The Press Tour Has Become A Real-Life Rom-Com — & We’re Eating It Up

Maybe you noticed it in a photoshoot of Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz staring longingly at each other’s cheekbones. Or maybe you caught one of the viral press junket videos of Tom Holland and Zendaya eating British snacks and being endearingly wholesome. Either way, you might have noticed a recent trend in this year’s movie press tours…they’re starting to look a lot like romantic comedies. 
In the 2001 movie America’s Sweethearts, Billy Crystal plays a sought-after movie promoter who makes this observation about PR relationships: “You’re not here to love anybody. You’re here to promote a movie. That’s it. Period.” Delivered in the snappy way that only a Nora Ephron muse can, the line speaks to the artificiality of Hollywood romance being so ubiquitous that there have been entire movies dedicated to the subject. 

It’s clear that audiences are becoming more clued in and recognising that what we’re watching is a carefully crafted illusion.

Most rom-coms where the romantic lead’s profession is acting will touch on the shallowness of PR relationships (from Singin’ in The Rain to the BBC show Starstruck). The short-lived TV show UnREAL similarly skewers romantic fantasy in ‘reality’ shows like The Bachelor. Even The Hunger Games had an entire subplot where Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark had to ‘showmance’ their way out of a dystopian talk show led by an unhinged Stanley Tucci
It’s clear that audiences are becoming more clued in and recognising that what we’re watching is a carefully crafted illusion. Kravitz and Pattinson probably aren’t gazing at each other out of genuine, deep adoration. It’s more likely the result of millions of dollars in publicity, social media teams, interviewers and photographers. So, why is it still so powerful? 
When setting up a promotional campaign for a movie, marketing teams will usually consider the ‘story.’ A young director’s debut movie, a veteran actor’s comeback, a comedian putting in an unexpected dramatic performance: these are all distinct narratives that an audience can root for. Especially in the age of content saturation, we’re ruthlessly quick to tune out of uninteresting promos. In the ‘80s, an actor might appear on a few talk shows and magazine covers to promote their movie. Now, they’re expected to take a public lie detector test and ruin their stomach linings with hot wings
However, there is one media narrative that has maintained its relevance: romance. In the 1950s, film studios in Hollywood were notorious for ‘fixing up’ screen couples to generate press. Even now, research from media group SproutSocial suggests that most people crave connection and relationships in branding. Just look at the most-liked Instagram photos of 2021: Cristiano Ronaldo’s announcing his partner’s pregnancy; Ariana Grande’s wedding; Tom Holland’s birthday tribute to Zendaya. Our collective interest in other people’s romantic relationships, particularly those of celebrities (who already leverage a degree of parasocial attention from their fans) often comes from a desire for human connection. 

We’re emotional creatures, and publicity teams have found a way to make this extremely profitable.

But what’s truly interesting about the creation of modern 'showmance' is that it requires publicists, entertainment writers and actors — as well as the audience — to engage in a form of joint narrative creation. We’re emotional creatures, and publicity teams have found a way to make this extremely profitable. Take, for example, that viral video of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain being exhibitionistic at the Venice Film Festival. The video stands alone as a soap opera scene (the prolonged gaze, the kiss on the arm, the constant flashing of camera bulbs!) but the moment truly gained narrative status when users began digging up old photos of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain at the performing arts college, Juilliard. 
A single video then morphs into a romantic narrative about two struggling theatre kids who went to school together, probably had a fling, then reunited at the height of their careers. This was no longer a viral video — this was a romantic story. A story that had Twitter theatre kids reminiscing about their own short-lived college romances. A story that had a believable brand coherence with their TV show, Scenes From a Marriage — a prestige drama about a turbulent but passionate marriage. With a single video, we witnessed the real-time co-creation of a romantic comedy script. 
Although romantic showmances have long been played out in Hollywood, it’s fascinating to watch the evolution of e how this branding is relevant for YouTubers and other influencers today. Social media stars getting together at whirlwind speed only to release official statements about their break-up is dramatic but not unheard of, particularly if the relationship was a part of their brand. 
This creation of narrative in our own relationships might also sound familiar to anyone with a job that requires a level of personal promotion. Is the picture of you and your partner on a parasailing trip going to impact your opening weekend numbers? Probably not. But there’s still a level of curation to the story: what activities have you chosen to post about? Can you post this unedited photo on your business account or is it better left to your Close Friends story? Selective posting and narrative curation are necessary skills for building professional connections and an online presence – an increasing requirement for many jobs. It’s a game that can soon become exhausting for people who perform for a living, so it’s hard to imagine what chance the rest of us have. 
The enduring appeal of the Hollywood showmance tells us that we latch onto connection despite knowing that it’s a choreographed, profit-driven press campaign. But it’s also a technique that can easily slip into false entitlement. Press tour romance is an extension of the fiction-making of a movie and we should treat them like romantic comedies: enjoyment of a couple’s chemistry, appreciation of a well-crafted story — and a clear understanding of its artificiality. As beautiful as all the couple photoshoots might be,it’s useful to remember that they might not be a celebration of love as much as the celebration of a photo op. 
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