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Dopamine, or How I Discovered the Truth About Modern Utah
by Erik Childress

“Relationships are programmed.” So begins the opening words of a feature screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. So begins one insight into the everlasting question that’s going to outlast all of us no matter how many movies, books or songs are written on the subject. Movies are the preeminent place where men and women go looking for entertainment and perhaps even, subconsciously, looking for answers. How many of us have left a great romance just waiting for the opportunity to use one of those fabulous lines? A great theatrical romance though comes along as often as that once-in-a-lifetime man or woman in our lives. To find that one special moment in time we have to wade through a lot of dogs and kiss a lot of frogs. Three films at Sundance this year each had a unique approach to the definition of love and relationships; a reminder of how generic and routine most romances at the multiplex are.

Dopamine is the film from which that quote derives. Directed by Mark Decena and co-written by him and Timothy Breitbach, it’s the story of a romance where one of the participants, played by John Livingston, has taken stock in his father’s theories that love is all chemical. The title refers to the natural amphetamine our bodies produce during states of sexual pleasure, euphoria and even plain old confidence. When he meets schoolteacher Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd) is he attracted because of what his body physiology is telling him what to feel or is it a deeper, more natural connection that all of us want to believe in? Are two people capable of connecting when one believes in chemicals and the other feels chemistry?

Does a dog lick our face because it loves us or does it just want the salt? That’s the type of question that Dopamine explores. Are we fooling ourselves into believing this magical power called love is anything more than our inner juices? The blood rushing from our brains to our loins? Decena says, “Dopamine came from a desire to address two obsessions: science and love. Much of that came from reading daily declarations of scientific discovery deconstructing the human experience. A turning point was seeing science attribute cause and effect to all that we feel, including love.”

In my review of the film I said, “Decena and Breitbach have formulated that rare screenplay that adapts out of its characters and not a predetermined road. Rand and Sarah are real characters in a real world. We don’t feel them being pervaded along and the filmmakers move the story, absent of contrivances, to the natural destinations of all its plotlines.” Decena adds that “Dopamine deals with characters who, through their own experiences with love and loss of it, navigate through these modern-day times where everything is over-informed and over-analyzed. It speaks to anyone who has ever asked, ‘Why him, why her, why now?’”

Another version of love is how far one is willing to go to please one’s mate. Neil LaBute explores this in his romantic comedy, The Shape of Things. It stars Paul Rudd as Adam, a doughy college student who meets a free spirit named Evelyn (Rachel Weisz). (Their names are not a coincidence.) Despite them having nothing in common, they begin dating. When Adam asks Evelyn why she’s going out with him, it nearly turns her off to the point of breaking up with him. It may be a cliché, but confidence is key. The change in Adam through the suggestions of Evelyn (stop biting your nails, eat salads) are noticed more by his friends; the sweet and attractive Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and her abrasive fiancée, Phillip (Fred Weller); then himself.

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, but all of a sudden Jenny sees something in Adam she didn’t see back in the day when he held a crush on her but was too shy to say anything. Or does she see something on the outside? LaBute’s script leaves so many things up to the audience, dropping the difficult questions right in the men’s laps as if each of us were Adam. Is there anything wrong with going to inordinate lengths to please the one we love? If it makes sense to us to want to improve ourselves, why should whatever the reasons might be make sense to others? Or is it wrong to try and change the one you love in the first place? Hitchcock tapped into similar territory back in 1958 with Vertigo, some would say with the misogynistic overtones that LaBute brought to previous efforts like In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors. By film’s end, you may indeed be channeling Jimmy Stewart, “You were a very apt pupil! Well why did you pick on me? Why me?

The last movie that I saw at Sundance this year was ready to throw love altogether out the window. It was called A Foreign Affair directed by Helmut Schleppi and written by Geert Heetebrij. As they were outlining their concept back in 2000, these two gentleman got the OK from their wives to embark on a tour of Russian mail-order brides. Imagine a brothel with thousands of women for the picking. The money goes entirely to the house (AKA the tour company), you get a wife for a couple years back in the states and she gets her green card.

In the film, a pair of overgrown farmboys (Tim Blake Nelson & David Arquette) sign up for the “romance” tour after their mother dies. With no one to cook, clean or take care of them, the eldest (Nelson) decides that a wife would do the trick. One for the two of them, no sex or romance required. The girls are all categorized and the clients attend a number of “socials” where confidence isn’t a necessity. All the ladies look great, act nice and say whatever the men want to hear. Mutually-assured destruction on many personal radars, but maybe relationships are more of a partnership to some couples like in the old days when marriage was invented as a way to bring together families. A man gets a pretty wife and she gets a free pass to the land of the free. Despite the potential sleaze factor, A Foreign Affair is actually a very funny and sweet little film.

So he we have three films, each of them unique in subject matter and two of which currently do not have distribution. (The Shape of Things is slated for a May 2003 release.) These are films that audiences could, would and should embrace, but many may never get the chance to see them. LaBute’s film may be shuffled around to the arthouses as it’s based on a stage play and only has four speaking roles. Dopamine and A Foreign Affair, while I believe will eventually be picked up, may suffer the same fate and make a quick transition to your video store shelves where Blockbuster and Hollywood will bury two copies in-between 60 of How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days. This is the fate that befalls many great films and I recently wrote of that Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey affair that “if it turns out to be a $75 million hit as I suspect, then it will no longer matter if the same script is dusted off and the names changed to protect the innocent, because it’s the audiences that are guilty.” Its opening weekend saw it pull in $23.8 million.

Who is truly guilty though? Is it the audience or the filmmakers? Chickens and eggs notwithstanding, the filmmakers keep making the same movies and the audiences keep paying to see them. How often though does your positive reaction to a romantic film experience go beyond “it was OK” or “that’s just a nice, fun time?” How many of them made you really want to hug your significant other or feel that something was missing from your own life? Have you ever been able to say that someone “completed” you or did you ever let your mind go and had your body follow? How many of these films do you even remember: Anna and the King, At First Sight, Body Shots, Boys and Girls, Can't Hardly Wait, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Down to You, Get Over It, Head Over Heels, Here On Earth, Hope Floats, Loser, Message in a Bottle, The Object of My Affection, The Other Sister, Playing by Heart, Random Hearts, Say It Isn't So, Simply Irresistible, The Story of Us, Three to Tango and Where the Heart Is?

Relationships can be as random as which way a moth will move after flying through the flame. Friends introduce you or maybe a bar encounter where a bottle hits you over the head. Cupid’s arrow is unpredictable and he can be as bad a shot as Robin Hood after a few ales. But why do 90% of the romantic films out there treat the subject with such stupidity? If audiences didn’t live up to the dumb factor, Hollywood would stop using the same old plot devices, the same complications and the same resolutions faster than a J-Lo marriage.

Ah, what is more classic than the old-fashioned love triangle to spur development in your plot. At some point in our lives, we’ve all probably been in love (or lust) with the object of someone else’s affection. You feel you’re the right person for the job and your feelings must be the right one no matter who else it hurts. How come some of the greatest love stories of all time are rooted in the soil of infidelity? Think Gone with the Wind, An Affair to Remember and even Casablanca. Maybe we forgive them because they’re such well-told stories and the passion between the characters is so rich we believe they were meant for each other. Our justification for their actions is usually glazed with the poor third party being a total jerk or God forbid, a little vanilla and boring. There have been levels of infidelity though used for comedy and drama over the years though that would make even the most morally challenged individual question their choices.

And in that moment, everything I knew to be true about myself up until then was gone. I was acting like another woman, yet I was more myself than ever before”. – The Bridges of Madison County

One of the most read books of the 90s was Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County. Its story detailed a bored housewife’s affair with a travelling photographer. Unreadable was the word I heard most associated with the written page, but Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese somehow turned it into a wonderful film about love and loss. It was still about an affair, but one that never had the artificial potential for entrapment while it was happening. The rugged man will always spark memories of those shadowed musclemen on the pages of romance novels with titles like “Love Pudding from the West”, especially when inhabited by a moviestar like Eastwood or Robert Redford. Remember his version of the American cowboy in The Horse Whisperer? For 100 minutes, he’s helping a horse then he’s looking to tame the woman’s magazine publisher played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who happened to be married to a very boring Sam Neill. How about when Brad Pitt sashayed onto the scene? He stole the hearts of women everywhere, not to mention Geena Davis’ money in Thelma and Louise after bedding down the adventurous little minx. (Christopher McDonald played the dimwitted, underappreciating husband in that film.) Three years later, his star power hit maximum vibration in Legends of the Fall as the loner Tristan who slept with his brother’s fiancée (Julia Ormond) and still harbored desire for her after his brother is killed, after he leaves her for a selfish pilgrimage and after she marries his last surviving brother.

”Marriages don't break up on account of infidelity. It's just a symptom that something else is wrong.”
“Oh really? Well, that symptom is fucking my wife.”
When Harry Meet Sally

Women may harbor the desires to stray from their mates and, if indeed, the men are considered the selfish ones, is this why the behavior is applauded in these films? In 2002 alone, Diane Lane cheated on Richard Gere in Unfaithful and to date still hasn’t apologized for it and Jennifer Aniston strayed from the vows in The Good Girl, getting pregnant by her lover and never admitting it to the current king of poor-bastard-husbands, John C. Reilly. What set Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut into motion but an admission by Nicole Kidman’s character that she fantasizes about other men and considered dropping her whole family at one moment in time for another guy?

”Just tell your stupid story about the stupid desert and DIE already. DIE!!!” – Elaine Benes, Seinfeld

The greatest and most baffling example of the affair trend has to be Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient. Has there ever been a more infuriating jackass of a romantic lead than Ralph Fiennes’ character, Lazslo de Almasy? He’s rude, he never smiles and walks around like a brooding, self-important asshead. Kristin Scott Thomas’ character, naturally married to the boring Colin Firth as Geoffrey Clifton (not nearly as cool a name as Lazslo de Almasy), when asked by the Count what she hates the most, she replies “a lie.” That doesn’t stop her from rollicking in bathtubs, carrying on an oh-so-romantic affair with him where every scene practically ends with her hating him. That is until she’s mortally injured (you go Geoffrey) and needs Lazslo’s help to survive. “Promise me you'll come back for me,” she says. Hey, you bought your ticket, honey. I agree with Elaine. Fiennes doubled up on this trend in 1999’s The End of the Affair with Julianne Moore. Do I really need to tell you what the movie was about?

”I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”Notting Hill

Why can’t two people just meet and fall in love? Isn’t that what we want to see? It happens in Dopamine and The Shape of Things and follows the progress of their relationships. Are screenwriters so lazy or eager to add the drama their teachers or Syd Field books that they can’t just tell a love story between a man and a woman? Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge had potential to tell a beautiful love story (if you could find it between the hyperkinetic editing and frame speed-ups) but complicated it with not one, but two of the chapters in the cliché handbook. Not only is Nicole Kidman “promised” to a powerful and Snidely Whiplash-inspired Duke, but she’s also dying. (Don’t get me started on Autumn in New York, Sweet November or A Walk to Remember.) The mistake of telling this story in flashback (when we know she’s already dead) puts a dark raincloud over the romantic scenes that DO work in the film and eliminates the palpable tension and sadness of the climax. Come what may, I’ll love you ‘til my dying day. Song lyrics like that shouldn’t smack of irony.

”I'd rather be his whore than your wife.”Titanic

How about the most successful box office story in history, Titanic? You already have the complication of the damn boat sinking. Isn’t that enough tension for the two lovers to try and stay together? Does the story really need Kate Winslet to be engaged to a jerk like Billy Zane for class distinction? Why can’t she be single? They can still have their meeting as she tries to commit suicide. He gives her something to live for. They fall deeply in love and then, whoops, an iceberg. It’s unnecessary and maybe its because filmmakers and screenwriters don’t know enough about love to feel they can make it interesting for 2-3 hours. Coming from the five marriages of James Cameron, that’s an assumption that holds water better than the Titanic.

”A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark”. – Annie Hall

Even Titanic’s “sequel”, Pearl Harbor, couldn’t resist the love triangle. Granted, none of them were married and Kate Beckinsale though Ben Affleck was dead, but why bother? We knew Affleck was coming back even if they didn’t. We’re smarter than that. Certainly smarter than to keep accepting the isosceles of films where characters are engaged, but not quite sure if their fiancée is “the one.” This trend probably predates the triangle, but we can thank Nora Ephron and Sleepless in Seattle for the continuing crop that’s likely more responsible for breaking people up than bringing them together. Remember Kissing a Fool, Forces of Nature, Runaway Bride, The Wedding Planner, Serendipity, Sweet Home Alabama and A Guy Thing?

”I think only stupid people have good relationships.”
“That's the spirit.”
Ghost World

Audiences can’t be too sharp on the uptake if a film like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is pulling 24 large out of our take-home pay. Just read that title again. Doesn’t it make you just a little sick that a lightweight comedy like this would garner pleasure from the foibles of sticking together and then try and make you care for the characters manipulating you as much each other. You don’t see Neil LaBute trying to do that. No, sir.

”You just said you love me, now if I say I love you and just throw caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they may and you’re lying to me I’m gonna fuckin’ die.”True Romance

This is just the latest symptom of the romantic “bet” movie. It began in 1999 when Freddie Prinze Jr. was bet that he could turn an ugly girl into the prom queen (stay tuned) in She’s All That. That same year Ryan Phillippe was bet Dangerous Liaisons-style by Sarah Michelle Gellar that he couldn’t devirginize Reese Witherspoon in Cruel Intentions. In 2001, the year we should have been making contact with God, the universe and the monolith, we were making Seinfeldesque bets on whether the squinty Josh Hartnett could refrain from gratifying himself for lent in 40 Days and 40 Nights. This year its Hudson and McConaughey betting co-workers about love and heartbreak for business purposes. Bets can certainly make for a funny premise in the world of screwball comedy, but as Crash Davis once said, “I don’t believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of the heart.”

”You ask them questions, and listen to what they have to say and shit.”
“I dunno, man, that sounds like a lot of work.”
American Pie

All this could be indicative of the games people play with each other in the dating game. Nobody is completely honest in the early stages and by keeping our guards up, chances are better for mixed signals or missed opportunities. The defense we employ to keep ourselves from getting hurt is liable to plague the relationship and more than likely hurt the one you’re with. Think back on every relationship you’ve ever had. Can I make the first move now? If I don’t now, can I ever? Are females afraid to make that first move? If they do, is the friendship ruined? Is that all it was in the first place? How long can you wait to say “I love you”? How early? Does the other person even want to hear that? In many aspects, the “bet” movies are just like this. Of course, what makes you think THAT is the statement these subpar stories is trying to

”I owe you nothing. And you are nothing to me. Thank you for curing me of my ridiculous obsession with love.”Moulin Rouge

Because what inevitably happens 20-30 minutes before the movie ends? The offended party has to find out about the bet or the deal or the secret they’ve been keeping from them. This is what I’ve come to know as “The Storm Before The Calm.” It’s beyond a phenomenon and it happens in virtually every romantic comedy or drama you’ve ever seen. Yes, even the good ones. You know the drill. The couple is on a high point in their lives and somehow the bomb of discovery is going to be dropped on them. (This can also include Three’s Company-like misunderstandings, i.e. kissing the wrong person at the wrong time.) They are angry and they break up. Cue sad pop song. Friends or family aids both characters through their pride until they discover they can’t live without each other. This usually includes either a mad dash to an airport, train station, bus stop, home or place of business…usually blocked by heavy traffic forcing the chaser to abandon their car and use a motorcycle, horse, their own feet or a child’s scooter for a big kiss before the final credits. (For various examples see: Ten Things I Hate About You, Whatever It Takes, Never Been Kissed, Bounce, Tomcats, Return to Me and Heartbreakers.)

“We all want something beautiful.”Beautiful Girls

She’s got glasses and a ponytail,” says a character from the spoof Not Another Teen Movie about the impending bet he’s about to make on the ugly girl. What is beautiful? In the movies, the Plain-Jane look has to go. Hair straightened, makeup applied and those glasses just have to go. Rachael Leigh Cook was transformed in She’s All That, Drew Barrymore was once an ugly high school girl in Never Been Kissed and Anne Hathaway got a makeover in The Princess Diaries. Just so the guys aren’t left out, there was Adrian Grenier with Sabrina the Teenage Witch in Drive Me Crazy.

Is it all about perception or our own insecurities? Do any of these films even aspire to such a question? The Shape of Things does and drops Pygmalion on its ass. Will outer beauty always prevail in this world? Does the unrequited friend with all of their well-meaning and love always lose out if their face and body isn’t just right? Shallow Hal made a very literal point about this and even a shallower film like The New Guy preaches that even a hopeless nerd like D.J. Qualls can woo Eliza Dushku just by acting tough and cool.

”You actually like that guy?”
“I don't know, I kind of like him. He's the exact opposite of everything I really hate. In a way, he's such a clueless dork, he's almost kind of cool.”
“That guy is many things, but he's definitely not cool.”

That exchange came from the brilliant Ghost World about a pair of outsiders who form a bond while the rest of the world conforms to what is comfortable. What we see is not always what we feel and even films with the best intentions like Bridget Jones’s Diary can’t help but fall into the trappings of Screenwriting 101 (misunderstandings, hating each other and then running after the guy before a final kiss.) Lovely and Amazing spoke more in the realm of female body insecurities when Emily Mortimer asked lover Dermot Mulroney to criticize her naked body. If the ugly duckling syndrome isn’t a plot device you feel you have or ever would subscribe to in the movies, just remember how many times you saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding. $240 million, glasses and a makeover. Comfortable, right?

”The same thing happened with this guy. I have passed some line, some place. I am beginning to repel people I'm trying to seduce.”
“He must've been great looking.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because no body invites a bad looking idiot up to their bedroom.”
Broadcast News

It’s true we’re programmed in some part of our brains towards our own definitions of what is attractive. And no matter what we tell ourselves, a blue sky is always going to be more appealing than one with rainclouds. Isn’t it a bit insulting though to have widely considered beautiful people playing characters who complain they can’t find a boyfriend? Does Jennifer Lopez’s characters even try? Would Robin Wright Penn have continued her smitten ways if the writer of that message in a bottle had been Steve Buscemi instead of Kevin Costner?

”And in the middle of all this, I started to think about the one thing that makes me feel really good and makes immediate sense...and it's you.”
“Oh, Bubba.”
“I'm going to stop right now. Except that I would give anything if you were two people, so that I could call up the one who's my friend and tell her about the one that I like so much!”
Broadcast News

What is real love? When our feelings go beyond the standards of ordinary friendship and nothing is returned, can we call what we’re experiencing love even though its not being returned? At the corner of Starcross and Unrequited, the unspoken love can cause traffic jams for miles within your local theater. When a writer gets it right, the pain is exquisite and the emotions are real. We’ve been there. We are there. Go back 15 years to Albert Brooks sitting on the porch with Holly Hunter or arguing the case for his feelings in Broadcast News or Steve Martin reinventing the classic story of Cyrano de Bergerac with Roxanne. The same year, even John Hughes rewrote Pretty In Pink, called it Some Kind of Wonderful and took it to new levels. (1987 also produced Moonstruck and The Princess Bride.) That was 15 years ago.

”I can't help it. I love you Jenny.”
“Forrest, you don't know what love is.”
Forrest Gump

Since then (and before then) how many romantic movies end exactly the same way? We don’t even think about these movies ending unhappily; always assuming the male and female leads will end up in each other arms. The common defense of that criticism is that the journey is what’s important and not the outcome. But do we care about the outcome? Do we care enough about the two characters, beyond how attractive they are or how cute they look together, that we actually WANT them to live happily ever after? Compare how you felt during Forrest Gump and his relationship with Jenny with Maid in Manhattan. What will you be more heartbroken at? If William Miller and Penny Lane aren’t together at the end of Almost Famous or if no one gets together in America’s Sweethearts? I’ll put Timothy Hutton & Natalie Portman’s scenes in Beautiful Girls against a million Kate & Leopolds. It’s a universal plot, one that’s been seen on virtually every sitcom and TV show from Friends to Frasier to Ed. It’s only a matter of time before someone actually writes a screenplay entitled “Unrequited.”

”It took humans to come along and muck it up with a lot of romance. Did you ever hear of a lioness picking the gimp because she loved him?”Dopamine

Why do women do it? Why is it always the bad boy they fall for? In the movies, its usually to show them that it’s the other guy whom they should be with, but rarely are we told WHY they hooked up with the bad guy in the first place. As if its some defense mechanism wavering in the face of creativity, occasionally we’re saddled with the simple, hopeless thoughts that all men are pigs and all women are bitches. That’s comforting. I’ll remember that the next time a woman calls me Babe.

”I'll tell you one thing. Men are bastards. After about ten minutes I wanted to cut my own penis off with a kitchen knife.”About a Boy
”You are a human affront to all women and I am a woman.”When Harry Met Sally

Don’t call your wife baby” are the famous last words of a character in a David Mamet play and fellow playwright-turned-film director Neil LaBute has tackled male misogyny head-on with In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors. Those two movies have been called both “misogynistic” and “powerful feminist statements” with men mentally cutting down the women in their lives. (Aaron Eckhart still walks down the street and gets slapped for his Company character.) Look at those films closely though and the women don’t exactly fly into sainthood either. The Shape of Things will be no exception.

”How do you write women so well?”
“Easy. I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
As Good As It Gets
”I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, how come you're here at like the Gas 'n' Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?”
“By choice, man!”
Say Anything

Men as assholes though usually receive a far better betrayal than the cattiness of the evil women. In the last three years, we’ve seen Whipped, Love Stinks, Saving Silverman and Deliver Us from Eva. (I would also personally throw in Tea Leoni’s selfish, unsupportive wife in The Family Man, but that’s just me.) There’s no taming these shrews, while us guys can usually be privy to a learning curve where we recognize our faults and have the opportunity for growth. To the defense of the other sex, it’s usually a strong woman that brings about this change and it’s usually in above-average films. Look at Hugh Grant and Campbell Scott, the womanizers of About a Boy and Roger Dodger who believe they have all the answers; the teenagers from the American Pie films or the young adults from Beautiful Girls, Free Enterprise, Swingers or High Fidelity; the commitment phobic Tom Cruise from Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky and the middle-age crises of Groundhog Day and Cast Away. For women in the movies, well, they either have all-women get-togethers (The First Wives Club, Ya-Ya Sisterhood) or just give up and become lesbians (Kissing Jessica Stein).

You're not one of those women who tries to fix men, I hope. I mean, men cannot be fixed.Tin Cup
”They're all sisters. It's one big conspiracy. Trust me.”Beautiful Girls
”You make me want to be a better man.”As Good As It Gets

Not fair, I agree. Men can be indescribably horrible and women can be words they don’t like to hear. (The War of the Roses is as great a movie as any to illustrate this point.) In the midst of a bad break-up or life handing us a deck of cards with nothing but instructions that don’t work, the movies are a great place to go to blow off some steam or to put a smile on your face. But when was the last time you fell in love with someone you despised? Never? Ask the casts of The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The Mexican, Six Days Seven Nights, You’ve Got Mail and Two Weeks Notice. They may have some ridiculously, convoluted, never-in-this-universe-type answers for you.

”When you first entered the restaurant, I thought you were handsome... and then, of course, you spoke.”As Good As It Gets
”I want to buy her some flowers. That's what men do when they break a date.”
“That's not what men do. I know no men who do that.”
The American President

We all want answers and like John Livingston’s Rand in Dopamine we all have theories. Writer/director Nancy Meyers gave Mel Gibson the power to listen to women’s thoughts in What Women Want and, if possible, regressed us even further. Ashley Judd believed in the “Old Cow, New Cow” theory in Someone Like You. For those of you who have never associated dairy with relationships, said theory concludes that there’s no way to get a bull to service the same cow twice. You can doll up the cow all you want, the bull has no need to milk it a second time; thus explaining man’s need to spread his seed and move onto new conquests. These movies have no interest investigating every cause and effect though. They are just hooks with no interest in real people and how they behave.

”Didn't you see Fatal Attraction?”
“You wouldn't let me!”
“Well I saw it and it scared the shit out of me. It scared the shit out of every man in America.”
Sleepless in Seattle

The inner workings of men and women go far beyond plot devices. Dopamine’s screenplay tests the boundaries of why one man would believe in the chemical-based theory and analyze it through the artificial computer creation that’s part of his job. 90% of the screenwriters and directors getting paid today are just creating the artificial part. The coding is there and maybe an occasional bell and whistle, but the truth isn’t. Just like Koy Koy, the CGI bird in Dopamine, it isn’t what’s real, only a wish of what should be. So, in the movies, what should be?

”What do you want from me? My soul?”
“Why not? I deserve that much.”
Jerry Maguire

Films can move us the way few artforms can. We take what we see and what we hear into our hearts as they touch a part of the soul we’re itching to share with another human being. Films like Dopamine and The Shape of Things do that for us. Old-fashioned romance does it for me. Admittedly, not an easy task to accomplish without dipping into the well of aforementioned cliches at least once. But love conquers all as they say and any writer, director or actor who can make us feel it on screen will conquer the audience as well. Unless it’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, their pheromones aren’t jumping off the screen. It’s them, their words and us. And I’ll help you narrow down the field

”When was the last time you were decently kissed? I mean, really, honestly good and kissed?”That Thing You Do

Billy Wilder would be proud of Cameron Crowe after Jerry Maguire and Say Anything. James L. Brooks was another Crowe influence and pray he can impel young filmmakers to make stories half as brilliant as Broadcast News or As Good As It Gets. Robert Zemeckis outclassed traditional romantics with Forrest Gump and Cast Away, a pair of films that normally wouldn’t even be labeled as “romances.” Don’t ignore the love amidst the satire of Steve Martin’s L.A. Story or the fragile connection between Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater in Untamed Heart. There’s nothing wrong with When Harry Met Sally or There’s Something About Mary and I’m proud to admit that While You Were Sleeping is as solid as anything on this list. If Julia Roberts is your gal, forget about Pretty Woman and instead substitute My Best Friend’s Wedding or Notting Hill. You can even look further out of the country to imports like Amelie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Life is Beautiful (the first hour anyway.) For true old-fashioned brilliance though, go with Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin’s classically rooted The American President, the weak-kneed poetry of Shakespeare in Love or the boy-meets-girl simplicity of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. If you can’t find the makings of love in these films, then we’re all doomed.

“Now that was when people KNEW how to be in love. They knew it! Time, distance... nothing could separate them because they knew. It was right. It was real. It was...”
“A movie! That's your problem! You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.”
Sleepless in Seattle

Movies are a large part of our lives. They are great social interactors, personal healers, and for a lucky some, a way to make a living. We learn from the mistakes we make in our lives, especially in our romantic foibles. (Men probably more than women, since many seem to end up with the same kind of men they swore they would never get involved with ever again.) In that way, maybe relationships are just like the movies. Perhaps that explains why we keep getting involved with the same types of movies over and over again. Maybe this one will be different, despite what friends and critics tell you. Heed the advice you hear, you’ll either save yourself a pair of hours and Alexander Hamiltons or you will be guided to a very special experience that will stay with you for years. Still with me?

“Hello? We live in a cynical world. A cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors. Can a movie show us the very truth and nature of love? I bear witness to the wager, and will be the judge of it as occasion arises. Do you wish Rhett never loved Scarlett? Rick didn't have Ilsa or Harry never loved Sally? Someone once said it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Succeed or fail, we must make the attempt, it's our nature. Now if it were up to me, as it usually is, I would order this. But it’s not. But I must point out the possibilities, the potential, for true love and happiness are equally great. Risk... risk is our business. That's what relationships are all about. That's why we're out there. It would be nice to think that since I was 14, times have changed. Relationships have become more sophisticated. Females less cruel. Skins thicker. Instincts more developed. Maybe love shouldn't be such hard work. If you never take it seriously then you never get hurt. If you never get hurt then you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely you can just go to the movies and visit your friends. Do you believe in love at first sight? Nah, I betcha don't, you're probably too sensible for that. Or have you ever, like, seen somebody? And you knew that, if only that person really knew you, they would, well, they would of course dump the perfect model that they were with, and realize that YOU were the one that they wanted to, just, grow old with. Have you ever fallen in love with someone you haven't even talked to?

Why is it that we don't always recognize the moment when love begins but we always know when it ends? If you start out depressed everything's kind of a pleasant surprise. Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If needy were a turn-on? To repress one's feelings only makes them stronger. Let your mind go and your body will follow. You know how it is, the beginnings? When you first fall in love and you can't eat, you can't sleep and getting a call from her, it makes your day. It's like seeing a shooting star. A beautiful girl can make you dizzy, like you've been drinking Jack and Coke all morning. She can make you feel high full of the single greatest commodity known to man--promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow. This particular aura can be found in the gait of a beautiful girl. In her smile, in her soul, the way she makes every rotten little thing about life seem like its going to be okay.

The world is full of guys. Be a man. If you love someone you say it, you say it right then, out loud. Otherwise the moment just...passes you by. Knowing is the easy part; saying it out loud is the hard part. Love is not a big enough word. Love above all. No...not the artful postures of love, not playful and poetical games of love for the amusement of an evening, but love that...over-throws life. Unbendable, ungovernable--like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love--like there has never been. A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true. Like a sickness and its cure together. This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime.

Have you ever let a romantic moment make you do something that you knew was stupid? Just knowing that a version like that exists, knowing that just for a minute she felt that and wrote I can't help loving you. That has to be worth something. Sometimes what seems like surrender isn't surrender at all. It's about what's going on in our hearts. About seeing clearly the way life is and accepting it and being true to it, whatever the pain, because the pain of not being true to it is far, far greater. We're all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on a grand scale, most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the some total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, Human happiness does not seem to be included in the design of creation. It is only we, with our capacity to love that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and even try to find joy from simple things, like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. One question: do you need someone or do you need me? - I don't care. There's someone out there for everyone - even if you need a pickaxe, a compass, and night goggles to find them. The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. Love is like oxygen. Love is a many-splendored thing, love lifts us up where we belong, all you need is love! Love is passion, obsession, someone you can't live without. If you don't start with that, what are you going to end up with? Fall head over heels. I say find someone you can love like crazy and who'll love you the same way back. Forget your head and listen to your heart. Run the risk, if you get hurt, you'll come back. Because, the truth is there is no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love - well, you haven't lived a life at all. You have to try. Because if you haven't tried, you haven't lived. I'm not a smart man, but I know what love is. Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at hello.”

Movies are the new poetry. Not everyone can quote Keats or Longfellow, but you can always turn to a Crowe, Brooks or Wilder. Then you can seek out films like Dopamine, The Shape of Things and A Foreign Affair. You might not even be aware that you’re speaking in movie lines or even hearing them. But when the right ones come along, there’s one thing for certain. You will be feeling it. And that’s as good as love. Or is it?

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originally posted: 02/14/03 16:39:18
last updated: 12/31/03 08:06:29
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