Jennifer O'Connell: Creepy, Actually: Romcoms mistake harassment for romance

Is it time we looked with a more critical eye on the stories we tell about falling in love

Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn in Management:  “Boy Wants Girl, Girl Doesn’t Want Boy, Boy Harasses Girl, Boy Gets Girl”

Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn in Management: “Boy Wants Girl, Girl Doesn’t Want Boy, Boy Harasses Girl, Boy Gets Girl”

There is a scene in Love Actually where Keira Knightley’s character is happily watching TV with her husband of just a few weeks, when the doorbell rings. She goes downstairs and there is her husband’s best friend, putting his finger to his lips, and holding up cards which instruct her to lie to her husband about who’s at the door, and culminate in the message “without hope or agenda” that he loves her. “To me, you are perfect,” the cards read. Isn’t it sweet? Sad? Romantic? Well, no. When you really think about it, it isn’t love, actually, so much as creepy, actually.

Or what about the entire plot of There’s Something About Mary, which is based on a guy who falls in love with a girl after a single date, and spends the next 13 years obsessed with her, before eventually sending a private detective to stalk her. Over the course of the film, Mary ends up pursued with varying degrees of persistence by five different men. Or 2016’s Oscar-winning La La Land, in which Ryan Gosling plays a sneering jazz freak, whose response to a woman saying she hates jazz is to insist on educating her by, as Hadley Freeman in the Guardian pointed out, “taking her to a jazz club on every date thereafter”. But it’s okay because he’s “a romantic”.

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