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Why Hasn't Online Dating Made It Onscreen?

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Why Hasn't Online Dating Made It Onscreen?

Why Hasn't Online Dating Made It Onscreen?

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hollywood movies love technology.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) OK, satellite imagery coming through.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Roger that...

MARTIN: Spy movies, science fiction movies, horror movies - they've all been playing on our collective unease with technology for a long time.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RINGS")

ALEX ROE: (As Holt) There's this video...

MARTIN: And they're not particularly subtle about this.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RINGS")

ROE: (As Holt) It kills you seven days after you watch it.

MARTIN: Videos that kill you, cellphones that kill you, Skype that kills you - Hollywood turns out tons of movies where everyday technology leads to terrifying death. NPR's Glen Weldon reports that filmmakers are still struggling with how to bring everyday tech into romantic comedies.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: It's been a long time since we've gotten a movie that dealt realistically with online dating - like, a really long time...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "YOU'VE GOT MAIL")

MEG RYAN: (As Kathleen Kelly) I turn on my computer.

WELDON: ...1998.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "YOU'VE GOT MAIL")

RYAN: (As Kathleen Kelly) I go online.

AUTOMATED VOICE #1: Welcome.

TOM HANKS: (As Joe Fox) Welcome.

RYAN: (As Kathleen Kelly) And my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words - you've got mail.

WELDON: That was almost two decades ago. And according to a study from the University of Chicago in 2013, over one-third of marriages now begin online. So why aren't today's romantic comedies reflecting that fact? Christine Vachon, whose company, Killer Films, produced movies like "Carol" and "Still Alice," says the answer is how it looks on screen.

CHRISTINE VACHON: Watching two people meet in a visually clever way - it's a lot more interesting than people swiping right or left.

WELDON: She's got a point. So does that mean it'll never happen? You just can't make movies where people meet online.

VACHON: I think you can. I just don't think we have yet. I think you can make anything cinematically compelling. I just think that there's some sort of visual language that we haven't quite cracked yet.

WELDON: OK, so let's say some future screenwriter figures out how to crack that language. Comedian Guy Branum says they'd still have to get the script studio executives, which won't be easy.

GUY BRANUM: People who are greenlighting romantic comedies are still men in their 50s who have not integrated social media or dating apps in any way and never had to integrate them into their lives because they didn't exist. They all got married in 1986 and then, you know, were rich enough that they didn't need help finding a second wife in 1999.

WELDON: Branum writes for Hulu's "The Mindy Project," which, like a lot of TV shows, features characters texting and clicking and swiping all the time. But he's not surprised that film studios are still reluctant to show people using tech in realistic ways.

BRANUM: A big problem is that we no longer make movies that reflect reality. The movies we are good at making involve talking cars that transform into robots or something smashing into the earth or people going into space. We have, to some extent, forgotten how to make movies about people.

WELDON: Producer Christine Vachon is a bit more hopeful.

VACHON: The movie business is always very afraid of what it doesn't - what it doesn't completely understand.

WELDON: She thinks Hollywood just needs time to catch up.

VACHON: Our cinematic language, it seems to me, always shifts and adjusts to the times that we're in.

WELDON: That shift may have already started, but to see it, you have to look beyond the rom-com. Weirdly enough, it's science fiction that's exploring the space where romance and technology come together in films like 2013's "Her."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HER")

AUTOMATED VOICE #2: Please wait as your individualized operating system is initiated.

WELDON: Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely guy who installs an artificial intelligence - voiced by Scarlett Johansson - onto his computer, then falls in love with it. No, it's not match.com, but it's probably as close as Hollywood's going to get for now.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HER")

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Samantha) Hello, I'm here.

WELDON: Glen Weldon, NPR News.

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