It’s easy to poke fun at Hollywood (fun too), but the underlying problem with such a massive industry relying so heavily on visual cliches is that it works. From action films to romantic comedies, we the audience respond to the cliches because we don’t really want something new and different. We want our fix of stories that validate our utterly imaginary view of the world. We know when we see a movie poster with the starring actor and actress back-to-back smirking at each other over their shoulders that we are going to get a story we’ve seen a billion times already that will end with a wedding. We know when we see Jason Statham in black and white on a movie poster that the movie’s climax will include Statham kicking the bad guy in the face to right the wrong/avenge the death/rescue the girl/kid.
And it’s okay. Sometimes you just need to see a happy wedding or see a guy get kicked in the face.
What is more interesting about the so-called critics’ complaints about Hollywood cliches is how they revile the films that break the formula.
<i>The Break-up</i> was advertised with a cliche movie poster featuring the starring couple in the bed staring out at the camera much like those other rom-coms on the site linked above. The problem is that the movie wasn’t the cliche. It didn’t end in a wedding. The plot was constructed in exactly the same way as all the others, but in that archetypical scene where the man confesses his fear of commitment and the woman confesses to her obsessiveness, instead of it ending with a reuniting, it ends with a explicit rejection. In <i>The Break-Up</i> both parties acknowledgement the failure of the relationship, and both come to accept it’s revival or rehabilitation as futile, pointless, and ultimately what neither one wants. And the film ends with them going their separate ways, not into the arms of anyone else, just alone into the world.
In the film, Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston play the same characters they always play, and yet the critics panned it precisely because it didn’t match the hackneyed formula they claim to hate. And yet the film portrays relationships more accurately than other rom-coms do. So the criticism of this film amounts to it failing to represent the fantasy but choosing to depict the reality.
Another film that everyone hated because it broke the mold was Guy Ritchie’s <i>Revolver</i>. The film is presented as something of a thriller a mystery wrapped in a heist film, when in fact it a brilliantly insightful meditation on greed, ego, and identity.
But when critics didn’t get it, they panned it. Their criticism upon the film’s UK premiere was so brutal that it forced Ritchie to drastically recut the film, delaying its US release for over a year. The result is that <i>Revolver (UK 2005)</i> is an entirely different film from <i>Revolver (US 2006)</i>, in which some scenes are deleted, dialogue is altered, scenes are cut in a different order (often breaking continuity), there is a different ending, an idiotic postscript from pop-psychologists like of Deepak Chopra and a voiceover from Statham that attempts to fill in the gaps for the hapless critics. And when US critics still didn’t get it, they blamed Madonna for piquing for Ritchie’ interest in Kabbalah. Because it’s okay to mock religious beliefs as long as they aren’t popular ones. Right, Scientology?
The reason so many movie posters are rehashes of the same visual cliches is because they advertise films which are themselves derivative, hackneyed and trite. And this is really what audiences want. The rule-breaking, mind-bending, truth-telling films are out there. You can find them by checking the bottom of the box-office receipts list each week.