Over the past week I have read several articles about how the Romantic Comedy may be a dying breed. It all started with an article in The Atlantic monthly print magazine by Christopher Orr titled Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad? That was then followed by several critiques including one on NPR by Linda Holmes, and one from Billy Mernit on Living the Romantic Comedy. All of that was then followed by a critique of the critiques with a second article from Orr- What Went Wrong With Romantic Comedies: Part 2. Now, I’m not planning to also write a critique here- but I do want to discuss both the pitfalls and the greatness of the Romantic Comedy. Why? Quite simply because I love them.
I completely agree with Orr that many of the movies in the genre from the past 5 years or so are dreadful. Romantic comedies today seem to have become completely cliched and full of neurotic women we can’t see the charm in or identify with. The men are often misogynistic and it’s hard to see how why we are supposed to fall in love with them along with the heroin. The settings are contrived, the women are sex crazed, and the comedy is often too over the top or raunchy to be really funny.
Mindy Kaling (who I could write an entire post on- let me know if you want to read that) hilariously addresses this when detailing the types of women often seen in Romantic Comedy today in an article she wrote for the New Yorker in 2011. Kaling also mentions in the article how embarrassing it is these days to admit that you enjoy these films, and talks about how she is able to enjoy the current offerings by detaching them from any kind of reality. “I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible.” Now, I will admit that I laughed out loud when I read that because I could relate- but it also made me sad.
I don’t want to watch a romantic comedy to examine another dimension- I want to be able to relate, to see some part of myself in the characters. I want it to feel real enough because as a single woman, I live vicariously through these characters for the two hours that we spend together. I can feel the emotions as if I too were experiencing their love. And this escape- that’s what I look for in a good romantic comedy.
I want it to feel plausibly real. I want the women and men to have pretty normal lives and regular jobs. I want there to be moments of truth that I can relate to, such as when Sally (Meg Ryan) is crying to Harry (Billy Crystal) because she found out her ex is getting married in When Harry Met Sally. Harry asks her if she would take him back now, and Sally says no. Then why are you upset? Harry wants to know- and Sally responds with “why didn’t he want to marry me?” That moment hits in the gut because it is so nakedly true. Other true moments where I have found a moment of pure honesty in Romantic Comedy include Kristen Wiig’s reaction to the announcement that her best friend is getting married in Bridesmaids (simultaneous joy and tears), Bob (David Duchovney) asking Grace (Minnie Driver) if he can hold her hand in Return to Me (I could also write an entire post on the greatness of Bob), and the credit sequence in Bridget Jones’s Diary when Renee Zellweger sings/dances/drinks it out to “All By Myself”.
These moments are what keep bringing me back to my tried and true films. Nora Ephron nailed it every time, but who is writing Sams and Annies today? We need a new wave of Romantic Comedies that treat women as smart, rational human beings, and gives them real men to fall in love with- men who are not dragged into love kicking and screaming. I have hope that these types of quality romances will come around again. Until then, I’ll keep hanging out in the Shop Around the Corner, masochistically reminding myself that I want to be in love in a movie.