After watching the lighthearted and sweet silent romance It, I struggled over the question of what is the responsibility of the storyteller when it comes to depicting giving the characters consequences for their actions. It isolates the two romantic leads in a cushion of sex appeal and chemistry, insulating them from moral and societal obligations as well as distancing them from consequences.
Saleswoman Betty Lou Spence (Clara Bow) sets her sights on the rich and hansom Cyrus Waltham Jr. (Antonio Moreno), the new store manager. While her sexy flaunting and “accidents” fail to get the attention of Cyrus, they do catch the eye of Monty Montgomery (William Austin), close friend to Cyrus. Betty takes a chance and begins dating Monty to get closer to Cyrus, who as it happens is being pressured by his steady girl Molly (Priscilla Bonner) for something more engaging.
While the film wishes this unlikely romance to succeed, it becomes hard for one to share the sentiment when one begins to see how Cyrus and Betty treat everyone else around them. On the immediate romantic level, both lead on their potential romantic partner. Betty has no qualms in using the buffoonish and doting Monty as little more than a stepstool for a better man. Likewise, Cyrus fails to ever truly communicate or show interest in Molly, simply treating her like another fine object in his life.
So what is there compelling the audience to see these two enter a romantic relationship? The film’s answer is “it,” that hot, sexual aura that some people are effortlessly able to exude. It’s certainly true that Clara Bow and Antonio Moreno are two fine looking people, but is that all there is? Are beautiful people simply made for each other and hence the viewers should cheer on their pursuit for maximum hotness by coming together? Is the romantic drive truly that shallow?
Beyond the romantic relationship, the film also shows how both leads seem to have a shocking disregard for their closest friends. Cyrus is much more interested in appeasing higher-ups than giving his supposedly close friend Monty time of day, consistently disregarding and ignoring him to his personal detriment.
Betty’s situation is a bit more complicated. She shares her apartment with a mentally ill woman and her young infant. While Betty does provide them shelter, even going so far as to risk her societal reputation to protect them, when push comes to shove, she’s back off to the rat race for love, quickly sweeping aside the distraught mother and her child to hunt down her man.
While these relational issues in and of themselves do not make the story bad, what does is that these characters are never forced to face the consequences of their actions. There are tangible problems with the way these two treat everyone around them and how quick they are to disregard all else for romance. And without true consequences, the conflict and resolution is cheap and easy.
It is sexy and charming, but the film’s inability to make engaging characters makes the romance hollow. They’re left in their isolated orb of self-absorption, never forced to be challenged, to grow or become fully human. Great romances challenge the characters to change (those that do not are tragic romances) in order to make the relationship work and this is a notion a film like It cannot even begin to understand.
© 2012 James Blake Ewing