MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Longing for a Real Romantic Comedy

I forced myself to do a double-feature of the two most recent and most successful “romantic comedies” in theaters, The Proposal and The Ugly Truth.  I used the term “romantic comedy” loosely because there isn’t a whole lot that is either romantic or funny about either film.  Both films lack anything resembling a realistic romance that an audience can root for and the comedy in both films is staid, lightweight or done to better effect on show like Sex and the City.

I happen to be a fan of the romantic-comedy genre when it’s done well.  As an audience member, there’s nothing I enjoy more than having a few laughs while watching a believable romance play out before my eyes.  Movies like It Happened One Night or The Lady Eve are still enjoyable to this day because we never get tired of watching beautiful people fall in love while exchanging witty barbs.  There is a certain formula to making a romantic comedy, but the best ones are never formulaic.

The problem with many of the modern romantic comedies is that the emphasis is squarely on the women.  That is not to say that women shouldn’t be front and center in romantic comedies, but that the essence of watching a romance is in watching both members of the partnership being on equal footing so we can root for that romance to succeed.  But instead, what we have are fantasies that appeal strictly to women with little care as to whether men will enjoy the picture.

One could blame Sex and the City for this shift, but that would be a little reductive.  I think it actually goes back to that famous scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts goes on the shopping spree, trying on different clothes while Richard Gere looks on and either approves or disapproves of the outfit.  Not only does that scene say that women will be happy if you buy them clothes, but also that they will be happy with whatever clothes the man prefers.  The essence of the scene being that women do not wear clothes for their own pleasure, but for the pleasure of their partners.  Say what you will about Sex and the City, but Carrie Bradshaw wore the clothes she loved in spite of what her partners might have thought about them.

The point of all this is that clothing, money and status have become really big parts of what the modern romantic comedy has become.  Rather than creating two characters, mapping out their history and figuring out the little quirks that they have accrued as they’ve gotten older, it seems as if filmmakers are merely finding two glamorous career paths.  Instead of something like When Harry Met Sally, where the romance is centered on antithetical personalities growing together over the years, we get movies like Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Devil Wears Prada, or The Ugly Truth which all involve characters in the fashion, magazine or television industries.  It seems as if one must be wealthy or famous to fall in love on screen these days.

When a romantic comedy comes along that actually involves real people, it’s almost shocking.  I remember walking out of Adventureland earlier this year and being so shocked that I had seen a genuinely romantic, funny film that is actually centered around the lack of money rather than an abundance of it.  Sure, films like The Devil Wears Prada andConfessions of a Shopaholic make reference to lack of funds, but always as some vague, unrealistic problem that doesn’t have any real ramifications.

That is also not to say that one can’t have glamorous jobs or exotic locations in a decent romantic comedy.  I think Forgetting Sarah Marshall is probably the most enjoyable film in the genre in the last couple of years and it has a major rock star and television star as two of the biggest characters and it takes place in Hawaii; even the main character is composer for a big CSI-like television show. The difference is that while their jobs inform who they are as people, they aren’t used as a shorthand to explain who they are.  The Mila Kunis character was a real person, someone I’ve met or can relate to myself, someone who is working a job to avoid having to really move forward, and the film doesn’t need to have a teary monologue about it to convey the message.

Duplicity, which came out earlier this year, is essentially a romantic comedy mixed together with a techno-thriller.  But what comes through in the end is that we have a desire to see these two people together, not because of its convenience or because opposites attract or because of any other little movie short hands, but because we feel like we have gotten to know them well enough that we are rooting for them to be together and be happy.  And of course, the chemistry between the leads is undeniable and chemistry can make up for an awful lot of a script’s shortcomings – something that can’t be said for the pairing of Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler.

Romantic comedies these days need to be based more on both characters rather than trying to figure out what women want to see.  I don’t like that there’s a distinction between “dude movies” and “chick flicks” because both of those are just short-hand most of the time for “movies that blow shit up” and “movies that make you cry” respectively.  I think it’s borderline sexist that studios and filmmakers make and market films that are for just one type of audience.  But more than that, I blame audiences for being suckered into believing it; it’s depressing when women instinctively flock to The Ugly Truth or guys rush to seeTransformers 2 just because they’ve been told it’s what they should want to see as members of their respective genders.  It shouldn’t be so difficult to make romantic comedies that everybody can enjoy.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up actually proved that there is a market for romantic comedies that are more male-centric, but it seems like Judd Apatow and his crew are the only ones tapping that market.

For a lot of people, myself included, Annie Hall is the quintessential romantic comedy and you know what’s so interesting about that?  It doesn’t have any of the formulas of most romantic comedies.  It’s funny and romantic, but it’s also depressing and realistic – while simultaneously being surrealistic – because it ends with the main characters splitting up.  And as much as we have been rooting for them to make it work, we know by the end – just as they do – that it’s not meant to be.

What’s so strange to me is that so many people believe Annie Hall to be the pinnacle of the romantic comedy genre and yet 99% of films in the genre have a “happy” ending and don’t take any risks.  The romantic comedy genre doesn’t always need to be the “safe” choice; it can be as daring as any other genre in cinema.  It’s time for filmmakers to realize that.

– Noah Forrest
August 3, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily 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