, after taking his full measure, she is still prepared to go the distance with him &

if she can dislodge him from his buds, and insert the word responsibility into his vocabulary. How hard can that be?

Slacker Ben reassures himself that baby or no, he'll still be hanging out on weekends, bowling on Wednesdays, doing darts at Sam's. But not to be. The romance of hanging with his buds is over. Unless, of course, they break up. As did Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn in "Break Up." Try as she might to domesticate the frat rat, he couldn't adjust to having a dining room table where his pool table should be. Or having to leave his Xbox and help out with dinner and then the dishes. The romance wasn't between Anniston and Vaughn, it was between Vaughn and his buddies who loved what he loved, which was being a kid more than being an adult. Finally, exasperated, she packs up, leaving Vaughn to his life with his friends, video games, and an endless stream of televised sports.

In "You, Me and Dupree," Dupree, portrayed by Owen Wilson, gets booted from his apartment and shows up at the door step of his recently married best friend. The tension in the film is created between Dupree, the quintessential boy-man &

unemployed and hanging out &

and the life his friend has settled for: job, wife, and commitments. Dupree is a rip-tide introduced into the newlywed household, inserting himself at every turn into their relationship, the pull of his carefree life palatable.

Are these films Hollywood romances? Certainly not in the traditional sense. Call them coming of age/delayed rites of passage movies disguised as romances wherein women are mere adjunct characters who have no real purpose other than to force the issue. The issue? Leave behind those halcyon days of adolescence that have been stretched into early manhood. Bury the memories. Stand up and step forward. Or remain stuck in what will eventually turn into an existential vacuum resembling something akin to life as a "40-year-old Virgin."

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