In Defence Of: The Romantic Comedy

| On
By Claire.

Full disclosure: I am writing this piece while wearing my Notting Hill movie t-shirt, drinking out of my Legally Blonde mug, surrounded by books on Nora Ephron and When Harry Met Sally, Clueless, and writing romantic comedy screenplays, next to my Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster.
Imagine this:
All your life, you have loved helping people. At your actual job, you live and breathe for your boss, whom you are an assistant for and happen to be desperately in love with. Just when you work up the courage to admit your feelings, your wild and younger sister swoops in, stealing the man of your dreams. After a whirlwind romance, the new couple are to be married in three weeks. To top it all off, your idol turns out to be a real asshole. A few fights, a drunk and passionate rendition of “Benny and the Jets,” a one-night stand, miscommunication, and a teary admission of love at a random wedding reception on a boat in the Hudson River later, and it’s happily ever after.
So goes the plot of 2008’s 27 Dresses (dir. Anne Fletcher), one of my favourite romantic comedies (and movies) ever.
To say I love romantic comedies is an understatement. 
The Romantic Comedy is a genre of film where two characters meet (often boy meets girl or girl meets boy), and after a series of trials and tribulations, the two falls in love and live happily ever after. This usually takes place in a metropolitan setting, with a kooky ensemble of friends involved, and features an adult-contemporary soundtrack.

Katherine Heigl as Jane, the perfect bridesmaid, in 27 Dresses

In 27 Dresses, Katherine Heigl is Jane, an executive assistant at an outdoor magazine and freelance wedding planner, who has been a bridesmaid twenty-seven times. It never gets more “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” than Jane, but she can’t say no and loves to help make people’s dreams happen. Enter the devastatingly handsome James Marsden as Kevin, a journalist who writes for the Commitments section of a newspaper under a pseudonym, and Jane’s favourite writer. Jane loves weddings and Kevin, despite his job, hates them. 
Naturally, they clash. 
Naturally, they fall in love, but isn’t that always the way?
I know what you’re all thinking: another romcom about weddings, another hetero-normative movie that teaches women that marital bliss is the only way she will become complete! And yes, you are correct in this. I will be the first to point out all the feminist faults in this plot line, having literally written about the limits of post-feminism in contemporary romantic comedies. However, I won’t, because even though I’m a feminist, I love weddings. The feminist agenda isn’t against weddings, or marriage or love (although for some facets of radical feminism, it is, and I do acknowledge this agenda is not the same for everyone). If anything, despite a few choice words from Kevin about Jane needing to be “taken care of”, something he is more than willing to do (yikes, my man), Jane doesn’t need to change a thing about her other than gaining the confidence to say no and put herself first occasionally. With that, I am content in this film.

James Marsden and Heigl in 27 Dresses, post-Benny and the Jets

As a genre, romcoms are often dismissed and looked over, the result of high critique and cynicism: The plot lines and happy endings are just too unrealistic; real life isn’t like that; this isn’t the movies, kid, get your head out of the clouds!
To that I say: so what? Movies being unrealistic? Oh, I’m sorry, I was just waiting around for the zombie apocalypse to arrive while I ride with my alien friend in my bike—which can fly—back to its home on another planet...
Movies don’t have to be realistic, they are fiction! You can create an entirely new world, where you control the story, so why not give the characters a happy ending?
Secondly, romantic comedies are viewed as a predominantly female genre, or rather, as a “woman’s film”. At my old local video store, the shelves included a “chick flick” and “dick flick” section. While I stood in front of these shelves looking for my next Friday night movie, in the former I found an abundance of romantic comedies, musicals and Nicholas Sparks movies; the latter housed action, fantasy adventures, gross-out comedies and more guns than you can count.
Despite many of the greatest romantic comedies having been directed by the likes of Gary Marshall (Pretty Woman), P.J Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Muriel’s Wedding), Rob Reiner (Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally) and Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), Hollywood tends to discount women almost entirely. 
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in Nora Ephron's and Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally

As outlined in his article '7 Reasons Hollywood doesn’t make romantic comedies anymore', (and you have to disregard the kind of gross critique of Katherine Heigl here, as if she is the sole woman/person to blame) Todd VanDerWerff regards the double standard of a movie like Casablanca, a romantic melodrama centred around a male, can receive Best Picture and be herald as one of the greatest movies of all time, whereas the same cannot be afforded to a romantic melodrama about a woman. These films are woman’s films and do not stand in the same league as the male-centric narratives in the craft.
This, of course, is ridiculous. Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers are titans of the genre, and according to the MPAA report in 2016, women make up 52% of the cinema-going audience.  Women are powerful at the box office. Passing off romantic comedies and other romantic melodrama’s as a “woman’s film” with a sneer and off-handed gesture negates women the space to fully participate and exist within film culture, just for liking romantic comedies.
Thirdly, most rom-coms feature a white male and female, ending in marriage/monogamy. The ultimate lesson is we need a partner of the opposite sex to complete us. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea (heck, as a feminist it’s hardly my cup of tea), but if we look at what has been happening on screen these past five years, this is not to say that things aren’t changing within the genre.
At the start of the year, Jen Chaney wrote for Vulture’s The Romcom Lives! Week an article called 'The Romantic Comedy Is Not Dead – It’s Just Not the Same As You Remember'. Chaney argues that the romantic comedy is not dead, it has been subverted to address the old critiques and to suit today’s viewing climate. Romantic comedy genre is thriving on television and streaming platforms, with diverse casts and featuring well-rounded female characters (HBO’s Insecure, the CW’s Jane the Virgn), or even those which actively work within the romantic comedy ideals—and flips them on their head (Hulu’s The Mindy Project, the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
For movies, romcoms are exploring new kinds of love stories: one-night stand leads to an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion on Valentine’s Day in a really sweet way in Obvious Child; the biggest romantic comedy release of 2017, The Big Sick, features a Pakistani-American as the lead and an interracial couple; and even How To Be Single, for all its faults was actually a film I really enjoy, ends with Dakota Johnson falling in love with herself and relishing in being alone. In 2015, Katherine Heigl herself starred in yet another romcom about weddings—this time as a lesbian, who works to convince her parents to come to her wedding to The Handmaid’s Tale Alexis Bledel in Jenny’s Wedding.
Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani in 2017's The Big Sick
Things are changing. Films, plot lines, and characters, are adapting to the needs of the shifting cultural focus.
It seems too easy to discount an entire genre, perhaps because one is cynical and chose not to not believe in happy endings.
But life is too short to not believe in happy endings. Life is too short to watch serious and sad movies all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my fair share of dramas, but at the end of the day, when I’m feeling sad, am sick in bed, or need a mental break, I’d rather escape for a few hours into a world where love prevails, preferably starring Katherine Heigl.

Cause a Cine do not own any of the images used
1 comment on "In Defence Of: The Romantic Comedy"