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When the "Nice Guy" Mentality Screws Up Your Work

Last night I watched Save the Date, which was, to be honest, not a good movie.  I hate being negative on this blog, but I really didn't care for this one.  My apologies to the hardworking independent filmmakers who gave it their all.

My primary problem with the movie was that the two leads, played by Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie (actresses that usually turn in amazing work and who I greatly respect), aren't very good characters.  In fact, you might even make the case that they're not characters at all.  Despite being the leads, they actually manage to have less dimension than the entire rest of the cast (all men).

I could go on at length about this, but the only reason I bring it up today is because it reminds me of a terrible path I think my writing could have gone down. You see, I used to be a "Nice Guy."  Shocking, I know. Next I'm going to tell you I was awkward in high school.

For those who are unfamiliar, I'll try to recap as quickly as possible.  It's tricky, though, because this is such a weird group. "Nice Guy" refers to a subset of men who somehow manage to become just as sexist and misogynistic as the worst of 'em purely through an obsession with the idea of being "nice."  It's an incredibly weird psychological issue and a side effect of misinterpretations of postmodern feminism. Something that I'm fairly certain exists only in America and maybe Canada, but who knows?  International readers will have to post and let me know if you have these guys where you live.

Typically it starts out with positive intent.  A guy hears about the discrepancies between the sexes and thinks, "I'm going to be better than that.  I'll be nice to all the women I meet."  But they don't learn the key lesson, which is that women are human.  Which means there are flaws and hopes and dreams and fears and shames and all the rest of the facets of the package.  So these idealistic, well-meaning young men idolize women and turn them into fantastical objects of desire.

This means that the Nice Guy is unable to communicate with women as actual people, so they will go through adolescence failing to make too many meaningful connections while generally feeling awkward.  As life progresses, they'll start to fail romantically, which leads to a perceived injustice.  "Why don't women want to date me?  I'm a nice guy!  Women only like assholes!"

Left unchecked, Nice Guys can turn into Men's Rights Advocates, the biggest bunch of pussies in the history of the planet.  The frustration at romantic failure leads to this bizarre notion that something is owed to them, and when they seek help or advice, they incorrectly assume other men might be of help.  If you put too many of them in a room together, you end up spouting a lot of bullshit.

I'm more optimistic than that, though, and I think the majority of Nice Guys grow up to become reasonable, rational adults.  For most of us, I think it's just a phase.  One of those transitory periods of identity in your late teens and early twenties.  Then you look back and laugh at yourself and it's fine.

The problem is that sometimes you write stories while you're trapped in your head space and you end up with something like Save the Date.  Lizzy Caplan's character is this idealized "cool girl" with only the most superficial dimensions.  She's a neurotic slob for the first five minutes or so, and then she pretty much just becomes window dressing while a bunch of Nice Guys fawn over her and talk about how perfect she is.

You ever hear of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl?  MPDGs are basically just a flavor of Nice Guy Dream Girls, and Caplan's character here is pretty much the same thing only in a different flavor.  Call her a Cool Slob Dream Girl, I guess.  She basically is just a plot device even though she's supposed to be the main character.

Anyway, I'm not trying to harp on that movie.  It's just that I could easily have seen myself writing something like Save the Date when I was twenty.  I certainly wrote characters who were just as bad. For all I know, people might think my current writing is still that shallow.  Man, how ironic would this post be if that were the case?