Monday, 16 February 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #232: Confessions of a

Is it just me, or is there a problem with romantic comedies these days?

And I'm not just talking about the relative box-office under-performance of Confessions of a Shopaholic in the face of the
remake of Friday The 13th, but about the genre in general.

There was a time when romantic comedies appealed to both women and men. Okay, it appealed more to women, but at least men could sit through them. The point was that they could truly be date movies, with romance for the women, comedy, sometimes slapstick, for the men, and everyone was happy.

Lately I've noticed a trend in romantic comedies to veer away from comedy and become consumerist fantasies, more about shilling expensive shoes than the quest for true love in a complicated world.

Now I suspect there are different reasons for this. One is that the elements of hazard that fueled the humorous misunderstandings in romantic comedies, like scandals over infidelity, divorce, or even deviancy, don't really have the weight they used to. There was a time in certain levels of polite society when such things could really wreck a person's life. Nowadays, if it was particularly extreme, such scandals could get you a reality show deal.

Plus, the production code forced the filmmakers of the Golden Age to be subtle in their sexuality. They couldn't have people hope into bed before marriage, and even after marriage they couldn't show it, so they had to do all the foreplay verbally via witty repartee.

But I think the biggest reason was demographic market research, or as I call it, Satan's Fun-Box. This research showed that the majority of American women did most of the buying in American households. So a new mindset seemed to take over Hollywood, if you were making a picture geared towards women, then make it an orgy of product placement.

So you get movies designed more to sell clothes, shoes, and accessories rather than tell an entertaining story.

And it's hurting the genre. There was a time when romantic comedies were talked about, their best lines became pop-culture catchphrases. (People still talk about the deli-orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally) Nowadays, while some still might do well in ticket sales, they are usually quickly forgotten about five minutes after people leave the theater.

Another thing that's hurting the genre is the portrayal of women in what's supposed to be a women's genre. In the golden age the leading ladies of romantic comedies were intelligent, sometimes eccentric women, who were more than the match of any man they dealt with. They had their own minds and their own lives, love often came as an inconvenience, that led to the sort of romantic complications and misunderstandings that fuelled the comedy.

But now, in this supposedly liberated age, I see romantic comedies playing and the characters seem to fit into basic stereotypes, the emotionally needy doormat, the frosty business bitch, the gratingly vapid fashionista, or a combination thereof. You'd never see Katherine Hepburn or Barbara Stanwyck play these types. And when you realise that someone who posted a cheesecake shot of Shopaholic's Isla Fisher at the beginning of this post is concerned about the image of women in movies, you know it's a serious problem.

Now I'd like to know what you think about the current state of romantic comedies.


  1. And when you realise that someone who posted a cheesecake shot of... Isla Fisher

    This blog needs more Isla Fisher. In fact, we could all use more Isla Fisher and Allyson Hannigan.

    Seriously: seems ironic that the "repressed" older days portrayed stronger women than the "liberated" modern films. Maybe the common beliefs about the 50s and the golden age of movies are wrong.

  2. Furious D, if I could I would post you a gold star. Very nice post, despite the cheesecake (you know, too much of that is not good for your heart). I would comment specifically to your question, however, my response would be the length of a doctoral thesis.

    So glad to have read your book is coming along nicely. How goes the novel?

  3. Nate-- I suspect that back in the old days, when they couldn't just rely on sex appeal, the filmmaker's were forced to make their female characters interesting. And having strong independent personalities created the conflict necessary to keep the movie chugging along.

    slcard-- The novel project's doing well, though I'm concentrating in getting my book about the movie business done right now. I'm almost at the 65,000 word mark right now with my first draft, but I still have a lot to do.

    And as for the cheesecake pics, well, I'll have to decide that on a cheesecake by cheesecake basis. One has to pace oneself. ;)

  4. So Mr D... the greek's were right. Suffering does produce great art. (or whomever said it)

    I do wish you could write for Big Hollywood. I'd love to see the comments this post would spark.

  5. I'm not political enough for Big Hollywood. Though I would like a link, my daily visits took a hit when Dirty Harry's Place shut down.