New to Netflix this month is Chris Evans’ directorial debut, the romantic drama Before We Go. New to absolutely no one is my fierce dedication to Chris Evans and the unflappable belief that we are alternate universe best friends living in a Boston apartment pursuing our acting ambitions, living pizza to pizza, Pats game to Pats game, writing Good Will Hunting in our down time. Naturally I’m down to clown if my bro wants to direct, so I’m not here trying to sell you on any merits of the film; nobody is listening because my bias is a neon sign with airhorns. I’m interested, however, in its middling reviews and exploring the male equivalent of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Evans’ character Nick Vaughan, if such a thing exists: the Steadfast, Warm and Able Guy.
The MPDG is an archetypal character, a fetishized one-dimensional female with no ambitions or issues of her own that serves as a whimsical savior to the male protagonist, typically a frustrated stuck-in-a-rut neurotic writer-type. The male equivalent, in this hetero-normative bubble, is what Rave Sashayed calls the Steadfast, Warm, and Able Guy (the SWAG.) Rave, co-author of the highly acclaimed Shoebox Project, posits that what the female writer-type protagonist fetishizes rather than a bubbly, fast-paced, firebrand is a grounding, competent person to restore her. I think in a much longer article one could find a lot of psychological (if not straight-up Freudian) support for this theory. But here we are with Before We Go: Nick is spontaneous, resourceful, and reliable. His default mode is problem-solving and his default banter is witty. He knows his way around the city, asks questions and listens, and jumps on situational grenades; boyfriend’s a SWAG. So if he hits the marks as a Female Gaze Fantasy and the movie has an even passable plot, why didn’t it go over half as well as rom-coms and -drams featuring the MPDG?
In the case of Before We Go, each protagonist serves as the other’s savior but faces issues of their own, technically dodging the MPDG and SWAG heading. Nick and Brooke have dimension, albeit a little contrived: both impossibly clever, attractive, but perfectly, emotionally flawed. The impossible characters find themselves in an impossible scenario, beautifully lit and lovingly tended. Is this where the movie fails? Maybe. The characters are so charming that the audience can’t get close enough to learn from them. Clocking at a short and sweet 90 minutes, its successes outweigh its faults as it manages to stray from the Rom formula just enough to keep things interesting, which is really the most we can ask of any Netflix experience. Maybe it won’t hit that secret stereotypical romantic sweet spot for you, lacking an MPDG and a SWAG, but it probably didn’t intend to. 7 out of 5 Stars, Highly Recommend for No Reason Whatsoever, No Bias Here, Glad You Asked.