Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Whatever happend to Romantic Comedies?

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and also my birthday.  I turn 39.   America celebrates my birthday by jacking up prices at all nice restaurants.

For those not celebrating their birthday, it's supposed to be a day of romance.  And it got me thinking, whatever happened to Romantic Comedies?

Time was Hollywood made tons of them -- and they were both romantic and FUNNY.

And now the few that we still have are by-the-numbers studio formula pictures.  It's shocking to me the praise for CRAZY RICH ASIANS as a Romantic Comedy.   The celebration of a culture -- great.  But as a Romcom, a typical predictable trifle that at best was a date night movie.

Compare that with FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, ANNIE HALL, GROUNDHOG DAY, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, PHILADELPHIA STORY, THE LADY EVE, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, MOONSTRUCK, CHASING AMY, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, PALM BEACH STORY, PAT & MIKE, BRINGING UP BABY, THE GOODBYE GIRL, ENCHANTED, HEAD OVER HEELS, KISSING JESSICA STEIN, DOC HOLLYWOOD, WHAT'S UP DOC, ROXANNE, L.A. STORY, ARTHUR, PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, FOREIGN AFFAIR, THE WEDDING SINGER, SAY ANYTHING, NIGHT SHIFT, ADAM'S RIB, HOLIDAY, ROMANCING THE STONE, SPLASH, LOVE ACTUALLY, TOOTSIE, HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, GOODBYE COLUMBUS, A NEW LEAF, THE GRADUATE, BROADCAST NEWS, and I'm sure you can come up with ten more.

Today we get these Nancy Meyers paint-by-the-numbers snooze-a-thons, or R-rated raunch-fests with unearned emotional moments tacked on.   It's sad but romantic comedies are becoming a lost art.  And there are so few of them that the bar has been so lowered that the producers of CRAZY RICH ASIANS actually thought they had an Oscar contender.

Instead of going out to some overpriced prix fix dinner, stay home with your certain someone special, watch one of those movies I listed, or the first season of CHEERS.   And you can use all that money you save on a present for me.

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. 

53 comments :

Roseann said...

Happy Birthday, Bro.

Peter said...

Thank you! Where was the com in Crazy Rich Asians? Ken Jeong in an Elvis costume is not comedy gold. I found it overlong sentimental gloop.

As a general rule I'm not really into romantic comedies unless they're blended with another genre, like action adventure in Romancing the Stone.

And Happy 39th birthday, Ken!

Anonymous said...

500 Days of Summer killed the romcom. It revealed the protagonist in most romcoms to be suffering from a delusion, which seems very true.


Sean

Pidge said...

A New Leaf...one of the greats!
Heartbreak Kid was terrific, too.
Thanks, Elaine.

John in NW Ohio said...

Shirley, I mean surely Airplane! qualifies as a romantic comedy….?

tavm said...

"I turn 39" I see you're channeling Jack Benny...

Mike Barer said...

Happy Birthday, Ken!

Glenn said...

You'll love your 40s.

Danny Jacobson said...

Yes indeed. Crazy Rich Asians was neither crazy or rich... Was surprised at the hype after being very disappointed in the movie. To call it a Romcom is just inaccurate. Seems to be much more quality content on TV than on the big screen these days. Soon it will be baseball season and the world will be right again...

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

13 GOING ON 30 is a guilty pleasure movie of mine, though I think I like it more for the motif of 80s culture than any of the actual romance that goes into it. Don't get me wrong, Jennifer Garner is fun to watch as a 13-year-old girl cataupalted into a 30-year-old's body and all, but despite liking Mark Ruffalo, at times it feels like he phoned his performance in throughout the movie.

Coram_Loci said...

Romance?

Ken, where's the nude selfie I asked for? C'mon, it's been, like, almost a week.

Doesn't romance need time to bake?

By contrast, sex is a microwave.

Do audiences want to wait or do they relate to the buildup used in many romantic comedies?

James said...

I love The Apartment--but a comedy? Really?

SharoneRosen said...

Of all the things I might call The Apartment (or the Graduate for that matter), Rom-Com is not one of them! Great films, yes. Comedy? Hmmmm

The rest of your list is just jammed with some of my all time faves. Thanks for the smiles.
One of my guilty pleasures is My Favorite Year (terrible movie... I love it!). Does that count as a RomCom?

Bill K said...

If you are looking for a good recent romantic comendy, or just a good movie period I'd highlt recommend "The Big Sick". I loved it because it had a great script telling a personal story. I think what happened to romantic comedies is the same thing that happened to all the other genres - studio execs trying to force everything into the same few "proven" formulas which leads to a vicious cycle when those movies don't set the box office on fire after a decent opening weekend and have to rely on Netflix and cable, which leads to the next romcom script being forced into a safe formula.

Cat said...

Happy Birthday, Ken!

I couldn't agree more with your suggestion to watch the first season of Cheers. Sam and Diane, though they weren't supposed to be good for each other, were one of the greatest TV couples of all time. If one does take Ken's suggestion, make sure to watch the episode in order, not willy-nilly.

Anthony Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony Adams said...

Thought I'd share my 10:

Houseboat (Paul Petersen... luckiest boy in the whole of the 50s)
Teacher's Pet (Okay, Gable may come off a bit too old, but Doris sells it)
Roman Holiday (Best sidekick in any romcom, Eddie Albert)
McClintock (basically Taming of the Shrew with the mother standing on for the older sister)
Ball of Fire (Gary Cooper against type, and la Stanwyck at her sexiest)
Pillow Talk (Best sidekick in any romcom, Tony Randall)
Shop Around the Corner (often imitated, never duplicated)
Music and Lyrics (well I liked it)
What If (see it... I bet you haven't)
My Best Friend's Wedding (Best sidekick in any romcom, Rupert Everett)

Hope I introduced readers to a new gem

Frank Beans said...

I know this isn't going to be a satisfactory answer, but American media just produces too much content, and most of it is market-tested garbage, meant to sucker audiences into their product for profit.

I don't want to sound simplistic, but there it is. We live in a consumer culture where art, truth, and reality are sold to us like booze and pizza. I can't force anyone to have better taste, education, and intelligence. But corporate ignoramuses have the leverage, so they win.

I realize we've been down this road before--but a Trump presidency is where it takes us, because a society is only as good as the people in it. I feel like we've lost our chance over the past century for what could have actually been the best.

Karan G. said...

Happy Birthday Ken! I recently caught a bit of a MASH and Cheers episode and was reminded of how funny they are and how well they hold up. The planet would be less funny without you. Glad you are celebrating another birthday. Thanks for doing this blog and thanks for allowing us to comment.

MusiCelt said...

Boy, THAT's the truth! So, what can creative thinkers - and writers - do about it? How can someone with good ideas for a film or series that will amuse people and touch our hearts get someone who could make it to even read a screenplay or treatment? Since the traditional networks have sold-out to people who enjoy watching people hurt each other, is there a way to reach Netflix, Amazon, et al.?

VP81955 said...

The lady in my avatar is furious.

"Romantic comedies, and I'm not included? No 'My Man Godfrey'? No 'Nothing Sacred'? No 'Hands Across The Table'? But always 'Bringing Up Baby' with that snooty Kate Hepburn, when people in 2019 dare remember rom-coms from my day. But forget about ignoring me -- what about my husband? No, not Gable, though he was great in 'It Happened One Night,' but my first, Bill Powell. Beyond 'Godfrey,' he was wonderful in 'Libeled Lady,' as that fishing scene showed him to be every bit as good as Cary Grant when it came to physical comedy. And he made so many other films with my pal Myrna Loy, not just as Nick and Nora -- 'I Love You Again' and 'Love Crazy' to name two. I like Cary, though we never got the chance to co-star in a comedy, but he's far from being the only great comic leading man of my day. OK?"

BTW, a rom-com festival is set for June in LA. Learn more at https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/975726.html

Ralph C. said...

Lars and the Real Girl.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

Missed opportunity. In the middle of that block of all-caps movie titles, I would have thrown in something like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS just to see if people were reading carefully.

Todd Everett said...

Thanks for mentioning "Holiday." My favorite movie of all time, and it's a long way down to second place.

Mike Bloodworth said...

You left out "His Girl Friday." It's one of the best comedies in general and probably my favorite romcom as well.
One of the problems is that there's very little romance left in our culture. When people are "hooking up" via TINDER and other nontraditional ways, romance is at best an afterthought.
Also, back in the days of THE HAYS CODE, couples couldn't just fall into bed. Dialogue couldn't be as explicit as it is now. Writers had to be much more clever. There was flirtation, innuendo, the thrill of the chase, (sexist? Maybe) and seduction. But most of all there was ROMANCE. It's almost like a well choreographed dance. That's a skill that many of today's screen writers don't have. Or maybe I'm just too old fashioned.
Happy Birthday, Ken. You look great for a man of 80. 39...not so much.
M.B.

P.S. You also left out your own movie, "Volunteers." The sexulal tention between Tom Tuttle from Tacoma and Souvanna was palpable.

VincentS said...

Don't worry, Ken. When the Marvel Universe movies run their course, romcoms will come back.

Dhruv said...

Happy Birthday Ken!

You are younger than me :)

VP81955 said...

Mike, "His Girl Friday" is mentioned (as it should be). Fifth film listed.

Mike Schlesinger said...

There are no more traditional romantic comedies because the millennials and Gen-Xers who now run the joint don't understand the concept as it relates to their own lives. About a decade ago I wrote just such a script, largely from the woman's point of view. Everyone loved it; no one wanted to buy it. Why? "It skews old." Overlooking the notion that this is a bad thing (and that the characters were in their 30s), it speaks more to their belief that romantic comedy is not grown-ups trading witty banter but arrested-development types talking about dicks and projectile vomiting on each other.

Jai said...

"Dear Heart" with Geraldine Page & Glenn Ford
"Indiscreet" with Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman

VP81955 said...

Todd, have you ever watched the first film version of "Holiday" from 1930, starring Ann Harding? It's rarely seen these days, but it's pretty good (I saw it at Theater 80 St. Marks in Greenwich Village when it was a revival house in the '80s), and Harding is among the more overlooked star actresses of the Golden Age.

Anonymous said...

@VP81955

Mention Bill Powell and no NINOTCHKA?

KLAC Guy said...

Off the subject, but I’m watching a season 1 episode of Frasier where Lilith returns. Just awesome!

VP81955 said...

Anonymous, Ernst Lubitsch wanted William Powell to star opposite Garbo in "Ninotchka," but Bill was recuperating from illness and couldn't do it. Melvyn Douglas got the part instead.

MattP said...

Happy Birthday Ken and thank you for your honest and enjoyable blog, it is a real treat to hear of your experiences.

Your view on rom-coms is astute so no doubt we will all thoroughly enjoy Rebel Wilson's upcoming movie "Isn't It Romantic" which takes a satirical look at the genre. Perhaps, after we see this movie, it may end up being the best of breed?

Amanda Mills said...

How impressive that you wrote for Cheers when you were 3...and M*A*S*H when you were in the womb...Quite the feat!

PolyWogg said...

I think the challenge with doing RomCom today is the double obstacle -- you both have to do comedy and romance in some sort of "smart" way. But most of the scripts out there that get made (a skewed filter no doubt) can seem to get either right most of the time.

Too often they seem to go for the "oops, we misunderstood something" scenario where if either person would just talk to each other honestly for about 10 seconds, the whole plot falls apart. Which leaves that whole suspension of disbelief hard to maintain -- too many of the watchers are like, "Really?". The angst of Bridget Jones isn't what sells anymore, and gratefully so.

Alternatively, they are in bed ten minutes in, no romance, no lead up, nothing. I am probably one of the few people who hated the premise of Brokeback Mountain because there wasn't enough "romance". They have a couple of short scenes together, abbreviated, no chemistry at all, but then they have sex and we're supposed to suddenly accept it's some great romance that justifies "Why can't I quit you?". There was a spanish movie about 20 years ago that was basically a young romcom with five gay boys trying to figure out dating one summer, can't think of the name of it, that was WAY better than anything in BBM.

But if you embrace the stupid or embrace the sex, it's hard to have a slow smart build. The miscommunication works for an EP these days in a sitcom, but for me, that's the limit.

I just read a book that was supposedly laugh out loud funny in classic RomCom style, and there were only two funny scenes in the whole book that even provoked a smile. And the Rom part was basically "I'm so inexperienced, or too drunk to perform, but just by luck, I'll turn into a confident porn star and give you the best sex you've ever imagined". I swear to god it actually included the line that she thought he had ruined her for other men.

Or maybe I'm just feeling cynical about the genre..

P.

Breadbaker said...

So many of the misunderstandings that were at the heart of a rom com in the past are solved by today's means of communication. Imagine if Clark Gable simply sent Claudette Colbert a text, "am heading to New York to sell our real story to make enough money so you don't have to worry about your father. See you when I'm back". Ruins everything.

MikeN said...

What about Guardians of the Galaxy?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

CHARADE. Also, HOT MILLIONS (which is also the first computer crime movie, written and starred in by the ever-witty Peter Ustinov and starring a very young Maggie Smith).

What happened is that people are trying to copy old successes instead of creating something of their own. I agree with Bill K re THE BIG SICK (despite the terrible title).

wg

Barry Traylor said...

Happy Birthday. 39? Good Jack Benny joke.

Mike Doran said...

Somebody once said (Orson Welles is among the "credited") that Othello is a RomCom.

All Desdemona has to do is show Othello the handkerchief.
That way, nobody gets killed and the play ends an hour early.


So the story goes, anyway …

Cedric Hohnstadt said...

Friday Question: Recently MASH was finally made available for purchase on iTunes (though it is still not available from Vudu or other digital stores), and some classic shows like The Rockford Files have never been available for digital purchase. What is the thinking behind this? Most of these old shows have already been digitized ('Rockford' had a run on Netflix a few years ago), so why not offer them for sale in the digital marketplace? The shows are already in the can so there are no production costs and unlike DVDs there are no costs to manufacture and distribute a physical product, so selling classic shows on iTunes is basically like printing money. Why did it take so long for MASH to get to iTunes, and why are so many other great old shows still locked away?

TodBrowning said...

"Midnight" with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore. Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. Very witty.

Mike Bloodworth said...

You are correct. Sorry. My apologies.
M.B.

Buttermilk Sky said...

THE AWFUL TRUTH and MY FAVORITE WIFE, two Cary Grant/Irene Dunne classics. Of course, Lubitsch invented the rom-com when he brought European sophistication to Hollywood in the 1920s, so let's not forget THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, TROUBLE IN PARADISE and the first TO BE OR NOT TO BE. Compare the last with the Mel Brooks re-make, and you'll begin to understand why romantic comedy has given way to anything-for-a-laugh.

I'm happy to find other NINOTCHKA lovers. As much as I love William Powell, I think Melvyn Douglas is perfect as Leon.

TimWarp said...

A New Leaf may be my favorite rom-com ever - so glad it's not completely forgotten! But I disagree that Crazy Rich Asians was predictable: the couple trusted each other instead of having stupid misunderstandings and jumping-to-wrong-conclusions where Hilarity Ensues. That is RARE in the movies.

In what universe is Goodbye Columbus a comedy?

Happy 39th! :-)

Peter said...

Have a great birthday/Valentine's today, Ken!

Myles Warden said...

Teen Rom Coms broke record after record on Netflix last year and they have already started sequels for many of them. Netflix has also done original adult rom coms. Basically the genre is very much alive but for money/budget reasons studios have decided it's usually not worth putting them in theaters and they go to Netflix or a similar service. Also, like someone else said THE BIG SICK was amazing and well received last year. Give us original leads and backstories and folks show up and care. No more of the same bland character types though.

Todd Everett said...

Rolling Stone weighs in

Sami said...

Personally, I've always liked While You Were Sleeping as well as many old, classic romantic comedies. I think we are kind of stuck in a comic book funk right now. (But I will still see Shazam with Zachary Levi because I bet he will be funny.) Also, the romance between Chuck and Sarah on the late-great series "Chuck" was very sweet and funny--well, even a cynic like me cried when the series ended. For two hours. And I called my mom. She was crying, too. Sigh.

I recently watched "New in Town" on dvd. I think it's about 10 years old. It starred Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick jr. I remember it getting bad reviews, but I thought it was cute. Not a "great" or a classic (and Renee did not really pull off the "tough, no-nonsense, high-powered" executive part of her character), but it was a pleasant 90 minutes of entertainment and a perfectly respectable example of the genre.

Jeff said...

Most of the movies you mention aren't considered romantic comedies, but rather movies which are part of some other genre and also include some romance and some comedy. I think this says more about our idea of what a "romantic comedy" is than the genre itself.

Personally, I tend to have negative reactions to the term "romantic comedy" because while I've seen several good ones (including those on your list) the term itself immediately makes me think of the worst elements of the genre: stalker-y, annoying behavior that's supposed to be "cute" because the actor is considered attractive, idiotic misunderstandings which could be solved if any of the characters spoke or thought anything like real human beings, etc.

I think these things move in cycles, however -- at some point soon we'll see a breakthrough romantic comedy that gets the genre right (and does it with modern sensibilities), rehabilitating the genre.

For what it's worth, I think we're also waiting for a similar renaissance in sitcoms.

Diane D. said...

I’m late to the game, but you included my all time favorite movie (HIS GIRL FRIDAY) and my all time favorite TV Show (CHEERS). CHEERS had the advantage of giving years of laughter and so much more—-making us care about the characters, highlighting social issues with subtlety, and breaking our hearts.

Thank you and happy belated birthday.