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‘If I Can’t Have You’ Review: How Stereotypes Ruin A Good Plot

Love is undoubtedly one of the best feelings in the world. Since time immemorial, love has been considered to be the one feeling that overpowers every darkness; love is like magic. But magic itself can be dark. So, sometimes love crosses the boundaries of sanity and enters into obsession, ruining purity. This dark side of love is redefined in the film “If I Can’t Have You” by director David Decoteau. In the age of online dating and internet media, the film went back to recreating love in the old way. It was not uncommon for people to fall in love with radio jockeys. The most popular radio jockey recalls receiving fan mail and flowers and being approached by over enthusiastic fans. The film brings back that old-school love.

The protagonist, Michelle (Bailey Kai), is a radio jockey who hosts the midnight show. She is a top-rated host who talks about love and very compassionately listens to and answers all her callers. Unfortunately, her kind nature gets her into trouble when a caller becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her. As she takes up the incident with the judicial authorities, she is warned that, in most cases, people are stalked by those they already know. Michelle and her friend and co-host Lily (Gina Hiraizumi) decide to take the matter into their own hands and find out who is threatening Michelle. Initially, they thought it was Mr Sklar, (Michael Pare) the creepy neighbour. But as they begin investigating, they unlock new levels of fear. However, the true identity of the stalker remains hidden. Finally, the stalker directly approaches Michelle. To her utter dismay, the stalker is someone she had never suspected.

The story sounds interesting, but unfortunately, the presentation is flawed. It is, on one hand, because it vehemently failed to keep the mystery alive till the end and the actors did not deliver their best. On the other, the film portrays deep-rooted and unflattering gender stereotypes, with highly misogynistic characters. It is one thing to mock such social evils but in the film, they were almost celebrated. 

Spoilers Ahead


Misogyny And Stereotypes

There were several instances where women fell prey to misogyny. It was unsettling to listen to the conversation between the two female detectives, Detective Olsen (Jackee Harry) and Detective Morgan (Tracy Nelson). Before planning how Detective Olsen should handle the case, Detective Morgan said that she was not surprised that Michelle (who is a popular radio host) would receive such a threat. According to her, at a midnight show, when some woman in a sort of sensual voice talks to her callers with compassion and kindness about emotions, she exposes them to threats as such. For a moment, their conversation felt as if Michelle had knowingly risked herself by being so good at her job. Also, throughout the film, we see Michelle and Lily’s boss Stan offering them to change their midnight time slot to a morning slot. Was it another way of pointing out that women aren’t safe post-midnight? Well, the power to interpret this action remains with the audience. In another scene, Michelle’s boyfriend, Aiden (Houston Rhines), asks her to marry him because that way he could protect her. The subtle yet powerful misogyny in the statement will make you cringe.

Michelle and Aiden, however, live together, and something between the lovers seems to be off. Michelle seems to have avoided the topic of marriage for a longer period, which seemed to infuriate and devastate Aiden. As Michelle was hell-bent on revealing the identity of the stalker, she recalled a conversation with her neighbour, Mr Sklar that struck her odd. One morning, as Michelle came to collect her mail, Mr Sklar told Michelle how she liked her coffee. He said he heard her order her coffee at the coffee shop where he stood behind her in the queue. It is a neighbourly act to remember what coffee your neighbour prefers. However, as Mr Sklar seemed to be a weird man, for he had no friends and seemed isolated, his words were misread by Michelle. Lily also suspected Keith (Philip McElroy), their co-worker, and their boss Stan as the mystery caller, John Doe. The ease with which Lily and Michelle suspected men who were close to them of being the caller both amazed and shocked us. On the one hand, this shows how women are insecure even when they are in their known circle, and on the other, men are stereotyped as being able to do anything nasty. Also, the boss, Stan, justified one of his previous actions that made Lily uncomfortable. According to him, asking a beautiful young co-worker (who is like a subordinate) over to drink is a lesser crime than the mystery caller. The film very openly generalized the wrongs of society. Was this generalizing genuine or purposeful? That is open to interpretation.


Madly (Toxically) In Love

The song “If I Can’t Have You” is a brilliant love song by singer Shawn Mendes. The film uses it as satire. In the end, we come to know that the mystery caller and stalker, John Doe was no one else but Aiden. He was so in love with Michelle that he framed Mr Sklar and ended up taking his life. Not just that, when things began to spiral out of his control, he decided to murder Michelle as well. However, Lily snuck in and hit Aiden, saving Michelle’s life. However, before Aiden’s failed attempt to murder Michelle, he explained the reason for his entire act. He said that Michelle talked about love and emotions with all purity and from her heart in the show, but she displayed no such emotions for Aiden. Aiden wanted Michelle to love him the way she told her listeners to fall in love. These words shed light on modern love. People do not communicate their feelings and emotions and put on a mask. They dwell in alternate realities, and soon the barriers between actual reality and the alternate, or virtual, reality merge, and they lose the entire concept of reality. Love becomes an act of winning and conquering in the wrong way. Thus, even in prison, Aiden manages to find a cell phone and calls Michelle on her show again. Here too, it somewhere projects men in a negative light. Aiden is a desperate man who does not understand the concept of boundary. Thus, he haunts Michell even when he is serving his sentence. 

The desperation to be in love and to belong somewhere is like a parasite. Unhealthy relationships without proper communication and boundaries are what the parasites of insanity thrive on. These parasites not only kill two people but are a great threat to modern societies. Simultaneously, stereotypes and misogyny, are the two major setbacks of a progressive society. 


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