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February 11, 2011updated 29 Jan 2016 11:17am

Laugh, Actually

By Alessandro Tome

What do sucker-fish, romantic comedies and nouveaux riches ski resorts have in common? Not a lot, though they all make me giggle, says Alessandro Tomé
THERE IS NO doubt I am a sucker for romcoms. And don’t snigger: most of you are suckers for LibCons and the rest shouldn’t be reading this magazine anyway. Having voted for Labour a fourth time puts you in a sucker league all of your own.

Yes, I do love it when they make a comedy out of romance. It is nearly the only genre of movie I buy to watch at home, to the despair of Angel Wife. She doesn’t begrudge the occasional one, but wouldn’t mind it interspersed with the odd spattering of thrillers. We think she suffers from some sort of short-term disk memory issue, where the space is nearly full and old files have to be deleted to take on new ones. The good news is that once I find four movies she likes in a particular year, I can play them to her on a loop and she will think she is watching a great new movie every time. In between, I am allowed to watch all the romcoms I want.

My two recent favourites — which doesn’t mean they are recent movies, just that I have recently discovered them — were the French L’arnacoeur, savagely translated into Heartbreaker for Anglo-Saxon consumption, and the American The Ugly Truth. Both were different takes on the common theme of men and women and their dysfunctional interaction. Actually, now that I think of it, it is interesting that the gay-rights brigade hasn’t sought to ban heterosexual romcoms as discriminating, to be replaced by equal-opportunity ones. There would be plenty of dysfunction to depict there, and not only romantic or comedic. Or perhaps it is just that there isn’t likely to be much money in it. After all, don’t they say the way to men’s hearts is through their wallet?

They do say that romcoms are the main reason for unhappy relationships, as they depict love and romance in an unrealistic, unattainable way. The fact that a whole generation of adults seems to have missed the general idea that movies are make-believe makes me think that we should consider reintroducing breaks during movies, as they still do in St Moritz: lights on, ice cream in the foyer, but with added ‘reality’ disclaimers projected on to the screen.

But I disagree on several accounts. I for one get happy when watching them with Angel Wife, as we look at each other continuously during emotional moments, trembling lips and fluttering eyes, which is when she tells me I am silly. But most of all, romcoms and rom-dramas are not very good at make-believe. Take Indecent Proposal: how can we really believe that, being married to Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore would find it difficult to sleep with Robert Redford (a few years ago) for a million bucks? With all the plastic surgery that would buy her? Get her to marry Ashton Kutcher and have to sleep with Danny DeVito, then maybe we buy into that dilemma (she didn’t, did she?). They are much better at make-believe in war, disease, torture and death, perhaps because those are the more natural traits of our species. It seems much easier to realistically depict hate.

The ugly truth is that romcoms don’t depict the ugly truth of relationships. For instance, in the ‘turn to your friends to help save your marriage’ category, the friends’ advice for fighting for a marriage is not inspired by love and sacrifice, but for practising an open marriage, both doing what you want, and taking the kids for idiots who don’t mind, either.

In the same category, but with Men in a Leading Role, there is safety in numbers for husbands going on business or shooting trips to castles where the bags are big, the only birds Estonian and the business is strictly cash and not Strictly Dancing. But in both cases, the marriages are preserved blissfully happy and the households serene, just like in romcoms. Ugly or seedy, perhaps, but the same result, they would argue.

But where I find most discrepancy with romcoms is in the ‘finding new love after a serious break-up’ category. Here the depictions invariably lead to pretty, young, sexy and intelligent things for males, and young, romantic, handsome, sensitive, rich things for females. The ugly truth is that, again, this is mostly untrue. Females I know have gone for a variety of alternatives, although most do contain the ‘rich’ part of it: we have the older — no, actually, plain old — intelligent but shortish, mildly unattractive rich one, or the ‘reformed’ middle-aged serial cheat.

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A current favourite is the billionaire with ailing sight (always helpful, as they ain’t getting any prettier, either) or the classic plain rich, crass, fat, ex-alcoholic type. Other than the fashionista who has no choice but to opt for the poor artist for fear of losing her credibility, or the ‘creative’ heiress who plumps for the twice-her-age rock star to shock her prim friends, they mostly seem to go for PORK, the Pretty Old but Rich Kind.

And you would think men would be falling over themselves to be surrounded by pretty young things. But here, apart from the odd ones going through mid-life crises and the aforementioned shooting trip types that got caught, the ugly truth is that they don’t. They may temporarily dabble in chandelier-swinging for a night or two — and the fittest ones for even a month or two — but mostly they have been there, done that and grown up.

Also, at their age, the back tends to go quite quickly when swinging, whether from chandeliers or at the Killing Kittens club. And so, surprising as it may seem, they tend to go for a SOW, a Sexy Older Woman: women who keep them interested beyond the length of a G-string and have a personality deeper than a puddle.

So I don’t think romcoms ruin relationships for their rose-tinted depictions; more perhaps they put their finger where it may be uncomfortable for some, as comedy often can. And laughter still beats the ugly truth most days.

An easy way to know how world economies are doing is to go skiing in places such as Gstaad or, even more so, St Moritz. While skiing has become more and more affordable over the past 50 years, and even St Moritz has a Club Med, winter sports — or, rather, posh winter resorts — still seem to attract newly enriched people.

The nouveaux riches (arguably better than anciens pauvres) have a well-established path to what they perceive as recognition. It meanders through a mix of Château Mouton, Lafite and Pétrus, a drizzle of minor Picassos or a major Monet or Cézanne, now punctuated with some hideous Damien Hirst or worse, and a house in London or New York.

Invariably, though, it fairly early on passes GO in the form of an over-the-top ski holiday, with all the bells and whistles: suites in any hotel with the word Palace in it, caviar-gorged terrace lunches, furred-up head to toe, sparkly dinners, dressing up in the latest Cavalli and long nights with the biggest bottle in the hot clubs.

But the best part is saved for the pistes themselves. No expense is spared on the latest kit, the loudest outfits, the tackiest jackets with most fur — and that’s just the kids. Parents add layers of jewellery and lashings of perfume, Swarovski-encrusted helmets and goggles, too. Hordes of teachers stand at the ready to carry all the aforementioned kit from gondola to terrace, with the exceptional one actually taking the plunge and trying to ski. And what fun to watch from a safe distance — all that gloss and sparkle and colour reduced to no better than a drunken walrus on Valium, until the inevitable wipeout in slow motion.

No prize for guessing this year’s winners: the Chinese were really giving the Russians a run for their money — all of which used to be yours.

If you are the type that has an occasional orgasm just by having their toes sucked, you may want to consider doing this at home. For the rest of you that merely enjoy it without wobbling at the knees at the hint of a tickle, here is something you must try, if only to make it seem as if there is no recession. As a friend who really enjoyed it said, this must be a sign of decadent society when we pay to have our feet pedicured by schools of sucking fish from Turkey.

The unions obviously haven’t heard about them yet, as I’m sure Unite will strike over foreign fish getting the perks. But I think Aqua Sheko is on to something here. It really works and the family loved it — until Angel Wife turned out to be one of those loud ones that should practise this at home.

Illustration by Jeremy Leasor

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