Once upon a time, romantic comedies were about people coyly playing hard-to-get. These days they’re playing ‘hard-to-get-rid-of’. Any morality displayed by a protagonist is short-lived as they have no problem hopping into bed with the clichéd wrong person. Or they’re shagging the right person at the wrong time. This scenario is in every single film categorised as romantic comedy, dramedy or whatever. The thing is that we watch these movies because some aspect of these characters engages us. We see something of ourselves in them and that is what makes these films so popular. The characters succeed in a way that hardly ever happens in real-life, if at all. More and more however, I end up shaking my head or fist at these films because the portrayals are less and less appealing to me. It’s because the women are not ladies and the men are not gentlemen. Prince Charming is certainly MIA.
Who was Prince Charming anyway? He was the handsome hero of fairy tales who rescued princesses trapped in towers, kitchens and comas. Sometimes, he needed to be rescued, and then made sure that his fearless princess lived happily ever after. He was the quintessential knight-in-shining-armour embodying purity, courage, strength, kindness, gentility and chivalry. Readers in search of a chivalry-fix have been getting it since the late 1800’s readers from Sir Thomas Mallory’s King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. These are the best known heroes of derring-do, travelling the English countryside looking for villains to vanquish and victims to rescue. However unlike Prince Charming, some of these knights were flawed individuals and deeply conflicted. They fought against pride, vanity, greed and covetousness. Some overcame their baser desires and found redemption while others met tragic ends. Under the shining armour was a mere human being, prone to make mistakes and sometimes failure. Prince Charming may not have been real or realistic but that’s no excuse to toss him aside. He is still something to aspire to and there’s nothing wrong with that.
A modern Prince Charming may be MIA on the big screen but he is alive and well on the small. Look no further than the Hallmark channel. The women of our household love Hallmark’s romantic movies. Treacly yarns where decent, hardworking and successful women find true love with decent, hardworking and successful men. Families are functional, healthy and loving. Children are sassy and verbose but obedient. Everybody lives in or around picturesque cities and towns. There’s always a twist or problem to make the pretty people frown or cry. However, all is resolved and leads to wonderfully G-rated happy endings in under two hours with commercials. Nobody is doing anything “strange for some change” in these movies as the women are real ladies and men are not just gentlemen but modern-day Prince Charmings.
Sex & the City may have represented every kind of loser but Hallmark channel movies represent every kind of winner. There is a Hallmark man for every lady. Do you need a fun-loving yin to your pent-up, workaholic yang? Go gaga for David Sutcliffe in The Wish List. As an eccentric barista, he served up Jennifer Esposito with wit, charm and unconditional support that encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Handsome, adoring and although not wealthy, he adores you and knows just how you like morning coffee? That’s a Hallmark man!
If your ex-husband is a knucklehead cheater and absentee father, couldn’t you do with a manly man who will not only appreciate you but be an attentive father figure for your precocious child? In Meet My Mom (aka Soldier Love Story) Lori Loughlin is swept off her feet by smouldering, alpha-male Johnny Messner as a sensitive, baseball playing, emotionally available, divorced soldier who genuinely cares about her son. He marched his way into her heart with respectful adoration and unconditional support that encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Of course, he was fun, exciting, a very good kisser and enjoyed her company but never tried to get into her knickers. That’s a Hallmark man! Sensing a pattern here?
I admit that Hallmark movies aren’t perfect. They may be in HD now but the dialogue can be cheesy. The soundtrack is often intrusive and distracting. In Uncorked and Flower Girl the overpowering music made it difficult to hear the actors. Sometimes the background music even mismatches the action. In A Stranger’s Heart there was suspenseful music during a party scene. I was half-expecting an axe murder to jump out at some point. Broad characterisations and predictable storylines with people of colour always relegated to small or supporting roles. The darkest leading man I’ve seen thus far is Mark Consuelos in For the Love of Grace. Hopefully there will be more cosmopolitan couples in future productions.
Truly Hallmark romance movies will always be labelled as a guilty pleasure. However, they tap into a hope that all people have. We all hope to find love and romance with no strings or pressure. No one should compromise their values to please some stranger who wants to take over your life than be part of it. The hero never once told his rescued princess, “Hey girl, I really like you and all but I don’t know if I’m ready to settle down just yet. Maybe we can just be friends with benefits for a while and see where things go from there. Just doing what feels good is the most important thing, right. Cool?” No, not cool. That’s never cool and never happens on the Hallmark channel where Prince Charming is alive and well. He may not be picture perfect anymore but his modern version is still keeping us entertained and starry-eyed every weekend.