The romantic comedy is typically light, hilarious and unashamedly girly. From the Jane Austen novels of the Regency period to the blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians, the Romantic Comedy is a significant genre by its own merits. But sadly, it’s pretty much dead in cinematic format. Despite romance being the best selling genre on Amazon (by far), I struggle to name more than 3 romantic comedies in the last five years.
This is a shame. Although I was never the biggest viewer of romantic comedies such as Sex And The City, I knew how much enjoyment my fellow female friends and family members got out of it. As someone who writes fiction, I know the benefits of media that sparks joy, friendship and discussion. As NY Times writer Wesley Morris puts it:
“Romantic comedy is the only genre committed to letting relatively ordinary people — no capes, no spaceships, no infinite sequels — figure out how to deal meaningfully with another human being. These are the lowest-stakes movies we have that are also about our highest standards for ourselves, movies predicated on the improvement of communication, the deciphering of strangers and the performance of more degrees of honesty than I ever knew existed — gentle, cruel, blunt, clarifying, T.M.I., strategic, tardy, medical, sexual, sartorial. They take our primal hunger to connect with one another and give it a story. And at their best, they do much more: They make you believe in the power of communion.” NY TIMES, April 24, 2019
I agree with Morris’ viewpoint. He also points out that alot of movies and television today, depict females in ‘powerful’ or ‘game-changing’ positions. Whilst of course, there is nothing wrong with that. We live in a world where there are female scientists and leaders. However, the average woman is not necessarily a leader or a researcher. Women, and men, do not have to be “exceptional” in their lives. Not everyone can be a presidential candidate or a CEO. Nor should they be.
I find this trend of looking down on anyone, particularly women, who want an ‘average’ life to be insulting. Recent movies such as Charlie’s Angels and Captain Marvel want to ’empower’ women. This is done by writing women as having excellent physical strength, and commanding high positions of power. The goal is sort of admirable: to encourage women and girls.
However, I’m not sure women are being receptive to this message. Captain Marvel, while a box office success, is a rarity. Films such as Charlie’s Angels and Birds of Prey struggle to reach their target audience. I think this is partially due to bad marketing, but also because of poor characterisation. Women, in these ’empowered’ films, often seem like a director’s vision of what women should be, as opposed to what they actually are.
Women, like men, can be messy, flawed, unempowered and cruel. I rarely see such diversity of character in these ‘woke’ films.
However, I did see such characters in romantic comedies or female-driven comedies such as The Devil Wears Prada. As a female, I always loved The Devil Wears Prada and Mean Girls, because of its realistic depiction of the power dynamics between women. From those two movies, I realised that women can be nasty to each other and have the capacity to hurt both men and women.
In the above scene, we witness the complex relationship between four individuals. Andy, Miranda, Nigel and Emily. The screenplay is excellent: Miranda’s lines are bone-chilling, particularly when she highlights Andy’s betrayal to Emily. This highlights the subtle and toxic ways individuals can hurt others. But it also demonstrates how you can triumph over that. Andy’s rejection of Miranda’s philosophy, and by throwing her communication device in a Paris fountain, is clear of a new direction in Andy’s life. It’s those moments in romantic comedies that made the genre great.
There’s a reason why the iconic, fist-raising scene in Pretty Woman where Vivian tells the snobby shop assistants that they made a big mistake is far more satisfying and iconic than any scene in Captain Marvel.
Why? Because like other romantic comedies such as Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the romantic comedy always had a sophisticated understanding of the power dynamics women are stuck in. There is richer characterisation, and more for the writer to comment on.
Of course, romantic comedies do not have a monopoly on this. Look no further than the strained relationships of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. That show, having dragons and magic, managed to effectively depict realistic power dynamics between women and men. I don’t feel the same way about Ghostbusters (2016). There is a wiff of insincerity and fakeness about them, like they are not depicting real people. Romantic comedies always have.
There is no denying the patronizing attitude of many in Hollywood and other cinema fans who feel they are ‘above’ romantic comedies. That the genre is secretly sexist or regressive. Personally, the evidence for those claims is rather weak. Romantic comedies celebrate both men and women, and demonstrate scenarios where they can triumph and challenge the odds. They are also clever and delightful in many ways. Personally, I see alot of value in that. One day, I hope Hollywood would also.
What are your thoughts? Comment below, and maybe share some romantic comedy recommendations.