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 »

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Ruby Sparks

August 17, 2012

Calvin (Paul Dano), is an author who has yet to properly follow up his breakout first novel, published when he was only 19.  He has, as these things usually go, a significant case of writer’s block compounded (or because of) his significant self doubt.  He sees a therapist (Elliot Gould), where he clutches a plush dog toy and calls his ex-girlfriend a ‘bitch’ and complains about a lack of inspiration.  He’s instructed to write a very bad one-page story about the kind of person who might like his dysfunctional dog Scottie and bring it back to the next session.  In the process of attempting to write he manages to hold onto a vision of a girl and write it down.  The character’s name is Ruby Sparks, and she will eventually materialize in the form of Zoe Kazan. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Teen rom-coms have a built-in fantasy that serves them well in a way their adult counterparts have difficulty in addressing.  They are more likely to deal with the seeming temporary nature of whatever notion of “true love” the main characters find, either directly (all those conversations about “what are we going to do next year”) or indirectly (the audience knows this is a childish lark, but that instills in it a certain innocence – I’d argue that in some ways it’s the lack of a future that gives the genre its power).  This is partially why screenwriters tend to skip the college years and move onto the lonely, Type A personality workaholic female looking for love.  Her life is figured out, so the movie need only concern itself with slotting that one piece of the puzzle into place to get the “Happily Ever After”.  This is all broadly speaking, and I can think of several counter-examples that might be worth examining further, but on a whole, I think there is truth to it, and it is necessary to understand this when approaching the really good aspects of The Five-Year Engagement.    Read the rest of this entry »

Easy

January 21, 2012

If Jane Weinstock’s 2003 romantic comedy Easy had been made for a Hollywood studio, with attendant bigger budget and presumably bigger stars, I probably would have praised it as a noble failure.  Sure, it is not a good film, but in those circumstances, it would certainly be trying to do something interesting in that blandest and most uninspired of genres.  Unfortunately, Easy is a low-budget indie that should understand the trade-off between having no budget is having no market expectations, freeing the filmmaker to break the mold of the everyday genre fare and explore the possibilities it offers in elucidating the travails of romance in modern society.  The fact that it was written and directed by a woman, something that still happens all-to-rarely, only makes it worse.  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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