Wednesday, June 29, 2016

'The Prince and Me' Is a Horror Movie for Single Women


I remember how in 2004, when The Prince and Me came out, my heart would flitter-flutter at the idea of a charming European prince like Eddie coming into my life, seeing my nerdy, over-achieving glory, and loving me for exactly who I was. Only unlike Paige Morgan and her weird end-of-movie freakout, I wouldn't run off to finish college. Nope. I would marry my prince and enact social reforms in our charming European country and live happily ever after. When this movie came out, I was all over it. I was sold. Now, however, I'm really not so sure.

See, it's been twelve years now since The Prince and Me graced our theaters, and the world and I have changed a fair bit. I'm no longer the secretly romantic high-schooler dreaming of a happily ever after with some prince - not to say that I've given up on romance, just that my idea of what romance is has changed a lot. Forget last minute racing to the airport to catch the love of your life, I want someone who will love me even when I fart during the dramatic part of a movie. Real love, you know?

But while I have matured in the years since I last swooned over Prince Eddie, the film and its three straight-to-DVD sequels have not. Nope. Upon realizing it was on Netflix and gleefully rewatching this old favorite, I have to conclude that teenage me was, well, kind of an idiot.

This isn't a good love story at all.

In fact I might go so far as to call it awful. For all that it has some mildly progressive moments - the girl being the one to make the grand romantic gesture, having the couple break up for amicable career-related reasons, etc - the general message and tone of the movie is at odds with these inchings towards feminism. For the most part this is a movie about a independent woman who don't need no man realizing that actually she really really does need a man and she needs this man and all of her friends and family who discouraged her from seeking a career other than marriage were stupid and dumb.

Worse, it seems to suggest that being in love is basically the same as having great chemistry. That people fall in love when "sparks collide" and not when they, you know, share some basic interests and can have a conversation that doesn't involve arguing or making out. Paige's own mother goes so far as to sit her daughter down and tell her, "Chemistry isn't just a class, kiddo. And you two have it." Because heaven forbid her only daughter do something irrational like not try to date the guy she can only barely stand but definitely wants to bone.

Okay. I've gotten too far in here, and it's time for the few of you who haven't seen this mess of a movie to catch up. So here's the deal.

Eddie (Luke Mabley) and Paige (Julia Stiles) are worlds apart. Eddie is the crown prince of Denmark, a playboy heir to the throne who takes absolutely nothing seriously and is a terror to his parents. Paige, on the other hand, is a serious, dedicated pre-med student who works so hard she's even in the lab right up until she has to go get changed to be the bridesmaid in her friend's wedding. She's a country girl from rural Wisconsin who dreams of working for Doctors Without Borders. They don't have a lot in common.

But all that changes when Eddie watches a few too many Girls Gone Wild videos (yes, really) and decides to enroll at the University of Wisconsin in the hope of meeting lots of nice MidWestern girls who want to take their tops off. Literally this is the plot. So he takes leave of his royal heritage and goes undercover as "Eddie" instead of Prince Edvard, with only his manservant Soren (Ben Miller) for company.

Naturally our two leads have to meet and be overwhelmed by sexual tension. That's how this works, right? So when Paige and Eddie first clash at the college bar, we are supposed to know immediately that they're meant to be. Even though their first scene together has Paige rightfully dousing Eddie in a high-powered spray of soda. The plot rom-coms along from that meet-cute until Paige succumbs and takes Eddie home for Thanksgiving, giving in to her family and friends' pressure and kissing him. Romance!

The romance naturally can't last, though, because that would be a short movie. So it's only days later that Eddie is outed as the Prince of Denmark. He and Paige break up because he lied to her and then he's recalled to Denmark because plot. Paige quickly realizes that she made a mistake - because she has to talk about Shakespeare and that makes her understand that romance is real and love and kisses and etc - so she races off to the airport to get a plane to Denmark. Her friends even come along and help her pay for the ticket. Cute!

Once in Denmark, the tables turn and now it's about Paige trying to fit into Eddie's world. Paige, who is a strong independent woman who don't need no man (and who just got into Johns Hopkins for med school so she really shouldn't be here), now has to learn how to be royalty. She and Eddie are very shortly engaged, she has to try to bond with her frosty mother-in-law, and she learns how to be a princess. Because Paige and Eddie are meant to be, obviously, she succeeds in all this with only a little bit of charming clumsiness and tomfoolery.

Alas, their happiness cannot last. Despite being destined in the stars and being really good at making out with each other and arguing, Paige and Eddie really don't have anything in common with each other. Like at all. Paige leaves and goes off to med school like she always should have and we're supposed to mourn these star-crossed lovers. How sad that they don't have the rest of their life to be bound together in incredibly public matrimony to keep on arguing and making out and having no other noticeable hallmarks of a healthy relationship.

The end, of course, has us wondering if just maybe these crazy kids can't make it. Eddie, now the King of Denmark, shows up at Paige's college graduation to see if she'll marry him after all. Because they belong together! He doesn't care that she wants to help needy people by being a doctor in developing countries - he loves her anyway! 

So, to recap, this is a movie about two people who have absolutely nothing in common falling in love because they're super attracted to each other, breaking up because they have nothing in common twice, and then get back together because despite Paige's protests all she really needs in the world to be complete is a man.

There's a montage in the movie where we see Eddie and Paige having lots of deep conversations, but we don't hear any of them. We literally have no idea what Eddie and Paige see in each other besides the "spark". I mean, we know from a few scenes that because Eddie met Paige and her normal family and peers scrambling to make a living in rural Wisconsin, he's all up on politics now and cares about what happens and is a much better person, but that's not a relationship builder. It's great, don't get me wrong, but it's just one part of their interaction. 

Paige, meanwhile, seems to have no logical reason to love Eddie. I mean, yes he's very handsome and I guess he helped her understand Shakespeare, but that does not a life build. What do they have to offer each other besides some kissing in the starlight and a really solid fling? It's not that I hate romance or my soul is dead, I just don't get it. Why are these two people together? As far as I can tell, it's mostly because everyone tells them that they should be.

And if you view it in that lens, this story is basically a horror movie. Just replace the cute soundtrack with some shrieks and ominous tones and what you have is a terrifying tale of a man and a woman almost being trapped in a life neither of them seem to really want just because everyone else thinks it's the right thing.

I mean, remember the structure. We first meet Paige on the day ones of her best friends gets married. She's sitting at a table with one of the other bridesmaids, discussing how she's alarmed by seeing all her ambitious friends fall into marriages of convenience. The looming horror comes when she discovers the woman she's speaking to is also about to get married. Paige is literally the only single person she knows from her friend group.

Then at college, we find that Paige's friends who are funny and sweet are also obsessed with making sure that ambitious, go-getter Paige doesn't go and get. They want her to find a man and "be happy", with the underlying implication that Paige's ambition to go to a great med-school and save lives is lame and a sign she's not really living.

Seriously the whole movie is like this. Paige is a lone voice in the wilderness, daring to suggest that she doesn't need to be married to be happy. But then she meets Eddie and falls for him despite their absolute lack of shared interests. Then she's racing across the ocean and getting engaged that afternoon. She goes from utter disinterest in marriage to planning a wedding in two months.

When Paige comes to her senses and realizes she won't be happy as Eddie's trophy Queen, we should be cheering that the girl in the horror movie decided to go out the front door instead of walking upstairs. It's basically the scene where the heroine finally drives away, mass murderer in the rear-view mirror, panting for breath and sobbing at her close call. The final scene where Eddie comes for her is like the tag at the end of a horror flick where we see the monster isn't dead after all.

Look. It's not that I think marriage is awful or bad or a terrible idea or the worst thing that could possibly happen to someone. It's that I think this marriage is a terrible idea and the worst thing that could happen to Paige and Eddie. I know we're supposed to root for them and think they're perfect for each other, but they're really really not. They're just two skinny, tall, conventionally-attractive white people who dislike each other enough for it to come off as sexual tension.

I'm all for romance, but I like romance that makes sense. Romance where the people involved get each other and support each other and have something else to do in the 95% of their time when they aren't making out. Paige and Eddie don't have that, and heavy-handed metaphors about butterflies in jars aside, their relationship never really makes sense. These aren't two people who should get married and spend the rest of their lives together, these are two people who should catch up on the phone ever year or so and hang out at the ten-year reunion.

I want to get married someday. Probably. But I don't want to get married because I feel like I have to or I'm not living my life right. I don't want to ever fall into the trap of believing that marriage is my only path to a complete life. I already have a complete life. I'm good. I don't need that, and I'd rather wait for a relationship that makes sense for me than jump into one that seems perfect on paper. That's all.

RUN.

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