Some Rules For Magic Romanticism Films

2 Jan

Every year it is hard to come down from the magic of the Christmas season. For a solid month and half it seems we are forced to live in this world where magic could be real. Partly because of the religious roots of a divine (read: magical) virgin birth, guiding star and some heavy angel and human interaction, and partly because tis the season where all the ad executives break out their year-end go-for-broke magic is real, intangible and on sale ad campaigns designed solely to separate people from their money, but it still seems Christmas has a sort of magic filter on it. With all of the good cheer and warm fuzzies winding down, it is the perfect time to look at the holiday trope of Magic Romanticism.

Magic Romanticism is key in most holiday specials where there is a miracle snow storm in LA or Santa turns out to be real or Ernest gets a magic pair of basketball shoes from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that allows him to keep his job as a mall custodian. But it isn’t exclusive to holiday films, any film with heavy handed romantic plots helped along the way with a touch of magic can qualify. I noticed this during the holiday season when I spent a Saturday watching About Time at a cinema and then following that up with It’s a Wonderful Life on my personal home moviebox. Both films have magic elements which are a little more developed than magic basketball shoes from a ghost of someone who isn’t even dead yet. About Time’s holiday relationship is its was released early in the holiday season and the New Year’s Eve party inciting incident, and It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas institution, which make these films a good way to explore some of the rules for the trope.


The first rule is that the introduction of the magic elements of the film has to be introduced early in the film. Telling compelling stories already requires a lot of audience manipulation, but the limits of that manipulation fall apart when magic is unjustly added. Magic Romanticism relies a lot on the emotional investment of the audience in the characters on the screen, and a lot of the elements on the rational side of the coin may require more effort to swallow than if they are present in a film without the magical elements. For example, if there was just a straight story of George Bailey’s life without the Pottersville noir-inspired dystopia or guardian angels it would be way too sentimental to ever be produced. The same goes for the falling in love and having kids story of About Time, not even the Hallmark channel would consider running a story that simple. But both of the films work because of the added supernatural element. In both films it is introduced with in the first five minutes of the story. Twinkling angels discuss George’s life before we even have a chance to meet George, and Tim is told by his father seconds after the opening credits conclude that he can travel through time. The sooner the audience knows the rules for the film, the sooner the emotional baiting can begin. The magic elements trick the brain into forgetting everything it knows about emotional manipulation and allows itself to go along for the ride.

Speaking of emotional manipulations, another element of Magic Romanticism is the just how much it is involved in making it work. It seems that the cheaper the emotion, the better. If the list of events that happen in each film were broken down into simplified elements, (saves brother from drowning, meets beautiful girl, stands up for the memory of beloved father, father gives a moving toast at a wedding) it would be thrown out of a freshman script writing class for being too easy of a set up, a cliché with the inventiveness of a second grader. But the thing is the magic aspect doesn’t just allow for the sappy, it absolutely requires it. Heavy, heady themes wouldn’t get the attention they deserve in the world of Magic Romanticism because the audience is too busy suspending their disbelief to consider loftier themes. It is that suspension of disbelief that allows for the hokier of the elements to fly under the radar. The majority of the time we’re too busy listening to angels make jokes or day dreaming about how we’d use the power of time travel to realize what massive eye rolls we give if we saw this exact same setup in a trailer for an Adam Sandler movie. Which is a nice segue into the next rule of Magic Romanticism.

A MR film absolutely needs a motherfucking charmer in the lead role. The actors need to be accessible as well as be fully committed to the silly concepts of magic. Both Jimmy Stewart and the red-headed kid in About Time are great at that. They’re charming and have great taste in women. The women in the films have to be beautiful and fully committed to the leads as seen in the both of these films. That is about all they do since neither are allowed to be anywhere near the magic elements of the films. Who knows there is probably a whole doctorate thesis about the inaccessibility of magic to female characters on screen, but I’ll just leave it at solid, relatable leading men, beautiful leading ladies with blind devotion and you’ll be a-okay.

Finally, this kind of film almost certainly has to take place or be consumed near the holiday season. The holidays have some sort of magic. It may be just placebo magic sold to us by church, state and greed, but either way the public is already in this head space that allows for a touch a magic. This is why the About Time people released it just before the holiday season. Which happens to be the same team that made Love Actually if you didn’t catch that at every turn of their marketing strategy. Love Actually has all the emotional silliness of Magic Romanticism but instead of actual magic just piggybacks on magic romanticism of Christmas. The film is now widely regarded as a favorite film of the majority of a specific gender. About Time piggybacks on Love Actually’s piggybacking of Christmas, and surely any film released within a three-month window of Christmas and has the words “Love Actually” on the majority of the promotion would be a hit. Christmas, magic, Love Actually and watching the film before or after Christmas shopping is a recipe for a successful Magic Romanticism film. Then It’s a Wonderful Life on the other hand is so synonymous with Christmas. It’s so ingrained it’s difficult to separate the film from the pop culture recreations of it. People put their guards down a little during the holidays and that is the green light for studio executives to start shoveling romantic sap down our throats.

Here’s wishing you a belated Stupid Christmas and a Poorly written New Year.



2 Responses to “Some Rules For Magic Romanticism Films”

  1. Carl Wells January 2, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    This made me want to watch Slam Dunk Ernest. I also think Rachel McAdams has become her own trope involving time-traveling Lovers, this is her 3rd movie about temporally challenges romances.


  1. Fan Workload | Stupid Opinions Written Poorly - January 8, 2014

    […] all the good parts. Which as I said before are tied to the very calculated release date and the magic that comes from the holiday season. Then they consume the free promotion for the standard release of the Blu-ray, share their fond […]

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