Pop Culture Pet Peeve: Why must the meet-cute always be so cute?

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There’s an implicit agreement we make when we go to the movies for a bit of magic and respite from the toils of our daily lives. In exchange for an hour-and-a-half-or-so of cinematic bliss, we suspend our disbelief so 3-D monsters, supernatural creatures, impossibly beautiful protagonists, and life-or-death scenarios can come to life without skeptical-moviegoer disruption. But there is a genre at which I think we must take a stand, and that’s the beloved rom-com — a.k.a. the genre that gave Katherine Heigl a career beyond Roswell (oh, and that little Grey’s Anatomy show).

I’m not poised to take down the entire romantic-comedy genre, but rather an insufferable plot device that says women only meet guys while in distress, as a lovable clumsy nutcase, or by the grace of a higher being. In romantic comedies, this particular plot conceit is called the meet-cute, in which the movie’s two love interests meet face to face. Yes, by the name, the nature of the meeting is supposed to be sweet and oh-so-charming, but I think it is the falsely named meet-cute that is responsible for millions of female moviegoers’ unrealistic expectations for meeting men and subsequent depression over finding themselves by their lonesome at their neighborhood faux-French cafes and indie bookshops (or is that just me?).

I got to chewing this over after watching the final installation of the Before Sunrise series. Celine (Julie Delpy) originally meets Jesse (Ethan Hawke) on a train to Vienna. Celine is literally doing nothing, just looking pretty and reading a book, when a dashingly scruffy Jesse approaches her. Yes, this is a movie, and yes, Jesse has to meet her somehow, according to script logic, but when does this actually happen in real life? If a random dude complimented your literary taste on the L train and extended the chitchat to inquiring on your hopes and dreams in life, wouldn’t you be creeped out instead of turned on? Meanwhile, in the Sex and the City series, Charlotte meets Trey in the middle of the street at night, after his cab nearly runs her over. In one fell movie swoop, Trey is her perfectly coiffed hero and prince. They even manage to sneak in some witty banter despite the traffic hubbub. If this happened in real life, I would be in shock after almost dying, I wouldn’t be able to hear Trey’s voice due to the din of cabs, and, oh alrighty, I’d press charges against Trey and his driver for nearly killing me! At the end of 500 Days of Summer, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets his new prospect Autumn (seasonal fetish, anyone?), played by Minka Kelly, because they are both competing for the same architect job. He asks her out for coffee even before he’s heard who got the job. In real life, if I were Autumn, I’d stalk his Linkedin and Facebook to find his weaknesses and make sure I got my thank-you note to my interviewer before agreeing to go out with my competitor.

Meeting men in the movies makes it seem so effortless, and there’s nary an OkCupid account in sight. I’d like to see one romantic comedy where the meet-cute is slightly realistic, meeting through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, or through a college class, or through any way that doesn’t involve an actress conveniently spilling something on someone’s oxford.

What other meet-cutes in movies infuriate you? Or if they don’t, what meet-cutes are the most memorable?

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