It’s hard to admit for someone who thinks Bruce Campbell deserves an Oscar for his turn as Ashley Williams in Evil Dead, but um… *clears throat*…When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies of all time. If you say the words “Romantic Comedy”, I instantly think of Billy Crystal explaining why men and women can’t “just” be friends, or Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in a packed diner. And how could you go past the indelible image of Hugh Grant awkwardly bumbling through a date, whilst still being impossibly charming… thanks for setting the bar so high Hugh! But what has happened to the genre in recent years? Shunted aside for superhero blockbusters, I can’t even remember the last one I saw, let alone the last one that was any good.The modern romantic comedy is filled with unfortunate tropes that make me feel like Hollywood is taking a step backward when it comes to how women are portrayed on screen. Ingredients required in the kitchen of a modern romantic comedy; A headstrong (young) female lead who is still just waiting for that knight in shining armour she read about when she was a little girl, a one-dimensional male suitor who’s only interests at first glance appear to be drinking and sex, but really they’re just waiting for the right girl to settle down with. Spoiler alert! It’s conveniently the aforementioned girl. The final ingredient is a series of impossibly unrealistic situations and quirky events that tear them apart, but ultimately bring them together, oh and Zac Efron (OK, that was a bit of a cheap shot, the Ef-man is kinda growing on me).
What’s Hollywood’s current view on the genre? Get a great director, fill your cast with well-known actors, and pick a nationally recognized holiday day to set your movie around (see Valentine’s Day, New Years Eve). When you do see an original idea for a studio Rom-Com, you will still see some very familiar faces, and that’s definitely not a good thing. Jennifer Lopez, Kathryn Heigl, Ashton Kutcher and Kate Hudson are all repeat offenders here. Sure, all of these stars have made surprising turns in other genres for sure, but they tend to fall back int0 these roles frequently, which just feels lazy.Then there was Matthew McHunky, who showcased an annoying inability to make us believe someone would fall in love with him in movie after movie until we could take no more. Neither could he, it would seem, after winning an Oscar he turned his back on these fluffy roles… thank you Dallas Buyers Club! There are some exceptions to the rule, stars that can sit in the genre without being trapped by it, with Jason Bateman, Sandra Bullock, and even Anne Hathaway managing the feat. They can slip seamlessly from dirty comedies, into family dramas, and right into a romantic comedy, wash rinse and repeat. For my money though, even they don’t hold a candle to the greats. Tough PI Humphrey Bogart went from roughing up Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon, to loving up Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina without breaking a sweat.
Trends in films change, like everything, and while change can be great, the current trends are leaving the genre behind. That’s not to say there aren’t some amazing current Rom-Coms, hell even Hugh Grant is still in them (I’m looking at you, The Rewrite), but they still leave so much to be desired and are often so niche that they are missed by mainstream audiences. Hollywood works on trends, so it’s not entirely their fault either, Rom-Coms just aren’t “ in” at the moment, we are still too into superheroes and dinosaurs.One place the genre is thriving is in the independent scene. Films like 500 Days Of Summer, Ruby Sparks have been really well-received, and the upcoming The Big Sick shows a lot of potential to be brave and different. Both Summer and Sparks are very close to being great Rom-Coms, but oddly enough it’s the dramatic side of these two films that make them so good. Both of these movies challenge the idea that boy meets girl, they fall in love, and besides a few obstacles, they can overcome them and live happily ever after. They make love feel messy and being happy hard, which if pulled off feels raw and genuine.
This is the quality reminiscent of what I see as classic romantic comedies, films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, or even in a way, Pretty Woman. It’s something the modern studio Rom-Com should aspire to, because personally when I watch a romantic comedy, I want to be left saying out loud “I’ll have what she’s having”.