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Pop Torture: Valentine's Day
One writer sees the movie Valentine's Day on Valentine's Day. Alone.
by James Brady Ryan
Welcome to Pop Torture, a biweekly column in which I embrace my pop-culture masochism and search out the most painful ways to experience the movies, TV, and music that fill our lives with such ecstasy and agony. (Needless to say, I'll mostly be focusing on the latter.) Each week I'll take on a new challenge, and each week I'll share my adventures with you, provided I survive them.
Challenge: To see the movie Valentine's Day on Valentine's Day. Alone.
I have been single for just about two years now. (Somehow I have avoided becoming some sort of male Miss Havisham.) As such, I don't have particularly strong feelings about Valentine's Day. I recognize that I should either be starry-eyed about its lovey-doveyness or enraged by its cruelty to all single people the world over, but I also recognize that I don't live in a Cathy cartoon. I'm perfectly fine ignoring it if I don't have a special someone to feed me chocolate-covered diamonds or whatever. But despite that nonchalance, I still have my pride. It's one thing to avoid Valentine's Day by hanging out with your friends or staying out of nice restaurants, but no one should voluntarily put himself in a VD-heavy situation if he's not looking for at least a little pain.
The Pre-Show: I arrived at my local movie theater at 4:15 in the afternoon to see Valentine's Day, this year's version of He's Just Not That Into You directed by Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride veteran Gary Marshall. I reserved my tickets early as a precaution; who in their right mind would actually go to this movie with their loved one for a Valentine's Day activity? But as I stood in line at the ticket kiosk, I watched a young couple holding hands in front of me as they worked the touch-screen.
"Sold out?! I don't know, I don't want to wait for two hours for the next one," the man said.
I prayed they were talking about Percy Jackson and the Olympians. But no: not one, but two showings of the movie were sold out. As I retrieved my single ticket, I realized that my dreams of an empty theater were dead, and found the lobby filled with couples in their twenties and thirties. With such a concentration, all rules about PDA were thrown out the window: there were no body parts left un-hugged, no cheeks left unkissed.
In a pre-emptive move to fill the growing hole in my soul, I waited on line to get a popcorn bag the size of my face. As the line crawled along, the couple in front of me — only couples seemed to be in attendance — argued about their snacks.
"But I want Milk Duds."
"But I want Sour Patch Kids."
But I wanted cyanide. Not that anyone was asking.
In the theater were exactly three groups of people: couples out on a date, girlfriends out with girlfriends for a girlfriend night, and me. I'd thought that arriving twenty minutes early would be fine, but there were almost no seats left. I spotted one on the aisle that seemed empty, but next to it was one saved with a sweater. I didn't want to break up some friendly polyamorous couple, so I checked with the boy sitting another seat down: "Excuse me, is this seat taken?"
"Oh. Uh... sorry, there's only one seat there," he said.
I could have nodded and walked on, reassuring that boy that I totally had a boyfriend or girlfriend somewhere around here, thank you very much. But I could see this scene replaying itself several times, and so I sat down and avoided eye contact, dreading the moment his girlfriend would come back from the bathroom and wonder who this guy was who'd decided to sit next to her all by himself.
The Movie: If you've heard anything about this film, it's that about half of Hollywood is in it. (The opening credits ran for what seemed like ten minutes.) Set in an alternate reality in which treating Valentine's Day with anything but cult-like reverence is tantamount to punching a nun in the face, the film follows the lives of two-hundred-or-so L.A. residents as they intersect on this greatest of holidays. It was a lot like Crash — more specifically Cronenberg's Crash, since the people around me were all getting disturbingly excited by a cinematic fifteen-car pile-up.
Ashton Kutcher lost Jessica Alba, but gained Jennifer Garner. Jessica Biel lost her dignity, but gained Jamie Foxx. Bradley Cooper and Eric Dane turned out to be gay, in a third-act reveal cleverly engineered to slip a token rainbow past middle America.
Result: Like I said, I tend to be pretty level-headed about Valentine's Day. But it turned out that, no matter how blasé I normally am about the holiday, it's hard not to succumb to a little bit of melancholy when you're surrounded by seemingly happy couples, watching other, more attractive happy couples be happy all over the greater L.A. metropolitan area. I felt despair at the joy of others. It was the opposite of schadenfreude. It was freudenschade.
So I left the theater, off to find someone to get drunk with. And I passed more than a few embracing couples, who took little notice of me as I wondered if I should stress-eat at the McDonald's nearby. On the street, when I wasn't forced to sit right next to them, I had to admit that their looks of happiness were a bit infectious. My cheerful attitude slowly returned as I found something I could truly love: a twenty-piece order of chicken McNuggets.