The Lost City puts some respect on the romance novel

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum star in Paramount Pictures' "THE LOST CITY."
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum star in Paramount Pictures' "THE LOST CITY." /

Sandra Bullock’s latest rom-com, The Lost City, tackles the romance novel respectfully, a far cry from the way entertainment targeted at women has been received for decades.

For years, men have abandoned interests and objects as soon as women begin to take a liking to them. From high heels, which were originally men’s shoes, to their tumultuous relationship with The Beatles, feminine interest in anything has made both the subjects and the women who like their targets male contempt.

In The Lost City, interests targeted at women take center stage and finally get the respect they deserve, but it’s been a long time coming.

A perfect example of this phenomenon is one of the biggest non-superhero franchises to hit the big screen: Twilight.

When Twilight became a runaway hit in 2008 after the first film’s release, it became abundantly clear who the audience for the film was. It was reported at the time that New Moon, the second film in the series, drew an audience that was 80% women, with half of them being under 21.

Despite its major success, it became one of Hollywood’s biggest punching bags, being ridiculed by regular move-goers to SNL. The vapid hatred for the film seemed to outmatch the quality of the product, which was of a similar quality as another franchise releasing around the same time: Transformers.

The critical reception for Transformers was about on-par with Twilight’s, with both franchises finding their films living well below the 50% line on Rotten Tomatoes. Why the huge difference in reaction from our popular culture?

Youtuber Lindsay Ellis presented a theory in her 2018 YouTube video titled “Dear Stephanie Meyer,”: The gender of the audience determined the reaction.

That theory, which has been echoed and repeated many times throughout history by many different gender-thinkers, seems to hold water. Just this year, men have reclaimed the star of the Twilight films, Robert Pattinson, because he has now moved on to The Batman, leaving the ‘cringe’ of Twilight behind him.

Hailing as the “best Batman,” he’s become an icon for men who are interested in Batman and superhero movies. While I wholly agree that Pattinson is an incredible actor who deserves the praise, I believed that during his Twilight days as well, how many of the men praising him for The Batman would ever admit the same?

A similar situation happened with The Beatles, regarded now as one of the most iconic and influential bands of all time. The Beatles’ career kicked off with a type of boy-band craze we would associate now with the likes of One Direction, with young women obsessed with the group. When their fans were young women, they weren’t taken as seriously, often written off as the object of hysterical girls’ affection.

In the late 1960s, when they officially moved into more psychedelic music and lost their teenage whimsy, their fanbase shifted as well and was taken seriously as music artists without their cacophony of female fans.

The shaming of women for their interests, and the shaming of the interests themselves, has happened for decades. But Aaron and Adam Nee’s 2022 film The Lost City finally addresses it on film.

How The Lost City addresses

The Lost City follows romance novelist Loretta Sage as she gets kidnapped after her latest book release. Her cover model, Alan Caprison, goes to find her, taking them both on an adventure straight out of her novels. While the film isn’t focused on the concept of traditionally female interests and society’s reactions to them, it does come up in a major way.

In the beginning of the film, at Loretta’s first stop on her book tour, she is less than receptive to doing an event with Alan and makes fun of the fans of her novel for their attachment to Alan’s character and the books themselves. Later, in the jungle, she has a conversation with Alan about this.

He tells Loretta that he might be just a model on the cover of her books, but the reaction he gets from fans tells him that he’s doing something good. He reveals that he was ashamed to be on the cover of romance novels, and tried to avoid his friends for fear of being made fun of over the covers. Though, an encounter with a passionate fan changed his mind. The way people are inspired or healed by the escapades of his character, Dash, in Loretta’s novels is not something to be ashamed of, but something to be proud of.

Despite not being the central focus of the film, it still feels incredibly important to see it discussed on screen. Romance novels in particular, which have been considered fodder for young women for decades, have a reputation that has been surprising to see avoided in this film.

Even with Loretta’s attitude in the opening of the film, the rest of the movie doesn’t waste its time making fun of the genre, the fans, or the act of writing a romance novel at all. It embraces the genre whole-heartedly, and Alan’s defense of the genre’s fans went above and beyond what most other films would do.

Seeing a huge film like The Lost City, which was most definitely a rom-com but has been marketed as an adventure film as well, tackle the disregard and disrespect that surrounds entertainment marketed (or embraced) by women was incredible. Even though we’ve seen very recent examples of “mentrification,” with Robert Pattinson, I hope someday society will be able to respect women’s interests without having to have the backing of other men to do so.

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The Lost City is playing in theaters now.