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Most modern romantic comedies all follow a very simple, but proven model that we all know, that we all can relate to, and that will continue to sell us tickets. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, and crazy things happen along the way. These movies rarely give the viewers much of a challenge in watching the movie; most times the only questions the viewer thinks about are just some form of “How will so-and-so react to this new event?” The main characters are thrust to the forefront almost immediately, along with clear presentations of their personalities and feelings, and aside from the occasional conflict (which is usually resolved by the end), the happy feeling you get while watching the movie lasts until the end. Very little thinking or analyzing is required in watching this type of film. What was shown is exactly what it is supposed to be, and nothing more is shown than is needed. This rather unforgiving generalization of the genre known as the romantic comedy absolutely applies to Valentine’s Day, the film I chose to discuss, but only in terms of bare basics. This film is much more intuitive; it is almost like a murder mystery in the way it has you trying to figure out who is connected to who and how everything will end up. But it does it all without being confusing, and still leaves you with that fuzzy feeling when you finally walk out of the theater doors.
Valentine’s Day takes place over the course of a typical Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles, and follows almost 20 different characters throughout the day, showing how they are managing on the holiday. However, these characters are not just random samples from the LA population, but they are all related in some way to each other. Some people are more directly related than others, but there are only a few characters that don’t run into most of the others at some point during the movie. These connections are revealed slowly throughout the movie, with some coming at the very end. The main character, played by Ashton Kutcher, is Reed Bennett, a florist who owns the most popular flower shop on Valentine’s Day. Aside from him and Julia Fitzpatrick (Jennifer Garner), a third grade teacher and Reed’s best friend, all of the other characters share relatively equal screen time, and the story jumps from one person to another continually. In fact, if not for certain clues it would be very difficult to rank the characters in terms of importance.
It is clear that Reed and Julia characters are the most important for a couple reasons. They both have very kind and giving personalities, and are very easy to get connected with. For example, in one touching scene, a young boy tries to buy a dozen roses for his valentine from Reed’s shop which normally costs $55, but all he has is 15, and Reed gives him the roses anyway. No other characters elicit such a strong emotional response from the viewer as constantly as these two characters do, so they stand out the most. Also, more importantly to the structure of the film, they at the center of complicated web of characters present in the movie. Reed sells or delivers flowers to many of the movie’s characters throughout the movie, and Julia is the teacher to a couple of the children characters, whose parents or babysitters are other significant characters. You can trace any character back to either Reed or Julia through no more than 2 degrees of separation, which is less than you could do with all of the other characters.
However, the main aspect of narrativity in the film, and the most interesting part of the movie, was trying to figure out who was going to end up with whom, and what secrets certain characters were hiding, and this mainly happened with the secondary characters. Throughout the film I was constantly wondering if Jamie Foxx was going to end up with Jessica Biel, or if Patrick Dempsey was going to break off his relationship with Jennifer Garner, or who the little boy’s valentine was. Every new scene brought a new flurry of questions, and coming up with theories and discussing them with my friends during the movie was a key source of enjoyment throughout the film. There were times when I almost didn’t want to know the answer, yet I was very excited whenever I was right about one of my theories.
It seems that this little game of questions that went on during the movie was done entirely on purpose. The scenes were fashioned in a way that not too much of anything was revealed at any time, so you were always thirsting to know more about how certain characters were connected or what was going to happen next. Because there were stories for so many characters, scenes would rarely go on for longer than five to ten minutes apiece before switching to another storyline, and only the main characters got chunks of time longer than that in a row. This type of setup allowed for many more questions to be asked, and for the most part, more interest to be generated.
That is why I found the film so interesting. The entire film was a puzzle, albeit a fairly simple one, and because of that it held my interest the entire time. Add that to the standard qualities of a romantic comedy and you’ve got an interestingly complicated film that still remains to be light-hearted and fun, largely due to the subject matter. But either way, it actively engaged my narrativity in more ways than one.
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