Someone Great Isn’t Necessarily Something New, But It Is Something Hella Important For Girls Like Me
** WARNING: So There’s definitely spoilers. i WOULD TOTALLY WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST. Just letting you know <3
Thursday is always a hella long day for me this quarter. As part of my MFA aid package, I agreed to teach a dramatic writing course, which while exciting (cuz yaaass tuition remission), it also happens to consume much of my energy for that day.
So waiting around until 7:30 p.m. for a movie screening after a long day of teaching and grading was really starting to take its toll on my nerves around the 6:30 p.m. mark -- especially when I was done with my work commitments in the mid-afternoon.
But sticking around definitely proved to be worth the wait as Someone Great was not only a beautifully crafted, diversely casted, brilliantly acted, and a much needed revision on the romantic comedy genre, but getting to hear from the the writer/director, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, and producer, Jessie Henderson, and their intentional choices during the process of making Someone Great really invigorated my creator’s spirit.
Someone Great isn’t necessarily something new for the romantic comedy genre when it comes to its premise. Jenny, an on-the-rise music journalist, has just accepted a coveted writing position at Rolling Stone.
But this meteoric jump in her career does not come without sacrifice. Jenny must move from her stomping ground of NYC all the way across the country to San Francisco; and this seems to be the last supporting plank to buckle underneath the bubbling tensions of her 9-year relationship to Nate, the lost millennial boyfriend who knows he’s not living up to his potential, but doesn’t really do much to try and figure it out.
He, instead, finds small ways to make Jenny feel guilty about her budding career. He is a boyfriend character that echoed so many of my issues in my most recent relationship that I very much felt called out (but in what eventually proved to be the most powerful way possible). And so, instead of being willing to try long distance, Nate ends their relationship, and forces a grieving Jenny to head out for the night into town, which she soon discovers is filled with so many emotional relics from their past, for one last hurrah with her queendom.
Again, a very typical set up for the romantic comedy genre. But that also doesn’t mean that Robinson didn’t bring something new and refreshing to the genre. I was reading some of the reviews, and while most of them were favorable, there were a few that really got on my nerves because they didn’t think the film brought anything drastically different to the genre (which I definitely beg to differ). I, for one, really hate when critics make it seem like every attempt at making a movie for a certain genre needs to bring something crazy different to the table; especially without taking stock of who has been sitting at that table or preparing the contents that are on it.
Sure bread pudding (a.k.a a rom-com) would get old, and boring, and tiring if prepared every year, by the same hands to the same mouths. But just because y’all who have been sitting at this same table for years are tired of bread pudding, does not mean that I, or many other diverse bodies across the spectrum of race, gender, sexuality, etc., who are now getting our seats at the table in popular movie genres like rom-coms are done with the bread pudding. Maybe we’re ready to see it prepared by new hands, but best believe we are not ready for new desserts just yet.
Yes, I believe that a new film should be bringing something intriguing or interesting to a genre each time it’s made. But I often think that white, and/or male critics forget that we, as a diversely growing audience, have been subjected to a very narrow perspective in how stories have been written and casted on screen for years.
“I, for one, really hate when critics make it seem like every attempt at making a movie for a certain genre needs to bring something drastically different to the table; especially without taking stock of who has been sitting at that table or preparing the contents that are on it.”
I don’t think there is a movie genre that could be any whiter, or heteronormie than the romantic comedy sector, especially during its golden age of the early 2000s where if you were a Jennifer, an Amy, or any other white female sounding name, you could definitely bank on getting at least a few romantic leading lady parts handed your way.
For years, I had to find myself in the upper-middle class perspectives and reflections of white, thin, female bodies struggling to find love in the most white-washed representations of NYC or other re-donk-ulously diverse urban backdrops. But by the end of each film, no matter how innovative in form or storytelling or camera angles or whatever other thing that’s supposed to make a film merit worthy, I always left them feeling feeling a strong sense of incompleteness; like that was cool and all, but when’s it gonna be my turn?
So when I, as a black woman, view a film like Someone Great, with its diverse casting, diverse relationship explorations, and a truthful portrayal of NYC and its inhabitants, it is something drastically different to me. It is something fresh to me (sadly). Yes, it is bread pudding, but it’s bread pudding being shaped and crafted by new hands and new perspectives; it’s bread pudding with a highly craved and much desired flavor.
I think some critics forget that they have the privilege of being blessed with so many years of people who look like them or sound like them or have similar experiences to them on screen that they can just zero in on looking for the novelty of structure or form or premise in how a story is being told in order to count it as being something different.
And even though both Henderson and Robinson are white, they are also proof in how white people in spaces of privilege and access in Hollywood can actually be helpful in offering people of color opportunity. Gina was a lead. DeWanda was a lead. Lakeith (YUM lol) was a lead. But most importantly, they occupied roles that made them feel human; uniquely themselves; flawed, but human. And it felt fucking amazing. It felt complete.
Another element from the film that I loved was the depiction of a realistic interracial friend group. I feel like most movies/TV shows often cast homogenous friend groups that are usually in line with the race of the lead actor. But again, in our growing multicultural world, it has never felt more inauthentic. I love that I have grown up with friends from all over the country/world, and I hate that I can never find our relationships depicted in mainstream media because some studio exec thinks that it’s unrealistic that I as an American black woman would have close friends who grew up in Korea, or England, or that are Mexican, or white, or a whole bunch of other things.
Because then if they did, they’d also feel some sort of weird responsibility to have to be talking the whole movie about how those characters defied the odds of finding community across racial barriers. And sure, interracial friend groups can have their challenging moments, but what I love about Someone Great is that this movie bears no sense of responsibility to bring that into the discussion-- because it doesn’t matter for this story. This story is about Jenny grieving over her lost love. This story is about Jenny choosing herself. This story is about Jenny remembering that there are other important loves in her life outside of romantic love. Sorry, but we ain’t got room at the table for that other shit right now.
During the Q&A, Robinson proudly declared into the intimate crowd of UCLA students who came to see the film that she was committed to making work that represents what our world actually looks like. And after watching the mesmerizing stage chemistry of every actor in the film, you could feel that she truly meant that. This wasn’t just her giving a line her PR rep fed her to make her look good. Her work said it all. She’s casting for what feels right, both amongst the actors and the world she sees everyday. She gets it. And she proves that it’s not so impossible for white people to get it. That is something different, but more importantly that is something to take stock of and replicate.
Every week I talk to my students a lot about how important it is to consider an artist’s intention, and how well it aligns with their execution when they are evaluating a piece of work, and I just wish that more credit was given to directors who have strong intentions on creating a truthfully realistic world, and the relationships within them. I don’t think Robinson’s intention was to invent the next level rom-com, but I do think part of it was to reimagine and revise what had already been done within the genre from a refreshingly different perspective, and I say she fucking killed that shit.
But outside of casting, this movie was also so important and defining for the genre and the time that we currently live in as women because it was a romantic comedy where the person Jenny realizes that she needs to rekindle a loving relationship with is herself. When I look at the structure, I don’t get from it that Jenny and Nate are supposed to end up together (nor do I feel my empathy pulling me that way), which thank God because that is a very customary plot point in most romantic comedies. For me, it feels like the journey is not about them getting back together, but more so about when is Jenny going to realize that they don’t belong together (at least for right now); it is about Jenny having one last hurrah with her friends, but also with the beautiful memories her and Nate shared. And as someone that has gotten to this climax point way to many times in movies, only to be let down by the fact that somehow even though we spent the whole movie establishing how they’re wrong for each other, somehow some way love is always stronger than even the most problematic traits in a person. Yuck. I love that this movie isn’t afraid to say that you can have a deep love for someone, and it not work out, and be sad, and even see them one last time to try to sell them on one more go around, and still choose yourself; that you don’t have to give it one more chance to prove that you cared. And that choice is something different.
In Real Talk Love Therapy, I talked about the idea of taking a relationship intermission when a relationship is getting too tense, and for me I feel like this could be their relationship intermission. Maybe in the longer story that is their lives they end up back together, but stronger and more committed to working out their differences because they took this break. Or maybe they end up married and having families with other people. But regardless, taking the break always led to a better outcome— even if it wasn’t with each other, and that’s what should matter. And given that Jenny is a woman of color making these choices, that is revolutionary because if there is anything that documentaries like Surviving R. Kelly should have made clear to the world, it is that young women of color feel like they are never desirable or loveable enough; that we should be lucky that predators like R. Kelly would ever think to desire us because we are never seen in positions of desire and respectability in the media.
I will never forget the painfully familiar look in the eyes of the young high school women of color that I visited last year that wanted advice on how to navigate the fact that very few men (regardless of race) found them desirable, or their weirdness, as cute or quirky as their white female counterparts.
Someone Great is for them. Someone Great is for younger, insecure me, and older slightly less insecure me. Because through Jenny, we get to see a woman of color who was loved beautifully, and respectfully, but that eventually decided that she had to choose herself. We see someone who is messy, and flawed along that journey to finding herself. We see that we can be loved right, even if it doesn’t last with one particular person; that we can have a choice about how we heal. That may not be something different to everyone, but it sure as hell is something different for us, and that really is something hella important.
As a playwright and hopeful TV/film writer, this film is exactly the kind of work I’d want to be doing. So it gives me great pleasure to shout YAAASS QUEENS for all of the amazing work that Robinson and Henderson are doing! Definitely if you have a spare Tuesday or Friday night, check out this movie. This film would be perfect for a queendom night in!