MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

What Happened to the Romantic Comedy?

Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, sure, but it’s also the time to celebrate your love with your partner, to go out to dinner or to stay in and cook.  Oftentimes, there is a movie involved and almost every year around this time, the studios put out a romantic comedy to inevitably rake in the millions.  This year that film isDefinitely, Maybe starring Ryan Reynolds (to appeal to the women) and a bevy of beautiful young starlets (to help appeal to the men), but in past year’s it has been films such as Hitch and Music & Lyrics and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (the repairing of the two leads,Fool’s Gold, was just released this past weekend).

Audiences flock to see the movies because they want to see something romantic on the most romantic day of the year, but instead they wind up seeing something resembling a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates; it tastes good, but it’s filled with so many artificial sweeteners that too much will make your stomach hurt.  And contrary to what Forrest Gump says, you always know what you’re going to get.  This is not to say that a film can’t be enjoyed if you know the basic conventions of the genre, but it’s difficult when a film hews so close to those conventions.

Basically, I’m waiting for a romantic comedy to come out that doesn’t involve the two leads getting into a fight somewhere around the hour and fifteen minute mark, only to reconcile twenty minutes later.  Every single time I sit down to watch a romantic comedy, I wait for that moment, for the inevitable fight about something insubstantial, praying that it will just be avoided.  I think it would almost be a stroke of genius if a romantic comedy didn’t have this plot turn because that would truly be a surprise.

Regardless, my biggest disappointment comes from the fact that this is a genre that I love and have loved from a young age.  Sure, a lot of staples of the genre are sappy, but films like It Happened One Night all the way up to When Harry Met Sally are such joys to watch that I’ve seen them time after time.  Growing up, romantic comedies were my favorite types of films to pop in the VCR – even if I had seen them so many times before – because they made me laugh and they gave me an idea of what love was supposed to be.  At my tender age, I couldn’t be sure I knew what love was (and the films don’t necessarily to the best job of explaining it), but from the looks on the faces of the actors, I could have an idea of what love looked like.

But these days, there seems to be a lack of realism in romantic comedies.  Or at least, there is a disconnect between the men (or women) we are and the men (or women) we see on screen.  No longer are we seeing men like Billy Crystal or Tom Hanks, but shirtless hunks like Matthew McConnaughey “struggling” to find love.  Meg Ryan was amazingly beautiful, but Kate Hudson is stunning in a way that you just don’t see in real life.  Of course, part of the fun of watching movies is to see beautiful people fall in love, but these people are almost too beautiful.  This is not exactly Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone.

Lack of a physical connection between the audience and the actors aside, one of the biggest blunders in the world of romantic comedies is attributable to Sex and the City.  This blunder has to do with the tax bracket that many of the leads in these films seem to belong to.  Everybody in romantic comedies today is a marketing executive or an ex-musician or living off a trust fund or writing a major column at a major magazine (that pays major money).  Most people don’t have these glamorous jobs, that’s for sure, but more importantly, most people don’t have this disposable income.  There are scenes today that are basically fashion porn and while it was inventive in Pretty Woman, it has become dangerous today.  It has become dangerous because Sex and the City has taught us that we should want these things, that we can attain these things, that having a Birkin bag is a status symbol or having a pair of Jimmy Choos makes you somebody; thus, it no longer becomes about the joy of that character in that moment, but a profound disappointment if our own wallets cannot make a moment like that come true for our loved ones.

Movies are supposed to be about escape, so watching beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and falling in love with other beautiful people is acceptable to a point.  But, at what point do we say to ourselves, ‘I can’t relate to this.’  And if we cannot relate to the people on the screen, then how are we supposed to be moved when they fall in love with each other?

In the past, it was interesting to watch Audrey Hepburn fall in love with Fred Astaire inFunny Face because she was beautiful, but he was definitely not.  So it becomes a bit of a fantasy for both men and women.  For women, it’s about seeing yourself as Audrey and falling in love with an interesting man and being able to wear fabulous clothes and travel to France.  For men, it was about seeing yourself as Fred and getting a girl like Audrey.  This is applicable to Sabrina too, of course, where we could be Humphrey Bogart, the man who toiled long hours at work, tries to do the right thing by his family and gets the girl.  Well, people can relate to somebody who looks like Bogart and who works hard and tries to look after his family.  It’s not too easy to relate to Hugh Grant, who lazes around all day by himself, eschewing any resemblance of a family in Music & Lyrics and somehow winds up with Drew Barrymore. (Although, Hugh Grant plays a similar character in About a Boy and also winds up with the girl, that is a picture that feels infinitely more real and relatable because of his relationship with the kid.)

The other major part of a romantic comedy is, of course, comedy and that is something that has been sorely lacking in most of the pictures made these days.  Even to this day, if I throw on When Harry Met Sally, I will laugh hysterically not only at the famous orgasm scene but also at the scene where Harry loses his mind after seeing his ex-wife and goes on a long rant in front of his friends who are moving in together: “Before long you’ll be singing ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ in front of Ira!” Or how about when Rob Reiner is telling Tom Hanks about tiramisu in Sleepless in Seattle and Hanks has no idea what it is and Reiner won’t tell him: “Some girl is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is!”

Of course, other great romantic comedies have been written by people other than Nora Ephron. The great Woody Allen, some of his best works are romantic comedies that are both romantic and funny.  But more than that, he also knew that it wasn’t about big situations or overblown plots, it was about two people talking and connecting or disconnecting.  Now we have romantic comedies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend where the idea of the genre film is ruining the beauty of a romance and also strains the comedy by being too cartoonish.

I think there is a future for romantic comedies because there will always be an audience for them, but I think that audience has become so inured to bad romantic comedies that they just lap up whatever is put in front of them.  If watching romantic comedies have taught us anything, it’s that we all deserve better than mediocre and right now, that’s all we’re getting.  So maybe it’s time for me to break up with the romantic comedy genre.  Or at the very least, we’ll just take a break until it figures out how to satisfy me.

Of course, when my girlfriend tells me we’re going to see Fool’s Gold this weekend, I will oblige her.  That, my friends, is true love.

– Noah Forrest
February 13, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon