Saturday, September 21, 2013

That Lovin' Feelin'

I'm in a very sappy mood today, so I decided to write about a movie couple that is near and dear to my heart.

If you knew me back in the early 2000's you would no doubt have suffered many discussions (actually, me just talking at you) about Sam Raimi's masterful film series Spider-Man, featuring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Those two actors are the key to the entire franchise's success, regardless of what everyone else has to say. I will explain my reasoning for this opinion.

Let me start by saying that I was appalled by the reboot, Amazing Spider-Man, and even walked out of the theater halfway through the film. The characters didn't connect with me on any level, and they felt like cardboard cutouts of the once three-dimensional people I had come to know and love over the course of eight years with Raimi's trilogy. As much as I like Emma Stone as an actress, her portrayal of Gwen Stacy never resonated with me the way Kirsten Dunst's emotional portrayal of Mary-Jane did. As Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker said, "This story is about a girl. That girl." And Miss Dunst nailed it on the head every time.

If you have (or haven't - go out and rent this movie immediately!) seen Spider-Man, watch the scene where Peter returns from testing out his new spider abilities. He's neglected his uncle's plea for help in painting the kitchen and walks in to find that his aunt and uncle are out, finished with the painting. Now Peter comes down from his emotional high with a fresh wave of guilt at forgetting to help his family. He goes outside to take out the trash and runs into who else but the gorgeous Mary-Jane Watson. The girl next door.

Watch through this scene. Do you feel the chemistry and tension between these two characters? The secret that the audience knows is that Peter and MJ need each other, but they just don't know it yet. It works, and it works so well that by the time we get to the finale where MJ is hanging hundreds of feet above death, waiting to be rescued, we are on the edge of our seat, biting our nails to see if she is rescued by Peter (as Spider-Man) or not. It also tugs at our heart strings when we are told by Peter that he can't be with MJ because...he just wants to be friends. Of course, that's just a cover-up for his alter-ego, but MJ doesn't know that. It's the right amount of drama to leave us hanging until the sequel hits (which took so long to arrive, but was so worth it, and is my favorite super hero movie of all time).

Why do these characters work together?

Well, they both have their inner demons, their shortcomings, and their dreams. They have lives outside of high-school and ambitions. They also see each other for who they want to be. Peter encourages MJ to go for her dreams of being an actress, even as her father and boyfriend at the time tell her that she has no chance. MJ encourages Peter to go for a job at being a photographer. In short, these characters are there for each other in a way that everyone else is not. They complete each other. They are good for each other. And we want them together! That desire to see these characters as a couple is what keeps us watching.

I could write an entire post about the new Amazing Spider-Man and how it botched this entire framework, Not to mention that Andrew Garfield's version of Peter Parker flat-out tells Gwen Stacy that he's Spider-Man halfway through the film - all the emotional tension was zapped from the plot before the story even began. Don't do this in your own work, please! Keep the romantic tension. Keep the characters mysterious to a point. We all keep our own secrets as human beings. Nobody will ever know us completely. But, in the case of Peter and MJ, there's a chance that someone can see us for who we want to be and encourage us to go for it. That's what kindles the love between them.