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‘FEEL GOOD’ IS REWRITING THE ROMANTIC COMEDY PLAYBOOK

A thoroughly messy, and original, portrait of modern love

10.06.2021

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*Feel Good spoilers ahead, for both season one and two

White lie. (n) a harmless or trivial lie, especially one told to avoid hurting someone's feelings. Like breathing or checking your phone, its occurrences are so commonplace you’re rarely aware of it happening in motion. Because no matter how holier than thou one sees themselves, nobody is immune to spilling out half-truths to keep someone else happy. No harm done. It’s engrained in our habitual life. In the late “stuck in junk folder” reply emails we send; WhatsApp threads we have literally no energy to respond to anymore; political battles we’d rather not have; the culture we consume.

Romantic comedy, for instance, is an architectural design of apparently innocuous myth. Maybe you’re even aware of the lies, to a lesser or greater extent. This genre is exceedingly light relief - there’s meet-cutes, a will-they-won’t they, chasing in a way that bizarrely doesn’t appear at all creepy (always a lot of running in rom-coms for some reason…), an adorable line delivered ever so coolly which inevitably leads to kissing and happily ever after (one assumes). There’s rarely any grey area. This is it, this is what you came here for. To see two perfectly formed, perfectly suited individuals (maybe they didn’t see it at the beginning but you, the audience, you saw it coming...) finally find solace in each other. In many ways it can offer a soothing medicinal quality even if it bears little, if any, resemblance to one’s own romantic history. As the writer and author Roxane Gay says, “it’s not that I believe love actually happens the way Hollywood pretends it does … I do, however, enjoy a good lie.” The comfort here is found in the subtraction of pain. Its narrative so straightforward, to the point of absurdity.

“Romantic comedy is an architectural design of apparently innocuous myth.”

Yet real love – both in its attempt and trying to sustain it when submerged in its slippery grip – can be overwhelmingly discomforting. Damningly painful, at times. And yet, just knowing this feeling is universally experienced, is its own sort of comfort - right? It’s why Feel Good’s six-episodic second season is a force of emotional nature. A reckoning of all the uncertainties relationships throw up, it holds up a mirror to the messiness of true romance. The PR peg will mark it out as queer love story, which seems a narrow equation. It’s just - simply - a love story.

In the first series comedian Mae meets George (who, upon meeting her after a stand-up gig, had never dated a woman before). They quickly fall in love and move in together. Though, constant threats poke gaping holes in their happily ever after: feelings get bashed, past addictions unearthed, and questions, endless questions, arise. Over how ‘good’ they are for each other. When do you end, and I begin? Can you need someone too much? Who is the sorcerer of pain here, you or I? Or is it, merely, a chemical imbalance of the two?

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“There’s something freeing in the knowledge that we can’t know everything. How boring would life and love be if we did, anyway?”

This second offering, which opens up with the leading couple taking a break, is a more intensifying analysis of those lines of enquiry (and many fresh ones that peel open, as past traumas catch up with their present). Some of which, will never find a proper resolution. It’s a useful remembering. That we can have all the therapy and read all the books in the world and heart-to-heart with whoever will listen but, to a degree, there will always be aspects of ourselves and those in our intimate orbit that are unknowable. There’s something liberating in the knowledge that we can’t know everything. How boring would life and love be if we did, anyway?

It comes as perhaps zero shock that the star and co-creator of Feel Good, Mae Martin, has drawn from her own life experience. Examining in such rich detail on screen to what extent pleasure and a “snow globe of pain” conjoin. How role play can be both fun and also stop us from being truly vulnerable. How wanting and needing a person so desperately you’d do almost anything for them are emotions cut from the same cloth (at one point George’s polyamorous ex points out to her that in a relationship “you take turns being the gardener or the bonsai, but if you’re always tending to the bonsai – Mae - then who’s tending to you?” Her unashamedly oblivious response: “I don’t know, Pornhub?”) How forcing ourselves to not shut out the people we love, due to crippling future fears, is a lifelong commitment. An internal script that we reinterpret over, and over, again. Sitting within – and accepting - that space of unknowns, feeling all the feelings, can be freeing. 

Like Mae’s father says, reading aloud from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code: “when a question has no correct answer, there is only one honest response. The grey area between yes and no. Silence.”

Images | Netflix

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