They Came Together

June 28, 2014

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The romantic comedy is, in many ways, a dead genre.  Well, “dead” is probably too harsh, but it’s certainly dormant, at least on a cultural level from where it once was.  Studios no longer seem interested in attempting to counter-program their tentpole blockbusters, probably because they’re finding franchises that appeal to women as much as men – or should I say, “girls as much as boys”.  This isn’t totally a bad thing, at least in regards to how the rom-com has been used for the past several decades.  There’s something utterly condescending about the studio execs greenlighting moderately budgeted films that they think women will like, whilst making sure they adhere to a very specific set of tropes because that’s what women “want to see”.  It’s not true, and Bridesmaids and The Heat have given them another outlet to grasp for the female dollar, which is fine as far as it goes.  It’s nice that to some degree the executives don’t think all women just want to live out some fantasy about finding “the one”.  Still, the romantic comedy is one of the most intriguing and potentially (though rarely realized) affecting genres in the storied history of film.  Whip-smart dialogue that crackles, solid and interesting and goofy characters just this side of the absurd, and grounding in a basic longing that perversely plays itself out as fantasy – the desire to love and be loved in return is fulfilled, but only in fantastical circumstances that look and feel like something that might be considered reality, but isn’t.  I have a deep love for romantic comedies, and I’m sad to see them so often relegated to rush jobs dumped onto VOD platforms, but I’m not so blinkered that I don’t think the past several decades has meant they’ve sort of earned it. Read the rest of this entry »

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

August 4, 2011

If given the choice between seeing a mediocre action film and a mediocre romantic comedy, nine times out of ten I’ll pick the latter.  Both can be terrible, but while the former will probably be a boring dirge through mindlessness, the rom-com has the ability to transcend the rigid demands of the genre through occasional subversion of societal expectations, a few witty scenes, and perhaps most commonly, some good performances that can truly elevate the middling material.  After all, these films are mostly about dialogue and character interaction, and the general simplicity of the filmmaking (no elaborate special effects sequences, less time devoted to making something ‘awesome’) allows for the actors to find rhythms and beats that give a scene much more punch than it should have.  This is not to say that a majority of Hollywood rom-coms aren’t absolutely dreadful – they are – but there’s more of a chance there will be something to make the time spent watching them not totally intolerable.  Read the rest of this entry »

It seems that every year since the rise of the blogosphere, without fail, there are innumerable articles, posts, comments, and diatribes about how the Oscars don’t matter and the serious film lover/critic doesn’t care a jot about whom upon the philistine Academy deigns to bestow its golden statue of approval. These same people still watch, or at least pay attention, to the show and often write predictions and boo-hoo over the disappointing outcome. I think they’re right to not care and they’re right to pay attention, because I personally see it as both self-congratulatory nonsense that only occasionally celebrates anything truly great and as an important (to the film world) cultural touchstone. Rarely in its history has the Best Picture winner been the best picture of its given year, but we’ve all accepted that. My cynicism tells me that the most we can hope for is that it is at least a good film, and one that we can satisfactorily call “deserving”. My cynicism is wrong, though, because when I look at the best picture list from this year and last year I see not only some very good films, but a couple of the absolute best pictures of the year. The strange side-effect of expanding the category to ten nominations instead of five – a move designed to allow the inclusion of more popular fare to get the plebs interested – is that it has allowed the inclusion of some really great stuff. A Serious Man was among the top two or three films of its year, and though you’d never expect a small (granted, Coen bros.) movie featuring an unknown lead in a tale of co(s)mic farce in a tight-nit Jewish community to be recognized with a Best Picture nomination, there it was. It never had a chance in hell of winning, but its inclusion made for a much more…credible?…category than the year previous where the decidedly mediocre Slumdog Millionaire was the best of the bunch.
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“I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone’s *really* hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet.”

–       Trent (Vince Vaughn) in Swingers

I am aware of how bad it seems to start anything off with a quote, but it is relevant to the conversation.  It’s an amusing line, but it seems predicated on some long lost notion of the R rating giving an adult edge to a film, especially such a fluffy, fantastical genre as the romantic comedy.  The hope is that without the restrictions of a PG-13 rating, a film might be more willing to deal with adult views, particularly on sex (which can be mentioned more freely) and its relation to love.  The two films considered here are rated R, but they make no attempt to deal with their subject on any level that can even remotely be considered ‘mature’.

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I have always been partial to the romance of the Long Night. It must be something about the quiet of a sleeping city, or perhaps the onset of tiredness that allows defenses to crack combining with the dreamlike state of excitement that comes with being out and about when you’re normally not. Rules don’t seem to apply when you’re young and out late, and fittingly the night is always best when there is no immediate goal or straight line to travel. Meandering towards a vague destination only emphasizes the journey, and the discoveries to be made along the way. Also, I was pretty sure in high school that if I had one of these nights with a girl, she would probably really like me as she got to know me through the course of said journey. It is an adolescent fantasy of the indie-twee set: intelligence, wit, and sensitivity have a better chance of shining through at night, because when daylight hits they all go back to the popular ones. It is no wonder that, as a teenager and even today, I deeply cherish that particular indie sub-genre of the Long Night, a form that was ruled through the 90’s by Richard Linklater’s triple-hit of Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and subUrbia. I’m not entirely sure if my being precious towards this type of film helped or hurt my viewing of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but if it was the former, this must be absolute torture for someone who doesn’t care in the slightest for these films.

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Yes Man

January 26, 2009

A quick note:  I bashed this out pretty fast one evening, still fresh from the simmering rage of sitting through the film.  I sat down this evening intending to re-write it, or at least reformat it to a large degree, but then realized that, quite frankly, this film doesn’t deserve anymore of my time.  I’m not making excuses for the writing (though I probably should), but I will warn that, while an effort was made to scale back and not give out spoilers, I probably talk too much about the plot.  If you’ve seen the film, my condolences, and please read on.  If you haven’t, don’t see it in the first place.

As soon as the trailer appeared, the spectre of Liar Liar loomed large over the latest Jim Carrey vehicle.  After his latest stab at a ‘serious’ project (the unbelievably awful Number 23), Jim was back to what pays the bills: a straightforward high-concept comedy about a man ‘forced’ to change his ways for the better.  Liar Liar was the launching point, Bruce Almighty followed this well enough, and while Fun with Dick and Jane is largely forgettable, it was agreeable enough when watching (though one can’t ignore the diminishing returns).  With these films in mind, it was quite surprising how astonishingly bad Yes Man turned out to be.  All the elements were there:  the concept, a supporting cast that wouldn’t bother to compete with the lead, a journeyman director.  Somewhere it all went terribly wrong, as this film is not funny in the slightest, and without the comedy, all that’s left are the dull, lifeless components whose very purpose is to not get in the way.  Read the rest of this entry »