Romance movies are all about two things: having two people fall in love, and keeping them apart for as long as possible. Usually this is done by starting the movie with one of the main characters already dating/engaged to what we call a “romantic obstacle”, who must be removed in order for True Love to happen. Six of the most typical ways to do this are:
1. Have the obstacle turn out to be a jerk.
I (Kyle) recently went on a sorta-date where our plan was to sneak into Avatar without paying. We successfully got into a later showing but first circumstances dictated that we had to sit through the completely-useless Leap Year. Here was a film where the charming Amy Adams tries to sell us a character who is love with a jerk but doesn’t realize until after falling for a somewhat nicer guy that her would-be fiancee is a jerk, even though within the context of the story SHE is just as big a jerk, since the big “omg this guy is a jerk!” moment is him doing what Amy Adams would do, to make Amy Adams happy!?!?! Very, very weird. But it properly highlights that by and large, whenever films play the “He/She was a jerk ALL ALONG” card it just means that when you’re thinking about the film later you’re going to realize that makes one of your supposedly sympathetic main characters either really, really gullible or really, really jerky themselves. Ick!
2. Have the obstacle turn out to be a two-timing, cheating jerk.
Kyle? How’d you get in this article? Anyway, this typically works as follows:
Boy meets girl. They hit it off, but girl is already seeing a jerk, who reeks “Slimy” like it’s a new type of Axe body spray or something. Boy discovers that jerk is cheating behind the girl’s back, a fact which the girl is completely oblivious to, and the boy is too honorable to bring up to her. Instead, boy just looks chagrined and/or constipated but lets things play out until the jerk reveals his cheating nature all by himself.
3. Have the obstacle fall in love with someone else.
Also known as “The Consolation Prize”. This is when the obstacle is a little too likable to be revealed as a jerk, so the filmmakers gradually ween him or her off of the main character and eventually throw them a bone with a last-minute substitute love interest. This way, nobody feels bad and everyone wins!
4. Have them bow out gracefully
Now this is a pretty underhanded move on the part of the screenwriters, because in this situation the romantic obstacle usually comes off as more honorable and faithful than the two leads. After all, he or she wasn’t falling in love behind their current honey’s back, but when True Love is revealed in its splendor, they usually give a wistful smile and a gracious concession speech: “You obviously love them more than I, oh well, I shall surrender.” Take a bow, exit stage left.
5. The magical off-screen disappearance
What? You can’t think of a good way to chuck Mr. or Ms. Obstacle in the trash can? Well then, the characters are just going to have to live with the choices that they’ve made… until the movie informs us that time has passed and, magically, the obstacle is gone. Gone where? We don’t know. But the leads are now free to meet up later in life, older and wiser and more ready to be together.
God help you if you’re somewhat of a nebbish obstacle, too likable to be turned into a jerk, but slightly flawed in a way that helps to make the new love interest seem like a Greek god in comparison. Because at that point, you have the life expectancy of any red shirt on Star Trek, no matter how long and hard you try to cling to it. You will die, and your former boyfriend or girlfriend will practically sprint across your corpse to jump into bed with the REAL love muffin.