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‘Now You See Me’ and Hollywood’s Romanticism Problem

by on June 8, 2013

Melanie Laurent and Mark Ruffalo work on a little magic of their own in “Now You See Me.” The unlikely couple is (of course) destined to be together. (Photo: Barry Wetcher/Summit Entertainment)

Something feels wrong about the movies these days. It bothered me earlier this year when I saw “Rust and Bone.” The twinge was a little stronger after I saw “Now You See Me” this past weekend, and the problem isn’t isolated to just these two films (although I will be focusing on these two to get my point across).

My question: Why must filmmakers force romantic relationships upon the audience without justification for why they exist in the movie?

I feel belittled by filmmakers and producers when they try to convince me a relationship should happen despite no prior evidence. Show me why Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) should be together in “Rust and Bone.” Don’t just expect me to believe they should be together at the end because I want it to happen. Ali was a jerk, especially to Stephanie, and I wanted her to walk away from him. It was a painful thing to watch unfold on screen. Was I supposed to feel happy when they wound up together at the end? Where they supposed to live ‘happily ever after’?

I struggle with this concept in a lot of movies, particularly one like “Rust and Bone” that centers around two characters who are destined to love one another. As a director, you have about two hours to convince me, to show me why these people deserve each other, why they should be together. When I walk out of the theater thinking, ‘Why in the world DID she go back to him?’, then that’s the filmmaker’s failure, not mine.

Maybe the mass audiences, the ‘simple folk’ who producers market movies towards, can live with these hook-ups because they want to ‘believe in love’ or ‘witness destiny’ or some garbage like that. But I feel like it’s an insult to my intelligence.

Because in the movies, just like in real life, relationships should take hard work to exist. The writers shouldn’t just tell the story without giving good reason for a connection to exist and then simply throw a kiss scene into the ending to bring things full circle.*

*Granted, this could be the fault of one or a combination of the following: director, writer(s), actors, cinematographer, etc. But I’m not here to blame any singular person, just to point out the problem. 

Ruffalo and Laurent feign anger towards each other after the ‘Four Horsemen’ make another escape. Only a few more scenes before they kiss! (Photo: Barry Wetcher/Summit Entertainment)

Now that you (hopefully) understand my issue with Hollywood’s obsession with romanticism, you can understand my problem with the new magical heist thriller ‘Now You See Me.’ The movie, directed by Louis Leterrier, centers around a group of four magicians who pull off a series of tricks that result in them stealing large amounts of money from various places. The plot is driven by the pursuit of an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) along the trail of the self-named ‘Four Horsemen.’ He leads you to believe he wants to stop them before they can complete all three acts of their trick and disappear with all the stolen money.

The romanticism problem, however, lies a bit outside the main plot line. For the pursuit, Ruffalo is assigned an attractive French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent) because—of course—the first bank robbery/magic trick was of a French bank. Their relationship, which blossoms over all of four or five scenes, is kind of interesting and unique because he isn’t interested in having her around and she just wants to help and then they kind of start to work together and then—BOOM! We’re in love!

In a movie that was really fun all-around,** the relationship between Ruffalo and Laurent felt incredibly forced, even more so following the incredibly cheesy and terrible ending to the movie. It felt like a relationship that was there just for the sake of being there, because no other couple could step up to the plate and take the mantle of the film’s ‘romantic couple.’ I would argue Eisenberg and Fisher’s characters felt better-developed and deserved each other to a greater degree, but I digress. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Ruffalo isn’t the person he claims to be throughout the entire film and yet Ms. Interpol has no second thoughts about entering into a relationship with him!?!

** Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher have a great camaraderie as the ‘Four Horsemen.’

After a mostly pleasant movie-going experience, this contrived, unbelievable (I mean that in the most literal way) relationship left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I’m all for having relationships work in movies, just give me a reason to believe in it! And for a movie that had a lot to do with believing in things (magic, an end goal, people’s sense of needing to be tricked, etc.), I found myself an Unbeliever at the movies most important point emotionally/romantically.***

***As a side note, I believe the easiest way for poor storytellers to have a relationship work in a film is to start the movie with a preexisting couple. This way, they get a problem/rift to deal with, and it becomes much more believable when they overcome it by the movie’s end.

No offense, “Now You See Me,” because this happens a lot. You’re not the only one guilty of lazy storytelling on the romantic front. You’re just the first to motivate me to say something about it. Because, to be frank, now we see it, way too often.

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4 Comments
  1. Yup you’re right. The first kiss scene in ‘Now you see me’ killed me, seriously misplaced. No need at all, if you;re going to force a romantic connect just make it Isla and one of the horsemen. The whole ending was terrible of course. Perhaps the worst ending ive ever seen, I think thats because the film was OK before the ridiculous ‘plot twist’.

    Removing the FBI/INTERPOL hook up would not salvage the despicable ending (or last 20 mins), but it wouldn’t of left such a sour taste in my mouth. The fact that he was a scorned magician out for revenge didn’t even matter tbh, as when the kiss happened the fact was not yet unearthed, it just didn’t fly, they were not compatible. Oh wait no I forgot, they set it up nicely with Woody’s mental assessment in the interview room. My bad, it was of course destined and built up brilliantly.

  2. taylorgaines permalink

    You’re right, it’s definitely difficult to convey in such a short time. I’m willing to suspend disbelief if the story is good enough. It just seems like sometimes the effort isn’t there, you know?

    Thanks for commenting, my friend.

  3. “Because in the movies, just like in real life, relationships should take hard work to exist.”

    Speaking for myself, even being more on the intellectual side overall, one of the reasons that I enjoy entertainment fiction is that it often shows a world that is, in some sense, better than the real world. One specific example of this is romance, where soul-mates, love at first sight, etc., exists. A (to me) more common example would be that the events of the work actually matters, e.g. through the fight against an evil god set on destroying or conquering the world—where basically everything we do in real life is of no importance in the big picture, making our lives lack meaning on any deeper level. Indeed, one of my least favourite scenes is the end of “Gangs of New York”, which demonstrates how the seemingly important events of the film are just a very small part of the world during a short time of history—and something that is long forgotten today.

    A counter-point is the danger of fiction giving a simplistic or out-right wrong world-view. Regrettably, this was the case with me and romance, with severe negative effects, the most notable that I long implicitly assumed that I would one day meet that one, unique, made-for-me girl, see us fall in love rapidly, and at some point end up married. While I have fallen in love every now and then, the movie-like love that causes characters to do outrageously crazy things has never happend—and I certainly spent far too little time actively looking for/working on something long term.

    Of course, a part of the reason for the simplistic treatment in movies is simply lack of time: More than roughly the sequence boy-meets-girl, early love, complications ensue, happy-end is hard to squeeze into a single movie. TV-series tend to be less unrealistic (rarely, however, actually realistic), having the opportunity to spread a romance over a longer range of time, often a single season.

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