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Romantic Comedies

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Romances and romantic comedies are probably my favorite movie genres but they're not ones that I spend a lot of time thinking about. Nevertheless I find myself periodically reading something or listening to something that revives my interest in the subject. Currently, Grantland is having a Rom-Com week. I find myself pushing back against a lot of the theories I've heard so far (full disclosure: I'm generally pushing back against male critics) and yet I haven't quite synthesized my own feelings on romantic comedies. So let's work on that together. I'm throwing everything in the bowl. Everything from the beginning of cinema to the present day. 

 

Let's figure out what counts as a romantic comedy and then look at some trends and developments over the years and how it reflects changes in the culture.

 

My taste in rom-coms generally tends towards movies made in the 30's and the late 90's/early 2000's. Hopefully you'll be able to help me fill in the blanks.


I thought we could start with a couple of lists to help us define what is and what isn't a romantic comedy. 

 

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=romanticcomedy.htm

http://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/romantic-comedies-you-need-to-see-before-you-die

http://www.imdb.com/search/title?count=100&genres=comedy,romance&num_votes=10000,&title_type=feature

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I find myself pushing back against a lot of the theories I've heard so far (full disclosure: I'm generally pushing back against male critics) and yet I haven't quite synthesized my own feelings on romantic comedies.

Can you clarify the theories you are encountering and feeling a need to push back on?

At its most basic, I think the genre entails at least two people who are romantically interested in each other but have at least one obstacle that keeps them from eternal happiness in a series of comical events. I think a recent trend questions whether the two people who like each other know the other well enough to bother with a movie's-length worth of keeping them apart, or if our culture and the genre itself have conditioned certain expectations in romantic endeavors by perpetuating this meet-cute, live happily-ever-after cliche. For example, "Don Jon" recently contrasted a man's expectation of women based on porn vs. a woman's expectation of a man based on romantic movies and all of the issues that arise from such.

Of course, I'm interested in the definition of romantic comedy because most romances I enjoy include a bit of tragedy. There is as much crying as laughter in many of the romantic movies I enjoy, like "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "P.S. I Love You."

Edited by Frisson

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The main reason I am drawn to romantic comedies is the lack of tragedy. So @Frisson and I are two ends of the viewing spectrum. I only watch Rom Coms for happy tears and laughter. The ones that make me sad are never re-watched. I like the fantasy of romance being somewhat simple, not boring, but light-hearted. 

 

Hollywood needs to invest in Rom Coms again. The frat boy comedies can't be the only funny movies on the big screen. Romance will always have an audience. 

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My favorite Rom-Com was actually made for PBS, not a feature film, but it stars two big-time (at least, they are now) movie stars. It's Who Am I This Time?, directed by Jonathan Demme, based on a Kurt Vonnegut short story, and stars Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken. It was shown on American Playhouse back in 1979 or 1980, and it is wonderful!! 

 

It takes place in the early 1960s in a small town and focuses on the town's little playhouse, where the locals who love to act put on plays all the time. One of the locals, Walken's Harry Nash, was a foundling child who grew up to be pathologically shy in real life, but an amazing actor once you turn on the spotlight. Sarandon is a trainer for the phone company who moves from town to town as new equipment is installed and always avoids gettting involved with her temporary homes until she gets drawn in to try out for the town's new production of A Streetcar Named Desire. She gets cast as Stella, and falls for Harry's Stanley. Everyone tries to tell her that Harry is not like the guy she sees in rehearsals, and, well, you really must see the rest of it yourself. So, so, SOOO good! The chemistry between Sarandon and Walken is palpable (when they rehearse the "Stella!!" part of Streetcar...wow, the tv almost ignites).

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Can you clarify the theories you are encountering and feeling a need to push back on?

Ah, it's hard for me to go round up all the things I've been reading over the years. There's of course that podcast on Grantland. I generally disagree with Wesley Morris' opinions on the Do You Like Prince Movies podcast anyway and I've been trying to quit it because it's making me uncomfortable but (see the thread) I'm a completionist and I find it very hard to give up on things. There's a lot said in the podcast so it would be helpful if you listened for yourself.

 

http://www.overthinkingit.com/2010/03/17/for-love-or-money-the-lessons-of-modern-romance/

http://www.overthinkingit.com/2014/02/27/romantic-comedy-income/

http://www.overthinkingit.com/2011/09/21/romantic-comedies/

 

I've probably also read things in regular movie reviews and thinkpieces from Slate and the like but I can't recall them. 

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Reviving this thread to recommend a romantic comedy -   While You Were Sleeping.  Sandra Bullock convinces herself she's in love with a guy, saves his life, he wakes up with amnesia, is convinced they are engaged, and ......   the rest you have to see.  

it's a great Christmas movie too - Set in Chicago.  

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I wonder if the genre has shifted to TV to some extent, between all the cutesy/quirky/twee love story sitcoms and the glut of Christmas movies with romantic comedy setups offered by the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime starting earlier and earlier each year (Hallmark was showing Christmas movies on Halloween). A lot of mid-budget movies of all stripes have slipped through the cracks with the big studios, as they try to chase after the next big franchise. Serious dramas at least have the hope of Oscar glory to boost their box office, but rom-coms were never awards darlings, so they slipped further down on the priority list. Then, someone like Katherine Heigl, who could have become the next rom-com sweetheart, burned bridges in record time, and Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock have moved on from/aged out of the genre. Then, as romantic comedy started to tank commercially, the next big thing for young actresses to do was to latch onto a YA/action franchise as their ticket to box office glory. The genre could also use some more diversity, something like a Fast & Furious approach that studios just can't write off as only appealing to the "urban" market.

 

The guy looking for a woman with the same name as his ex to go on a free trip around the world with him seems like such a rom-com plot waiting to happen.

Edited by Dejana
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That's an interesting point. I am watching Selfie and A to Z right now but there are also shows I'm not watching like You're the Worst that pick up some of the rom com threads. I think to some extent indie movies have also picked up the slack. There's The F Word/What If with Daniel Radcliffe. Maybe these movies still exist but they don't exist in the same form because the same people aren't making them. And maybe the reason the big Hollywood studios have largely stopped making these movies is that they don't turn a big profit anymore. Indie also likes making minor twists. A big one is the friendship rom com. Take "For a Good Time Call..." which employs rom com tropes but is ultimately about the friendship between the two female characters.

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It drives me crazy when the leads in a romantic comedy have crazy awesome chemistry but the writing is shit.

 

I find the writing for these movies to be very inconsistent, which is a shame. Most of these are full of cliches and stereotypes, so it's not like much originality is needed or expected. How hard is it to write something funny or compelling when the framework is already there?

 

There are many I've watched on DVD and there are consistently parts that I'll skip if/when I re-watch.

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The guy looking for a woman with the same name as his ex to go on a free trip around the world with him seems like such a rom-com plot waiting to happen.

 

I heard this story on Friday on the radio and had the exact same thought. I'm almost ashamed to admit I tried to cast it in my head.

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Silver Linings Playbook was classified as a romantic comedy/dramedy...it was pretty successful and I liked it a lot, although I actually wished they HADN'T added in the lighter comedy touches. I think it's a good example of the ways in which they're changed a bit.

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That's an interesting point. I am watching Selfie and A to Z right now but there are also shows I'm not watching like You're the Worst that pick up some of the rom com threads.

You're The Worst is 100% a romcom, and it puts every other romcom TV show in the shade by miles.  It is hard to overstate how much more I prefer it A to Z or Selfie.

Anyways, I do want to watch What If/F Word.  And They Came Together, which I believe is more of a send-up of romcom cliches than a pure romcom.

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They Came Together was mainly good, especially when they had the parts that really felt like they belonged in romantic comedy movies but weren't obvious, like how there's always some wayward young sibling to contrast against your uptight self, how single guys somehow have huge Manhattan lofts, and how after the meet-cute (when you initially detest each other), your love interest will overhear you go on a rant against them. The problem was when they tried TOO hard, like the big speeches with Evil Brunette Love Interest or the "you can say that again" scene.

 

I loved their send-up of the love musical montage.

Edited by methodwriter85
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I heard this story on Friday on the radio and had the exact same thought. I'm almost ashamed to admit I tried to cast it in my head.

 

Update: He's found a traveling partner, but she has a boyfriend (paging James Marsden).

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   Wow, this couldn't be more of a romantic comedy set-up if it tried. I'd cast Andrew Garfield as Jordan (even though they look nothing alike), Anne Hathaway as the original Elizabeth Gallagher, and Jennifer Lawrence as the replacement Elizabeth Gallagher.

 

   I think the only time James Marsden "won" was in 27 Dresses. I guess you could also say he "won" in his failed Nicholas Sparks movie, but he was set up as the protagonist anyway.  

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Reviving this thread to recommend a romantic comedy -   While You Were Sleeping.  Sandra Bullock convinces herself she's in love with a guy, saves his life, he wakes up with amnesia, is convinced they are engaged, and ......   the rest you have to see. 

it's a great Christmas movie too - Set in Chicago.

I luvvvv this movie, and I watch it every Christmas Eve. Can't wait for next week!

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I love it too. And I kind of hate that the term romantic comedy seems to have become an insult in and of itself, because there have been great romantic comedies in movie history- just none in the last decade or so. Every shitty movie that starred Kate Hudson/Katherine Heigl has to represent the entire genre of romantic comedy now? That's unfair- those movies were crap because they were crap. Before that romantic comedies were made regularly that people still love today-I just think people have forgotten how to write them or something.

Edited by ruby24
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   There was this old review I read about Amy Adam's Leap Year movie that raised a lot of good points about why romantic comedies are languishing right now- they just don't get women.

 

Amy Adams' Leap Year: What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Women

 

    I mean, I enjoyed it (mostly because of Matthew Goode wearing a pea coat and a fisherman's sweater), but yeah, this pretty much nailed what's wrong:

 

You want to know what was cute about Kimberly Williams in the movie Father of the Bride? Her character was a 22-year-old and she acted like one. Maybe young women her age still get silly and feverish about their fairy tale notions of weddings and marriage. Grown women don’t.

 

     

     A LOT of recent romantic comedies ran into this problem- the characters are reduced to infantile little girls who get their perfect little Mia Thermopolis foot pop. I remember what I really liked about My Best Friend's Wedding is that Julia Roberts realizes in the end that she wasn't fighting for love; she was fighting to win, and actually got to end the movie as a grown woman.

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While You Were Sleeping is my all time favorite romantic comedy.  First, the scene when Lucy clutches her present while watching the Callahans rip through theirs always makes me tear up.  Second, watching the paperboy wipe out on his bicycle always makes me crack up.  Third, and most important, I can see why Lucy and Jack fell in love with each other as they walk and talk and try to save each other from the ice after delivering the love seat as well as in their wordless "conversation" at the dinner table as non sequiturs whiz around them.  Most other (lesser) films just go with a montage set to some kicky pop song.

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Every shitty movie that starred Kate Hudson/Katherine Heigl has to represent the entire genre of romantic comedy now? That's unfair- those movies were crap because they were crap.

I realize that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days and 27 Dresses are not good movies. But if that's what you consider a bad romantic comedy, you haven't seen how low we can go. Both of those ladies made worse movies. 

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No judgment. I used to watch that movie on TV all the time. I think the actors managed to be charming enough to sell unlikable characters and a crazy plot. It did go downhill from there though. I've only seen bits of Bride Wars and what I saw was enough.

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I realize that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days and 27 Dresses are not good movies. But if that's what you consider a bad romantic comedy, you haven't seen how low we can go. Both of those ladies made worse movies. 

 

     I'd probably put Little Black Book as a "low" of the genre.

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On a more hopeful note, I thought Obvious Child was delightful even with the montage set to a kicky pop song.  Rent it!

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I think the only time James Marsden "won" was in 27 Dresses. I guess you could also say he "won" in his failed Nicholas Sparks movie, but he was set up as the protagonist anyway.  

He sorta won Heights too, in that his character was clearly more passionate about Jesse Bradford's than Elizabeth Banks', and that's who he ended up with.

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My favorite Romantic Comedy is probably While You Were Sleeping.  Embarrassed to say how many times I watched that one *g.  Sandra Bullock and the President from Independence Day film were perfect together.  His family was so adorable too.  Lucy was so alone and sad.   It was such a great joy to see her find a family & a happy ending : )

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I highly recommend Richard Curtis' About Time. Everything about it is just adorable, and it has Bill Nighy, Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams. Enough said. I wasn't initially all that jazzed about the time-travel aspect, but everything is handled with charm and that warm British Love Actually-type humor Curtis has mastered.

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I watched They Came Together on Netflix over the weekend and thought it was really funny!

Edited by funkopop

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I watched They Came Together on Netflix over the weekend and thought it was really funny!

I liked it too. Another good one on Netflix is I Give It a Year with Rose Byrne and Simon Baker. Very clever and funny.

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My favorite Romantic Comedy is probably While You Were Sleeping.  Embarrassed to say how many times I watched that one *g.  Sandra Bullock and the President from Independence Day film were perfect together.  His family was so adorable too.  Lucy was so alone and sad.   It was such a great joy to see her find a family & a happy ending : )

Oh, man. This is one my all-time favorites (second only to “When Harry Met Sally”). I’ve watched this movie every year since 1995, but I only let myself watch it once a year, on Christmas Eve.

 

And I still laugh at the jokes like it’s the first time I’ve heard them. “I know karate.” “If you fit into my pants, I will kill myself.” “Look at the bright side. He’s got more room in his Jockey shorts.” Trust me, I could go on.

 

 

Celeste and Jesse Forever was a pretty good romantic dramedy.

Sounds good. Will have to check it out.

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I didn't expect to like Celeste and Jesse Forever but I did, I don't usually feel Rashida Jones is such a great actress, but there are some scenes (no spoilers) where the "realness" of the situation just made me hurt for her, she nailed it.

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Yeah, I was kind of surprised by how good Rashida Jones was. She really nailed it in the movie and made Celeste feel like a 3-d character. She usually plays the "Cool Girl" or the bland nice girl so it was great to see this part.

Edited by methodwriter85

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I really like You've Got Mail and the Wedding Singer. Never been Kissed was cute too. Funny because I just watched While You Were Sleeping for the billionth time this week. They sure don't make rom coms like they used to.

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Cameron Crowe's Aloha is released tomorrow and the reviews are...not so good. Sony has put the movie's first eight minutes online. Doesn't look like this one is going to give studios confidence about making more romantic comedies any time soon.

Edited by Dejana

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Man, that's a shame. If there's anybody out right now that could revive romantic comedies, it's Emma Stone. She is so the traditional plucky heroine in a romantic comedy, but they're just not hitting off right now.

 

Leap Year is my guilty pleasure- it's so terrible yet I can't help but like it. I'm also watching Austenland a lot. It's a shame no one saw the movie in theaters- there's a second book (with all new characters) that could have been interesting to watch. 

Edited by methodwriter85
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I guess Trainwreck will count as a romantic comedy hit. Amy Schumer and Bill Hader succeeding where Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper couldn't—who'd have thunk it?

Edited by Dejana
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It's funny when you think the last romantic comedy success, Silver Linings Playbook, was also an R-rated one that wasn't really the PG-13 Sandra Bullock kind of romantic comedy.

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It's funny when you think the last romantic comedy success, Silver Linings Playbook, was also an R-rated one that wasn't really the PG-13 Sandra Bullock kind of romantic comedy.

 

I thought of Think Like A Man, but the first one came out earlier in 2012 than SLP, and the latter did end up making more money. TLAM is one of the more successful Love Actually copycats in terms of box office, after Valentine's Day and He's Just Not That Into You. Going by this list, the success stories in the 2010s are pretty sparse.

Edited by Dejana
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SLP only made its money after awards nominations started coming in, too. I remember when it first was in theaters, they were concerned because it wasn't breaking out on its own, but then the awards season helped it after it started to become a favorite with nominations.

 

It's too bad they don't really even try to make many decent romantic comedies anymore.

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Yeah, I remember really being anxious to see SLP in this theater upstate from me because I was positive it wasn't going to make it to a wide release, like what happened to Perks of Being A Wallflower, which never got to the theater that was by me.

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I feel like women still like romantic comedies. Female creators, I mean. I'm not sure if it's because it's what they grew up with and are conditioned to like (or want to twist) or because those are still the projects getting the greenlight when women are at the helm. I'm thinking of Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks, What If), Obvious Child, Trainwreck, and the best friend rom-coms (For a Good Time Call, Frances Ha). Bear in mind I haven't seen most of these movies but I think there's a trend of indie-ish female talent that could make other kinds of movies opting for rom-coms.

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A Romantic comedy that I had enjoyed a lot, but that isn't all that well known was "What's your number?" With Anna Farris and Chris Evans. It followed the age old romcom formula, but the leads were charismatic enough to pull it off. Feel good, funny and fluffy with only a hint of vulgarity. Exactly the formula I like in romcoms...

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It was a pretty good movie. It's a shame it wasn't a hit. Anna Faris SHOULD have been a romantic comedy queen...it's a shame that we haven't had one since Katherine Heigl's short-stint at it.

 

Frances Ha was a great "best friends" romcom. I loved that her love interests were secondary to her friendships.

Edited by methodwriter85
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I, for one, still enjoy Rom Coms, but I am needing them to be smarter and not so cookie-cutter now. They need to have an edge. One of the best recent rom-coms that aradia22 mentioned is For a Good Time Call, even though, agreed, it's female friendship that is the main point. It's fresh, it's naughty, the performances are fun and it's heartwarming.

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I miss Meg Ryan. Her rom-coms are still my bad day go-tos.

My list of favorites: When Harry Met Sally (#1), You've Got Mail, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, While You Were Sleeping, Two Weeks Notice, Sweet Home Alabama, The Holiday, The Wedding Planner, 13 Going on 30, Never Been Kissed. I miss films like this! Silver Linings Playbook was interesting, but I didn't find it particularly romantic and it's not like the aforementioned that I can watch over and over.

Edited by SallyAlbright
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