These Movies from the ’90s Shaped How You Think About Love

Sometimes it truly is best to leave the past in the past... and sometimes it's not

One of my first jobs was at a movie theater, and I loved it. I’ve always enjoyed the whole cinematic experience: settling in with a bowl of popcorn and a good story is my idea of a good any-night-of-the-week experience. When the idea of reviewing a few twenty-year-old movies from the 1990s came up, I pounced: What better way to spend your time, am I right? I mean, as someone who turned ten in 1995, the ’90s totally shaped my early views about relationships. I’ll get into it more in a minute, but for better or worse, I constructed entire marriage expectations around Bed of Roses.

From the perspective of this thirty-one-year-old in 2016, it turns out the 1990s were kind of a hot mess. I mean, the hair and wardrobes were extraordinary, and I spent a fair bit of time marveling over how culture has shifted when it comes to what we do (or do not) collectively find attractive. When it comes to relations between members of the opposite sex, things in movies then are still more or less the same in movies that are coming out right now.

Having said that, this was still… fun. Sure, some of the movies were hard to get through, and halfway through the experience I realized there were about five more I wanted to watch but didn’t have the time for, but it was kind of a laugh to roll back the hands of time and see how I feel now about movies I hadn’t seen in fifteen or twenty years.

Spoiler: it’s not pretty.

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1.the truth about cats and dogs

Before I even started this movie, I was well warned by Meg that it was pretty much one of the worst movies ever made. This was disheartening, but since I also watched Jerry Maguire and lived to tell the tale (see below), I figured I could make it. But, y’all, this movie is pretty much one of the worst movies ever made. Here we go.

Plot review: The Truth About Cats and Dogs is about Abby, a vet and radio host who we’re supposed to believe is ugly but who is actually played by Janeane Garofalo and therefore not actually ugly at all; Noelle, an actress who has terrible taste in men but happens to be 5 feet 10 inches and blond so they all love her anyway; and Brian, a photographer who has an accent that is pleasing to the ear and will be our film’s sad sack. One day Brian finds himself stuck with a huge dog wearing roller skates, and he has no idea how to make the dog happy. He calls into Abby’s talk show, and the two end up hitting it off—he sends her a photo of himself and the dog, and ends up calling her at work to see if they can get together. Abby agrees but then panics, because apparently she’s so ugly she can’t even answer a coworker’s question about whether or not tulips or roses are a more romantic choice, and tells Brian that she’s (you guessed it) 5 feet 10 inches and blond. She never shows up to meet him because she’s neither of those things, but he’s persistent. Long story short, Abby convinces her neighbor Noelle to agree to pretend to be Abby so Brian will fall for her, and after a series of instances of violin playing, photo taking, and phone sex, Brian realizes he’s in love with “Abby” (Noelle).

This wrecks the real Abby, but at this point Noelle has armchair diagnosed her with low self-esteem anyway, so no one expects Abby to do anything but flail. Brian ends up at the real Abby’s house while in pursuit of the fake Abby, and tells the real Abby why he loves the fake Abby. But since these reasons have nothing to do with how Abby looks, the real Abby refuses to believe him. Brian sees a flyer that has the real Abby’s face on it, and suddenly everything clicks and he realizes what’s been going on and flees. Blah blah blah, boring boring boring, Abby and Noelle are friends, and one day Brian sends his dog to Abby’s studio on roller skates, and Abby is pulled along behind to Brian because now Brian loves her anyway, WHAT A GUY.

The moral of the story is this: Janeane Garofalo is super pretty, Uma Thurman is super pretty, and they’re both super smart, so this movie never should have been made.

Terrible thing(s) the movie taught you: That short brunettes aren’t pretty! That it’s okay to lie to man to get him to like you! That men are kind of stupid and will fall for this kind of trick and never, ever notice any inconsistencies, like your voice. Also that men just want to be with tall, skinny, blond women, and when they don’t they should get a trophy.

How the movie wins: Ehhh… the dog is cool? I just kind of want to watch Reality Bites or Dogma or even Now & Then and see Janeane be glorious again.

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2. WAITING TO EXHALE

Okay, okay, okay. So Waiting to Exhale actually came out in 1995, which means it turns twenty-one this year. I know. I fully intended to watch 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife but could only find a low-res version on YouTube (thanks, ’90s), and I struggled to get through it. It turns out you can rent Waiting to Exhale for $2.99 on Amazon Prime, so I decided to take them up on that offer. Plus? You know this shit is legendary:

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PLOT REVIEW: It had been actual years since I had seen this movie, so I prepared myself for a treat. And a treat it is, but in that ’90s kind of way. The movie is about four women: Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin. Each woman more or less plays a stereotype: Savannah is independent but still involved with a married man. Bernadine is a woman scorned after finding out that her husband is leaving her for his (white) secretary. Gloria is the somewhat overweight, kind of uptight mom who needs to get laid. Robin is the hot single girl who is looking for “perfection” (read: a family, a house, and eating out at restaurants two to three times a week) in all the wrong places (like with crackheads).

A lot of my notes include sad faces about Whitney Houston (and I actually drew a heart-eyed face for Gloria and Marvin, and then kind of hated myself for it). I truly enjoyed how fabulous Bernadine was in all of her grief and her subsequent rebirth. By far the most compelling scene for me is when Bernie meets James, a guy who is married to a woman (Lauren) who happens to be dying of breast cancer. He and Bernie end up in a hotel room, trying to figure out what they’re going to do: James loves the hell out of his wife, but hasn’t slept with a woman in over a year. First I was all “Boo hoo hoo, James, keep it in your pants, you’re an ass,” but then I started to more deeply appreciate what the characters were grappling with. For all of her swagger, it’s not like Bernadine was super pumped about having sex with a married guy. The two characters end up falling asleep wrapped up in one another (with their shoes still on).

Of course, as there is with any movie that has more than two female main characters, there’s a dance scene (to TLC’s “Creep”) next to a table littered with cake and champagne… as a dance scene always should be.

TERRIBLE THING(S) THE MOVIE TAUGHT YOU: Having a family and eating at restaurants are the only paths to perfection. That you shouldn’t eat if you’re “too big.” That it’s okay to stay hung up on a married ex even though he has no intention of ever leaving his wife.

HOW THE MOVIE WINS: I will give Bernadine five stars for the rest of my life for when she talks about how she didn’t have a backup plan because her marriage was supposed to last forever. The message here? Love your partner as fully as you want and can, but always make sure you can support yourself if it fails. You never fucking know. Also that fire scene is truly everything and if you haven’t seen it, go ahead and watch.

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3. Bed of Roses

I love Bed of Roses. I mean, I love it so much that I watch it once a year, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I married a kind, gentle man who has great hair and a penchant for growing beautiful plants. I need to acknowledge all of this because you guys need to know there is no chance that I entered into a viewing of this movie not planning on totally loving the experience, because it’s just. Not. Possible. I was eleven when this movie came out and it basically shaped everything I think about love, kept my young teen fantasies firmly rooted in the land of PG (you can wake up topless in a man’s bed, but it’s okay because the sheet will cover your breasts and he’ll have left a rose for you before going downstairs to make breakfast and it will be so ~*dreamy*~). I mean, this is all just for your information, but I think it’s important for you guys to know how deep I roll with this film, because I’m not entirely sure I can discuss it in any terms other than those punctuated with mortifying giggles. But… I’ll try.

PLOT REVIEW: The movie opens with Lisa, aka Mary Stuart Masterson and our film’s heroine, who is in the middle of some kind of negotiations with some dude about whatever it is she does for work. We learn that she’s VP of a company but that this is a new role for her, and she’s really excited and wants to make this deal work. She nails it, even after faltering a bit and losing her cool, and is promptly told by her boss she needs to take the rest of the week off work to get ready to tackle this deal. This freaks her out and she spends the night crying in her window… where Lewis, aka Christian Slater, aka a stalker-ish dude who likes to deliver flowers just because, sees her and decides to send her flowers. Okay.

This is a great moment to interject that the overarching vibe of this movie is fantasy. You know, the full-on Cinderella shebang. Granted, Lisa is great at standing up for herself, and it’s clear Lewis really needs to save himself before working on someone else, but most of the notes I made were “Is this real? Could this happen? What would the characters do in real life?” (Also “Christian Slater ♥♥♥.”)

The answer? Some of it is probably not totally grounded in reality (like homegirl being totally fine with stalker guy delivering her flowers, because he makes it okay by taking her on flower deliveries for other people). But some of it, like Lewis proposing in a manner that is one of my top five nightmares (a total surprise attack in front of his family at Christmas) and Lisa’s response (Hell no, go save yourself first)? That’s solid.

Terrible thing(s) the movie taught you: That it’s okay if he’s kind of stalking you, as long as he has great hair, is really sweet, and you’re lonely.

How the movie wins: This fan video exists.

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4. Jerry Maguire

PLOT REVIEW: I’m about to say something that might make you mad: Jerry Maguire is a truly bad film. I hate to pile it on Cameron Crowe, because I used to love him, but watching this movie for the first time in about fifteen years made me realize how homeboy just makes the exact same movie… over and over again. Mediocre white man needs more in his life. Mediocre white man decides to take a stand against what is holding him down and be a hero. Mediocre white man is defeated, beaten down. Mediocre white man is built up again by an inevitably blond, blue-eyed actress who is superior to him in every way but tasked with helping the mediocre white man grow and solve the film’s overarching problem (while letting the mediocre white man take all of the credit). Mediocre white man has a great scene with a good song, and mediocre white man continues his mediocre existence, but, you know, with morals. In between all of that, people of color occasionally exist as side characters and are generally written and treated as stereotypes. I mean… Elizabethtown, check. Almost Famous (my personal faaaave), check. I won’t go into the debacle that was Aloha, and I remain true to Say Anything… but, y’all, Jerry Maguire is rough.

So rough, in fact, that it took me two viewings to get through it (I turned it off the first time after the “Show me the money” scene and wrote “SELF IMPORTANCE” and “SAVIOR COMPLEX” in all caps across my notebook page). Women are dismissed and/or reduced to every stereotype that exists. You have:

  • The sassy black woman
  • The bossy, slutty white woman who is also the hot fiancé but ultimately not ladylike enough
  • The fragile, blond, blue-eyed Madonna (with token child)
  • The overprotective, nosy older sister

And you know what the Big Thing about Jerry is? He’s that guy, the guy so great at loving everyone and building everyone up… except for himself and the person he’s romantically involved with. But his partner is expected to build him up constantly with little to no reciprocation.

We learn through a series of interviews with women he’s been involved with that he clearly has an intimacy problem, but it doesn’t seem like it’s something he’s ever been particularly concerned about working on. Sure, he’s not physically or really even emotionally abusive, but he’s not… great. He’s not a partner; he’s not giving. He takes and takes and takes, tells himself it’s okay because he’s on a moral crusade, and waits around for someone else to pick up the pieces, always. There are plenty of scenes to rip apart, and I could likely devote several thousand words to describing Jerry Maguire all by himself, but I am tired of having this movie in my head and will just say this: if you loved this movie in the ’90s, do yourselves a favor and never watch it again.

Terrible thing(s) this movie taught you: I mean… everything above? But to summarize: men can have intimacy issues and still be attractive, because apparently that’s not a deal breaker.

How this movie wins: That kid is cute, y’all.

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5. LOVE JONES

Love Jones technically came out in 1997, which means it’s nineteen and a half years old, but come on, guys. This movie is so good. From the get-go, it’s clear that women and men are equal partners in the game—the women are quite adept at fielding bullshit from the men, and serving it right back to them.

The two main characters are Darius and Nina, aka the two people who will drive you nuts the entire movie because they refuse to get it together and act like adults long enough to figure out their problems. These guys are like your two friends who are perfect for one another but insist on making it hard because they apparently have nothing else better to do. They’re surrounded by friends who, for all the eye rolls and jokes, all seem to be really into love. Sure, there are cracks about one another’s choices and a particularly serious discussion about whether or not soulmates are a thing we should all look for, but besides all of that, these are adults who are in adult relationships.

Of course, the movie isn’t complete until we’ve had a rainy scene in which the characters pull it together and try to make it work, but hey… I’m not saying I’m not a sucker for a good rainy scene. Truly, the only thing I would change about this movie is to have Darius and Nina NOT waste so much time messing each other up—but then we wouldn’t really have a movie, would we?

Love Jones is fun, funny, and a total delight to watch… just don’t build all of your relationship expectations around it, okay?

Terrible thing(s) this movie taught you: That two adults willingly entering into a relationship can get away with playing games, alternating between treating each other well and treating each other like dirt, and that you can work through your feelings for someone by sleeping with… someone else.

How this movie wins: It is just so much fun. The characters are strong and compelling, and Darius and Nina, for all of their immaturity, are relatable and realistic.

what have movies and television shows taught you about romance and love? is today’s media doing any better?

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