Sunday, February 8, 2015

We need more groundhog


Regular Island visitors know of my "addiction" to holiday themed Hallmark and Lifetime movies. I've seen most of the Hallmark movies at least twice and I believe I watched all of the new "Countdown to Christmas" movies this year. I've found these movies are best if you've had a glass or two of wine and maybe some chocolate or holiday cookies. The sugar and alcohol makes the improbable "plots" seem realistic and the horrible choices the heroines make bearable. You can even ignore the traditional gender roles and the notion that all love takes is some Christmas magic and glitter. Liking these movies makes me feel like a bad feminist but I can't help myself. I normally confine my watching to the winter holiday season. I like to give myself a bit of break and watch real movies and read more and have a social life.

Until now. 

If it wasn't bad enough that Valentine's Day candy was out before New Year's now Hallmark has introduced us to "Countdown to Valentine's Day". Hallmark is bringing out some of their oldies but goodies and premiering five new Valentine movies including one that stars Jason Lee and involves swans. Yes, Jason Lee now makes Hallmark movies. I wanted him to start singing a Stillwater song in the commercial. Maybe he does that in the actual movie; I haven't watch this one. Yet. The only new movie I've managed to watch is I Do, I Do, I Do. I admit that I feel asleep for about twenty minutes (I'm getting over a cold or something) but I don't think I missed much. I Do, I Do, I Do is Hallmark's attempt at making a Valentine's movie that is one part typical Hallmark love story and one part Groundhog Day

Don't believe me? Here's a plot summary: a young woman, Jaclyn, (who is a successful architect by the way) is dating a doctor/author who surprises her in front of the hospital she built with a proposal (that includes an incredible misuse of medical equipment) even though they've only been together for five months and he's terribly self-obsessed. Of course she says yes but the catch is that they have to get married on Valentine's Day which is in less than a week. Her sister tries to talk her out of this nightmare wedding (planned by the groom's overbearing mother) but she soldiers on and gets married. And then she begins to relive her wedding day over and over and over again. Did I mention she also starts to fall in love with the groom's brother (also a doctor who works in Africa) and she "dates" him as she experiences her time loop. The only way to break the loop is to get her wedding day right. This means finally standing up for herself, not marrying the douche-y doctor (this is an apt description if you watch the movie), and falling in love with the other brother.

Like Bill Murray's character Phil in Groundhog Day (which is one of my favorite movies and holidays), Jaclyn begins to realize that she controls what happens each time she relives her wedding day. While she doesn't go to the extremes that Phil does ("Don't drive angry"), she does have her moments of fun particularly at her mother-in-law's expense when she re-plans the wedding. Like Phil, she also realizes that she can use her time to learn and try new things and be daring with her life. It's not until she does the right thing by breaking off her engagement that her particular time loop is broken. Phil learns to be a better person; Jaclyn learns to be a person. 

I should really love this movie but I don't. I want to but I don't. It's not a bash you over the head Valentine's movie (woohoo) and for once the female lead has a career in a field that is not traditional (by Hallmark movie standards). But still it doesn't sit well for me. I could chalk it up to the missing groundhog but that's probably not it. I believe Hallmark missed a huge opportunity to get into the Groundhog Day movie business; I have three ideas for movies that all fit the Hallmark mold but also involve a groundhog and Groundhog Day. There were also opportunities for way more fun in the time loop than was had. Jaclyn does learn things like Italian and how to dance but she mostly spends her time secretly dating her future brother-in-law (which no one finds odd) and not trying to figure out why she's getting married in the first place. Jaclyn's sister is relegated to the background so often you forget she's there and the mother-in-law is so stereotypical it's not even funny.

None of those things are the reason I don't like this movie. I think what bothers me most is this notion that Jaclyn is fine with being average when given the most extraordinary opportunity she's probably ever been given. She gets to relive one day over and over again until she gets it right. Instead of really going for it she opts to do things that will only move her in the direction we all she's going in - to the arms of her future brother-in-law. There's a bit of dialogue at one point where she talks about wanting to go to Egypt because the pyramids are the reason she decided to become and architect. Instead of hopping on a plane and leaving, she stays to learn how to swim. The riskiest thing we see her do is have carbs and red meat at her wedding reception. Carbs and red meat!? I don't know what to say to that.

Think about it for a moment: if you were given the chance to relive one day over and over again until you got it "right" what would you do? For the sake of this discussion, I'll let you select the day that you get to relive. Would you end up in the same place you are today but with more knowledge and maybe some random new skills? Or would you be in a completely different life because you opted for a different path and now you're a different you? This is what I wanted Jaclyn to do; I wanted her to opt for a different path - to not end up marrying the other brother with two minutes left in the movie. 

I used to watch these movies as a distraction from the stress of the holidays or if I had a bad day at work but now I think I watch them to see how much the story will annoy me and how many times I will shout at the television. I can't stop watching them and yet I feel like a traitor to my gender for helping to perpetuate terrible stereotypes about love and dating and marriage. All of these movies center around falling in love in less than a week and getting married or engaged in the last two minutes of the movie. I want more for women than that and yet I have a problem turning the channel. Despite my own experiences and beliefs, I still love a happily ever after story. And I'm not alone. Even Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, likes to watch Lifetime movies. I find this comforting.

(Side note: you should read Bad Feminist. It was one of the best books I've read in a long time. I have her novel, An Untamed State, in my need to read pile right now. Also, follow her on Twitter.)

I'll leave you with a photo of my Groundhog Day cookies and a link to some fun facts about this noble creature. I'm going to get started on my pitch for a new Hallmark movie entitled In the Shadow of Punxsutawney Phil - it involves a plot to destroy his home and the plucky scientist who wants to save the day. Until she meets an adorable child with an interest in preservation who just happens to be the son of the town sheriff who needs love and adventure in his life. Our scientist heroine must decide between saving the groundhog and true love. What choice will she make?

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