You all know the story, a nice boy meets the wild girl and falls in love with her, along comes a serious relationship and she turns to be nothing he picture she would be. Boy feels betrayed by girl. Boy calls her a bitch. Boy asks himself why does these things always happen to him.
If it sounds familiar to you is because more than a handful of movies and TV shows have depicted this precise story —more than enough, I must stay— in their rom-coms. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, these stories tend to represent the nice guy like nothing more than a victim of the thoughtless and rude girl, that used him ruthlessly, without thinking about this hopeless individual that devoted his whole world to woo her and love her inconditionally.
The nice guy trope in fiction is usually portrayed as that one dude who thinks he is entitled to date someone only because he’s treating the person he’s in love with with kindness and respect. This guy is that person who always thinks is being missunderstood, but that’s also lovable and totally deserves to be in a relationship only because he’s nice.
Lately, three films in particular, (500) Days of Summer, Ruby Sparks and Comet, have drew upon this specific formula in order to revert the trope of the nice guy and instead tried to depict something more real: relationships are, first and foremost, something bilateral. When it comes to love, everyone involved are the ones to blame.
If you haven’t watched these movies, let me break them down for you. Boy meets girl (fictional girl in Ruby Sparks’ case). Boy and girl begin a relationship (casual relationship in (500) Days Of Summer’s case). Girl tells boy how she feels about love. Boy doesn’t actually hears girl. Boy sky-rockets to stalker mode and wants girl to change for him. Girl breaks up with boy. Boy is devastated. Boy hates girl for putting him in that ugly position and blames her for everything that was wrong in their relationship.
What makes these movies different from the others is the way the narrative treats the relationship. Instead of begging the audience to side with the nice guy, it asks us to go further and look behind the curtain, that place where fiction collides with reality and where the cracks of their telationship begin to show. These films actual purpose is to look beyond the nice guy facade in order to really focus on the human beings involved in the relationships and the things they struggle with.
(500) Days of Summer’ Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the ultimate nice guy cliche. He’s kind, considerate and thoughtful, and on the first minute he mets Summer (Zooey Deschanel) immediately gets infatuated by her. She, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in love and hasn’t actually met someone who’s proven her wrong. Summer doesn’t want to get involved in a relationship and just wants to be friends with Tom.
If you have read carefuly, you will probably imagine what will happen next: Tom decides to have a casual relationship with her anyway to prove her he is worthy of her love; then, things go wrong. Summer ends up being the bad one, the one who is rejecting this nice guy who only wants to be in love. The one who crushes his heart .
Tom later learns that Summer is getting married and, of course, he feels betrayed. What he doesn’t know is that she is an actual person who is capable of making her own decisions. She wasn’t in love with Tom and she always told him that. He, on the other hand, decided to hear what he wanted to hear and not what she was actually saying.
Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is the nice guy on Ruby Sparks. A dude who’s been trying to forget his ex-girlfriend (the crazy bitch of this tale), but when his fictional character, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), appears in his life as her real girlfriend, everything changes. He is thrilled to have (literally) the woman of his dreams in front of him, the one woman who has everything that he’s been looking for and certainly won’t be cruel to him.
Later in the film, reality kicks in and Calvin learns that, even though Ruby was created by him, she also is an actual human being —sounds familiar?—, a person who has feelings and ideas and someone who is not just part of a fantasy. He could try all he wants to change her and expect her to love him back because he’s nice, but, in the end, she is a woman capable of making her own decisions, not someone who Calvin can tamper with.
In Comet, Dell (Justin Long) falls instantly in love with Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) and immediately makes everything he can to woo her. At first, she is not convinced at all and tells him she’s not ready to date, she’s not someone who sees herself spending the rest of her life with someone else.
Eventually they start to date and we see how their story develops in multiple timelines. We also get to see how this relationship was doomed from the very beginning and how it crashes and burn in each and every one of the timelines.
Dell tries to convince Kimberly he is the man of his life, the man who will prove her wrong, the man who will always be nice to her. He tells her that in each and every universe and story they share together. The real problem, though, resides on his stubborness and unwillingness to hear her, to acknowledge Kimberly and her decisions. Once again, the woman is not a an actual person on the nice guy’s eyes, she’s just the idea of what he wants her to be.
As we can see, the nice guy usually lives in a delusional world where his fantasies are attached to the reality he’s part of. He really is a product of the films he lives in. I could perfectly see Tom, Calvin and Dell watching rom-coms and living their life by those depictions of the nice guy.
What’s really interesting is the way these three films use different narrative devices to explain the world their nice guys live in, (500) Days of Summer uses a narrator that gives us instant access to Tom’s mind, Ruby Sparks brings Calvin’s fantasy to life with Ruby, and Comet exploits multiple timelines to evoke Dell’s confusing grappling of reality.
Thus, the real problem with the nice guy as a character is his representation as someone who has null interest in knowing more about the person he has a crush on. He is in love, yes, but he bases his infatuation on the idea he has of the woman, and how she should be, not on the actual individual.
To reproduce this type of depiction is to keep acknowledging that women must date someone just because they are nice and not because they should try to make an effort to know them really. Someone who is willing to see them as fully formed human beings with an own voice, and not a deranged fantasy that lives only in the nice guy’s head.