The other day, I happened upon a romantic comedy on Netflix called The Right Kind of Wrong. I was looking for something to half-watch while cleaning my room, and, hey, this has the brother from “True Blood” and the aunt from “The Vampire Diaries” so at least the people are pretty. I was in the mood for something light and easy to watch, and that’s what I found. Unfortunately, underneath the frothy cuteness lurks a creepiness I need to address.
Here is Netflix’s official synopsis for this move: “Writer/dreamer/dishwasher Leo Palamino faces a dilemma of epic proportions when he meets the girl of his dreams — on her wedding day.”
So, from this single sentence, there are details one can assume about this movie. Maybe he meets her as she’s contemplating leaving her fiancé at the altar. Maybe he meets her in the morning and the wedding is that night. There are many ways for this to go. Unfortunately, it goes this way: Leo (Ryan Kwanten) sees Colette (Sara Canning) punt a football in her wedding dress and is immediately impressed and smitten (which multiple characters helpfully point out is kind of sexist). He then sneaks into her wedding, hitches a ride to the reception with her estranged mom, and proceeds to ask her out mere hours after she said her vows.
What follows is some textbook stalking. Leo follows Colette around, harasses her at work, and insists that her husband is wrong for her. According to Leo, he is gathering evidence that his initial gut feeling (that she is the “woman of his dreams”) is right.
It takes another man threatening to get Leo’s friend (and kids) deported for Leo to finally leave this woman alone. Seriously?!? The only way you will back off your unwanted romantic advances is when multiple livelihoods are at stake, as opposed to when SHE TOLD YOU TO LEAVE HER ALONE.
This movie gets a lot of mileage out of how much Ryan Kwanten looks like a puppy who just got yelled at for peeing on the carpet.
The Right Kind of Wrong is a pretty innocuous, cute movie—perfect to only partially watch while doing something else. However, it makes use of a disturbing trope that tends to fly under the radar: The Guy Who Won’t Take No For An Answer.
Genevieve Valentine wrote a great article on The A.V. Club about this exact problem. Valentine’s article, called “The Full Boyle: Guys who don’t hear ‘no’ just aren’t funny anymore,” focuses on Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Charles Boyle.
If you watch the show, you know about Boyle’s unwavering adoration for Rosa Diaz. The show plays this for laughs, but, as Valentine points out, in the real world this situation would be no laughing matter.
Of course, plenty of good comedy features exaggeration of everyday ills—making light of the tragedy of life is the reason comedy exists. But dismissing the creeper dynamic when a guy won’t leave a woman alone downplays an often-dangerous real-life situation in a way that falling over a bunch of times in a yoga class doesn’t. And things played as textually creepy on Mad Men or Law & Order are being played for laughs in sitcoms with almost no change of context, except one: Sitcoms pretend there are no consequences for the woman being pursued. In most sitcoms, there’s an acknowledged comfort zone that allows us to enjoy what might be uncomfortable in something more realistic: We know these heroes are essentially harmless. The objects of their affection can turn them down a hundred times, and the gentleman will go right on as he has before, until sweeps week forces them into a locked closet together or makes them pretend to be married. She’s never punished at work for turning down the advances of a lovelorn superior. She’s never in danger of the behavior escalating into violence. Everything’s fine. It’s funny. (Also funny: Boyle’s behavior so far this season hits every single bullet point for the Romantic Stalker on this list of warning signs from the Network for Surviving Stalking.)
“The Right Kind of Wrong” is a movie, so there’s no further development, or “course-correcting” as Valentine puts it, for Leo. (There no sequels in Rom-Com Land.) However, as Valentine points out, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has already developed some characters away from their initial over-exaggerated personalities. Most sitcoms start out with caricatures and tone things down as the show settles into its rhythm. Remember how shrill Leslie Knope was in the first season of Parks and Recreation? There’s still hope for Boyle.
COMPLETELY UNRELATED OBSERVATION: In The Right Kind of Wrong, Colette’s husband (Danny) is played by Ryan McPartlin, a.k.a. Captain Awesome from Chuck. Danny runs a camp called Awesome Times. Chuck reference or coincidence?
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