Art is supposed to imitate life. If it didn’t, all artwork would be as meaningless as useless post-post-postmodernism. This old idiom is so true it applies to the current razzle-dazzle movie industry. Sure, every film school ever would scorn the crap that Hollywood puts out and call it the absolute antithesis of art, but the film industry caters to the wants and need of the masses. As world-renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell says, the myth is the story of a culture’s collective conscious, and, like it or not, the things we vote for with our dollars tell the story of who we are as a people. The latest “myth” that Hollywood has attempted — and failed — to profit on is the romance between fuck buddies.
“No Strings Attached,” starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, was the first on the assault on romance. Half the film tried to establish a relationship between the two through a series of brief encounters years apart, as if talking to a person every 10 years constitutes any sort of friendship, and suddenly they start doing the nasty. They grow closer over time, but Natalie Portman’s character is damaged and afraid of commitment. She cuts Ashton’s character out of her life for a very long time. He slowly starts to get over her, she changes her mind, stalks him a bit, sees him on a date with another girl and gives up. This all sounds like something that might happen. Then the plot takes a major jump and Ashton Kutcher makes a last ditch effort for his “beloved,” she gets over her lifetime of commitment issues, and they live happily ever after. Of course, both players have to be afraid of a substantial relationship to make the “No Strings Attached” theme work, but the happily-ever-after that the audience really wants doesn’t make sense in the context of this turbulent and confused relationship.
The next and even more illogical film Hollywood pumped out about this new phenomenon is aptly called “Friends with Benefits.” This time Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star. Both characters have trust issues when it comes to the opposite sex. They are bros and feel comfortable enough to talk about sex and even share advice when trying to date other people. This seems like the ideal fuck buddies situation! How satisfied the audience must be seeing for themselves that this myth seems to be a feasible way of satisfying the need for companionship and sex without having sex complicate the initial bromance! Beautiful! Of course, it blew up in everyone’s face and Justin Timberlake said and did some unforgivable things to Mila. And then whoa! Justin magically organizes a flash mob in Grand Central Station to Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” Voila! Instant happy couple. Really? Really? Are people meant to believe that the best friend and lover that turned on you and used your deepest darkest secrets and insecurities to torture you because they have feelings for you and are trying to push you away because they fear commitment is someone you can forgive after a freaking flash mob? Hell no. No. Not even. The myth once again does not capture the desires and trials of the human condition.
The one film of this genre that really captures the emotional destruction and a satisfying happy ending is “Friends (With Benefits).” The conceit that drives the plot is a group of friends having a session with a therapist about their sex problems. The film explores what happens when a group of friends try experimenting together. In one case, two best friends have actually been in love with each other for years and decide to sleep together, saying that it is for physical needs while both secretly wanting to be with their bestie. Aw. There’s drama, and romance that doesn’t defy the physics of the heart. The other friends explore promiscuity, homosexuality, infidelity and the dangers of acting without thought of the consequences. These folks are messed up, but they are believable and shed an accurate light on the emotional consequences of mucking up friendships with sex. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s life and the truth. More importantly, it is the myth that captures this generation’s sexual exploration.