Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Love, Serendipity and Algorithms

This article contains minor spoilers about a film that, admittedly, doesn’t have a great deal of plot twists.

For the first half of How to Be Single I assumed I’d write about watching it – and liking it – in spite of Rebel Wilson. About how, not unlike enjoying fried rice and eating around the peas, that yes, she was annoying in the loud, abrasive manner she always is, but it was manageable. That I could watch around her.

I rationalise loving The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Talented Mr. Ripley the same way. Cate Blanchett, who routinely ruins everything for me, was in both and yet both were great. I just worked out a way to wait her out.

At the end of How to Be Single however, a different angle occurred to me.

In the same vein as a litany of romcoms before it - He’s Just Not That Into You for example, or Valentine’s DayHow to Big Single follows the intersecting lives of a cast of lovelorn friends in New York. Time passes and seasons change, providing colourful, if cliched, Christmas party, St Patrick’s day and Summer-rooftop-party backdrops.

“Season of Love”. From Rent (2005), which is also about intersecting love lives with New York as the backdrop.

One of the characters, Lucy (Alison Brie) - Annie from Community - is wedding-and-baby obsessed. Exhaustingly so. So she’s hocking her wares on a handful of dating sites to boost her chances of finding that penis in the haystack.

While the film nicely bucks several tropes - the love-‘em-and-leave-'em lothario (Anders Holm), for example, doesn’t get saved by the love of a good woman, and Alice (Dakota Johnson) who’s set out to “find herself” doesn’t do so in the arms of a strapping-yet-sensitive man - but Lucy’s story is all too familiar.

My most recent research centres on film and television portrayals of love - and sex - online. Despite the fact that in real life going online is an increasingly common way to meet a mate, doing so in film is fraught with mishap, if not even danger. How to Be Single is frothy so no one is encountering any throat-slitting rapists - as transpires in Trust, for example, or Megan is Missing - but the same idea of a population of creeps and weirdos is made abundantly clear.

So Lucy’s bulk dating. She’s got herself a perch at a local bar and she’s interviewing man after man. Her approach is procedural, is business-like and was always going to fail - dismally - because in Hollywood algorithms are the antithesis of sweet and spontaneous.

Lucy, like too many characters before her, too-predictably encounters what I term in my book a “loser parade”. That each man she’s matched with online is variously “problematic”. Nowhere near as bad - or as long - as the parades of freaks/punks/pervs/mummy’s boys in films like Meet Prince Charming, Because I Said So or Must Love Dogs - but nonetheless, the unsubtle undercurrent is the same: that men found online are different, and ultimately less worthy, than those met in real life. That there’s something specifically seedy about cyberspace that brings out men’s inner demon/deviant/desperado.

Rest-assured though, Lucy gets her happy ending. Of course. Because like most attractive characters who dabble in dating online, the lark was only ever a mere blip. A detour. Afterall, the cold calculations and the dehumanisation of asking a computer for help hardly makes for any swoonin’. Instead, Lucy will get a meet cute, where - after a true-to-her-self freak-out in a bookstor - swarthy George (Jason Mantzoukas), will swoop in and love her for who she is. Because that penis in the haystack can still, apparently, be found in bookshops or on the mean streets of New York. He’s just waiting to be bumped into.

Because true love is serendipitous, is romantic and happens far away from the hum of technology.

How to Be Single is actually quite an entertaining film. A good friend said she’d be alarmed if it’s still in my Top 10 come December and I’d tend to agree, but it’s an enjoyable two hours. If you can wait out Rebel.

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