Monday, January 11, 2010

Somebody's Watching You: Can Movies Make Stalking Romantic?

It is always refreshing to watch a movie that, armed with a dedicated cast and miniscule budget, reinvents a genre. Marianna Palka’s directorial debut Good Dick is one such movie. The title is misleading because while it does include its fair share of adult content, the movie is most importantly an authentic and hopeful film that challenges all the predictable romantic comedy stereotypes.

The basic plot is this; a “man” (he is never named in the film) who works in a video rental store becomes interested in a troubled “woman” who comes in every day to rent erotic videos. He gets her address from the rental directory and begins an incredibly bizarre courtship, one that involves him attempting to win her affections while slowly becoming a permanent part of her life.

What makes this movie so fascinating is the dynamic between the lead characters, played by Marianna Palka and Jason Ritter (who are also a couple off-camera). Their interaction is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to watch. The “man” does everything he can to win the “woman’s” trust despite the fact that she continually ignores or rejects him. Most of the time she is blatantly abusive. The fact that he sticks around, living amidst a constant strain of belittling insults, borders on masochist (in one of the more comic moments of the film, Ritter's character ends a heated argument by nonchalantly stating, "I love you. This fight is over.").

Yet stick around he does. He visits her at her apartment, starts spending the night, and eventually moves in with her. At which point you have to ask yourself…when did stalking become an acceptable form of courtship? I then realized that some of my other favorite movies also involve stalking. The follow-you-home-and-watch-you-through-your-window kind of stalking. For example:

Bed of Roses. A florist sees a woman crying in her window and follows her to work the next morning. Surely he wants to strangle her and wear her skin as a coat….no, he just wants to show her his elaborate rooftop garden.

50 First Dates. A marine biologist falls in love with a woman who suffers from short-term memory loss so he memorizes her schedule and “accidentally” runs into her every day…because come on, is it really stalking if she can’t remember it?

Untamed Heart. A shy busboy follows a waitress home every night to make sure she makes it there safely. Oh yeah, and he also climbs into her room and watches her sleep…isn’t breaking and entering cute?

Apparently one person’s creepy is my adorable. Blind romanticism and willful suspension of disbelief only got me so far before I had a “WTF???” moment of enlightenment. In reality I am fairly certain these women would have reacted much less favorably than they did in these movies, responses ranging from concerned to terrified.

Now my friend says ‘it’s only stalking if you don’t like the guy.’ True, but I think this explanation is too simplistic and one that gives the concept of initial attraction way too much credit. The female characters in Good Dick and 50 First Dates certainly didn’t like the male characters initially but over time they became interested. Time that was entirely facilitated by stalking.

‘It’s only stalking if he’s not a nice guy’ may be more accurate? These guys are sweet, caring, and most importantly harmless. At times they may be shy or awkward but serial killers they are not. But I believe the romance of it all has more to do with the dedication of these particular male characters and what that says about their masculinity. When asked by Chris Wilkinson of Eye for Film whether Ritter’s character was justified in his actions, Palka responded:

“What makes his character a hero is that he is very consistent. He has a very quiet strength and a real patience, which is an interesting thing to include in an illustration of masculinity.”

The women in these films have some deeply rooted issues. Whether it’s a history of abuse or a physical brain disorder they have some understandable difficulties trusting people. The fact that these men end up stalking the object of their affection may seem over the top but it may also be the only way to prove to these women that they aren’t going anywhere. Actions speak louder than words, especially when 90% of the population is relationship ADD. These guys are real people who see other real people, people who are different but deserve to be loved, and they are patient enough to stick around and prove it to them.

Gentle, patient, dedicated, and consistent is a far cry from the traditional masculine image of powerful, confrontational, and charismatic. Some may read “gentle and patient” as “pushover” but that is not the case. These men are confident even if in some cases it is a subdued confidence. After all, you have to be confident to be a stalker don‘t you? What would be the point if you didn’t honestly believe that you were charming enough to win them over if you just hang around them long enough?

This form of courtship is not a new concept. Chivalry, still frequently referenced as the model for polite male behavior, was built around unhealthy and unrealistic obsessions. A chivalrous knight defined his masculinity by dedicating his entire existence to a worthy lady of status. This poor man would write sonnets, fight battles, and possibly even die defending the honor of some woman that in all likelihood he would never even meet. This level of dedication seems unnecessary. If I am going to die defending the honor of a man he better buy me dinner first.

Stalking is also unnecessary and certainly not the romantic standard I would hold someone to, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that level of dedication and patience more often. Just remember, its all fun and games until someone gets a restraining order.

Read the entire Eye for Film interview with Marianna Palka and Jason Ritter here.


  1. After reading this, I can't believe you didn't like Twilight!
    Anyway, I love your writing. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks Hannah! That's a good point and one that I will have to think about. Maybe it is because Edward glitters? I think I draw the line at men who glitter. :)

    Also breaking sister has switched from Team Edward to Team Jacob. I am expecting a massive fallout.

  3. Does this mean you aren't a David Bowie fan anymore? That makes me sad.
    And don't blame your sister. She could bake cookies on those abs. Who doesn't like cookies?