Whenever people perform stupid stunts on TV, they typically include warnings advising those of us at home not to attempt them. Don’t ride your BMX down an abandoned waterslide. Don’t light your little sibling on fire then use bubbles to extinguish him. These things are typically obvious no-nos to anyone with a baseline IQ. But, as tends to be the case with warnings, someone did try it, a lawsuit ensued, and now we need a warning.
Really though, as my favorite writer Chuck Klosterman has pointed out, the warnings need to come on things that teach us about relationships and expectations, like Coldplay and John Cusack. There are simply things that, while wonderful on film or in a TV show, simply wouldn’t work in real life, fun as they may seem.
A movie I would contend is one of the most fun of the past 20 years is Sandra Bullock’s Miss Congeniality. This story of an ugly duckling FBI loner turned drop dead hot Miss United States pageant participant (It’s not a beauty pageant, it’s a scholarship competition!) is one I still quote regularly and back in the day, I took a freeze frame of Sandra’s hairdo during the interview portion of the competition and told her to do my prom hair that way.
I’ve always idolized Sandra Bullock. She is a producer in addition to an actress. She is hilarious and never apologizes for it. She still gets cast as a leading lady but isn’t conventionally gorgeous or model thin. She looks beautiful in the most normal way possible. She adopted the most adorable baby, she is close with her mother, and she is pretty much all I want to be in life.
A recurring theme in Bullock’s movies is that her male counterpart realizes that the vapid bimbos they’ve been dating are no comparison to the substance Bullock’s character offers. This is the case in Two Weeks Notice, The Proposal, Forces of Nature, and I’m sure there are more. It is a charming thought, someone realizing you are wonderful just the way you are, but Miss Congeniality is a little more realistic about matters. Let’s be honest, it takes a team of highly-trained aestheticians to get the very hot Benjamin Bratt to notice Bullock’s character, Gracie. The film tries to show how this isn’t just about grooming, it is about Gracie learning to love herself for who she is and give herself the time and attention she deserves by doing things like flat ironing her hair and avoiding carbs.
I certainly appreciate the honest of Miss Congeniality and, while the sequel may suck, I will say I adore the fact there is no romance in the sequel, just two women working together. Even this is too dangerous to try at home though. You can be as thin and gorgeous as you’re capable of being and, if a guy hasn’t expressed interest in you before, he very well isn’t going to post-make over either. And if he does, do you want to be the person whose significant other finally decided to give you a chance because you look a little hotter? Knowing deep down you have to put this amount of effort forth in order to keep them because the message has been made crystal clear: you aren’t good enough the way you are.
So while the makeover has been at the heart of several great movies, it rarely works out in real life because it is more complicated than a single scene in which the person is simply seen in a new light by their paramour, who noticed what they’d been missing. But plenty of pop culture moments suffer the same problem–in the moment it may be wonderful and romantic, but taken in a larger context, a good majority of these cinematic romantic gestures are super creepy.
If you broke up with John Cusack and he showed up outside of your house in the middle of the night blaring a boombox, well, first you’d ask where the hell you get a boombox in this day and age, and then you would call the police. Because when you look at the plot of Say Anything and you look at the plot of the Mark Wahlberg vehicle Fear, they are kind of the same story of a guy who gets way too attached to a girl way too fast, they have trouble appropriately displaying their affection, and they develop adversarial relationships with the parents.
In other words, grand romantic gestures are usually a really bad idea. While my brain cerebrally understands it, my heart still swoons every time I hear “Your Eyes”. I love the romantic sweeping scenes of classic movies. Meeting at the top of the Empire State Building, proclaiming your love invoking hell fires and holocausts, roping your girlfriend’s grandpa into helping pull of a big surprise like they do in Meet Me in St. Louis, all of these moments melt my heart.
Which is no surprise why I quickly took to the quirky show about the bowling alley attorney who moved back home to win over his high school sweetheart Carol in the little-watched but much-loved Ed. Out of context, Ed Stevens is the creepiest dude imaginable. He kissed a chick he once knew, then bought a bowling alley to be near her. Much like poor Felicity, who changed her college plans because of what one dude wrote in her yearbook, Ed was just too much, too soon.
In the pilot episode, Ed shows up at the school where Carol teaches alongside her boyfriend of seven years and he is wearing a suit of armor and bearing a bouquet of flowers. This is harassment, no other way to really argue it. But it is damned adorable.
Another time, shortly after Carol and her boyfriend broke up, Carol is awoken by a noise on her roof. Is it a predator? A rapist? Nope, it is Ed throwing waffles on her roof, a continuation of an inside joke designed to cheer her up, so yes it is creepy, but it is a little bit endearing.
The further removed I get from my teen years, the more I think of Ed Stevens as a creeper, but there is something about him that makes me love him in spite of all this weird behavior. And while I wouldn’t actually want these things to happen to me in real life, there is one gesture of his that I will always hope happens to me someday.
In the third episode of the first season, Ed and Carol are trying to be friends, but Ed is still pulling out all the stops to win Carol over. He has a third party deliver her a VHS tape. Some of you may not be familiar, but there used to be places where you could make your own music videos. You could stand in front of a green screen and lip sync along with a song while the background made it look like you were by the ocean or riding on a magic carpet. Imagine a low rent version of Rebecca Black’s Friday.
Anyways, Carol pops the tape in her VCR and finds one of those music videos with Ed brandishing a pink inflatable electric guitar with clouds floating by in the background. He then lip syncs with every ounce of earnestness in his body Chicago’s You’re the Inspiration. I wish I could say I am not so weak-willed as to find this adorable, but I stand by what I said my junior of high school: if a guy ever did this for me, I would need one hell of a reason not to marry him.
So far, the Chicago-singing suitor hasn’t shown up. Instead, I have a string of what ifs and not quites and what was I thinkings. And, like most people, I’ve had my share of unrequited love. It would be nice to believe that pouring my guts out would result in a meaningful relationship, but as someone who tried it once only to have it result in a super awkward couple of months, I have to advise against people planning their own version of the pick me, choose me, love me speech.
When I was younger, I would try to explain to someone I liked how I felt and, if they didn’t fully reciprocate (I’m a real pro at kinda dating people btw), I would try to convince them I was worth it. My mom told me something that always stuck. “You don’t want to be with a guy you have to convince to like you, Jessica. They should know on their own.”
She was right, but I was still sad, so I would retreat to my room and listen to a song like Vertical Horizon’s Everything You Want on repeat. During my most pathetic moments, I would cry sing my way through the power chorus when the protagonist shifts from talking about the other guy to himself, proclaiming how he is “everything you want”, he is the right guy for her. I would wonder why my version of this song didn’t work.
This is why songs and movies and shows like this need warning labels. They are great for what they are, which is catharsis. You want to do these stupid, ridiculous things and you know they will have stupid, ridiculous results, so you act them out singing Vertical Horizon on a loop. That way you don’t show up on someone’s doorstep with a wilted waffle, a strange monologue, and a restraining order. These aren’t meant for us to replicate in our real lives. They are grow up fantasies, fairy tales really. Miss Congeniality is just The Ugly Duckling. Ed is a literal knight in shining armor. And the power ballad Everything You Want is for when we’re feeling more beastly than beautiful. Would you ever grow out your hair and let a stranger climb it? Get roofied by your stepmother after breaking and entering into a house full of miners? Didn’t think so. Treat these like you would Sleeping Beauty. They are great stories and sometimes have some metaphorical real world application, but it is not safe to try it at home.
But seriously, the one exception is the inflatable guitar. Cause I’m still holding out hope for that tape.