How romantic comedies became the most indestructible genre of all

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The course of true love has never been smooth, Lysander says at the start of Dream of a summer night, and for that we should be grateful. This idea gives us a kind of movie that never dies, that evolves more efficiently than the creature in Extraterrestrial, one that has given more enjoyment for longer than almost any other form of cinema. William Shakespeare was right when he invented the romantic comedy, this playground for the sexes, by The merchant of Venice.

Most of us love a romantic comedy, even if we don’t always agree on what’s in-bounds and what’s not. East Bridget Jones Diary a romantic comedy? What about The Earth Where The graduation? When does a romantic comedy become a romantic drama?

The genre reinvents itself with each generation. It is thus flexible, more flexible than most other forms because it is based on a universal aspiration – which is love, in fact. The promise is in the premise: the romantic comedy tells us there’s someone out there for us; that true love, whether it goes smoothly or not, exists.

That’s why it almost always offers a happy ending. By tradition, it was a wedding but that too has changed. A nod and a smile is all it takes now, just enough to say “those two will be fine.”

My list of favorites follows, but everyone has their own, depending on their age, interests and tastes. This could include You’ve got mail from 1998, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or the film that inspired it, The corner shopfrom 1940. It could be Adam’s rib from 1949, in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy played out their on-screen and off-screen romance as a pair of successful lawyers on opposite sides in the case of a woman who shot her husband . “Attagirl,” says their maid, when she reads the title on the shooting. It could be Claudette Colbert showing off her leg to dazzle Clark Gable in It happened one night (1934), with a powerful cocktail of sexual allure, comedy and sound on film.

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks starred in You’ve Got Mail, a rare romantic comedy written and directed by a woman.

Other genres come and go. The Western once seemed likely to run forever, but it’s now ridden as the sun sets; war movies are resilient but largely “men’s interest”. Romantic comedy is a genre driven by female characters, although it is still rare to see films directed by women. Nora Ephron, who wrote When Harry Met Sally and wrote and directed Insomnia in Seattle and You’ve got mail, was an exception. Sophie Hyde, the South Australian director of Good luck to you, Leo Grandemaybe another.

The first film romantic comedies were in the silent era, when all dialogue had to be read from title cards. Sound liberated form, allowing for zingy one-liners penned by New York playwrights who migrated to Hollywood for sunshine and do-re-mi. Romcom turned into a slimy comedy as romance met farce, in a beautiful marriage full of chaos. The form changed again in the 1950s, during a time of conservatism, fear and preservation of appearances (Rock Hudson and Doris Day were good at it). Romcom can be adapted to almost all types of stories and topics.

Of course, the genre has its weaknesses. It’s too formulaic and can sometimes be sentimental and cow-eyed, dripping with molasses. It was like that in the 1980s and 1990s, before the big boom. The romantic comedy began to flourish at the beginning of this century, perhaps in step with the arrival of projection platforms.

Is Bridget Jones's Diary a romantic comedy?  And what about La La Land?

Is Bridget Jones’s Diary a romantic comedy? And what about La La Land?Credit:Giles Keyte, Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

Hollywood studios had become obsessed with the profit potential of “tent-pole” releases, the big concept films. There was little interest in smaller films aimed at smaller audiences. These migrated to the small screen, where they found a receptive audience as part of the now connected home.

The Romcoms laid out the living room and arrived via the Internet. They don’t need Dolby sound or a 50 meter screen. It’s mostly two people talking, arguing, making up, with a lot of kissing – like in ps i love you, from 2007, where Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler can’t decide whether or not to have children. That’s what I mean by flexibility: this movie was about testing true love, not finding it.

It is true that romantic comedies generally avoid sex. It’s always behind the scenes, but rarely on screen.

The essential elements have been the same for 500 years: the boy meets the girl, the boy loses the girl by misunderstanding or by accident, the boy finds the girl. They realize what a fool they have been and live happily ever after. Over the past two decades, all permutations have become possible. Now we have boy meets boy, girl meets girl in the same-sex romantic comedy (fire island is now streaming on Disney+).

I saw recently Everything is possible, in which a Muslim boy falls in love with a teenage trans girl at an American high school. There is also a girl who meets a quadruped. In French comedy Antoinette in the CevennesLaure Calamy fell in love with a donkey named Patrick (shades of Dream of a summer night here too).

The same-sex romantic comedy Fire Island, starring (left to right) Margaret Cho, Tomas Matos, Bowen Yang, Joel Kim Booster and Matt Rogers, has once again updated the genre.

The same-sex romantic comedy Fire Island, starring (left to right) Margaret Cho, Tomas Matos, Bowen Yang, Joel Kim Booster and Matt Rogers, has once again updated the genre. Credit:Projector images

Search “romantic comedy” on Netflix and you’ll see a range of variations. Romcom was mostly white, but it turned rainbow. resort to love features an all-black molding; Love, guaranteed has a white girl and a black man falling in love, which was once a big no-no in the land of the free; Always be my maybe takes place in an Asian community in San Francisco. It is clear that certain old taboos have receded or even disappeared.

The other big change concerns demographics. For most of the first hundred years of cinema, romantic comedies were about adults – Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant in raising baby (1939) or Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve (1941). The look and the politics changed in the 1950s and 1960s, but the stars were still adults – think Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in roman holidays (1953).

During the 1980s and 1990s, they were younger in films, such as Pretty in pink (1986), clueless (1995) and 10 things i hate about you (1999). Lately, they have widened again, extending to the elderly. What is Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) if not a romantic comedy for seniors? The romcom has always attracted the big stars. Julia Roberts launched her career in A pretty woman and George Clooney reinvigorated the genre’s seriously sexy ending in Out of sight. They recently (re)teamed up in ticket to paradise, filmed in Australia, and released in mid-September. They play a divorced couple who try to prevent their daughter’s wedding plans.

The romcom reinvents itself with each generation.  Clockwise from top left: Bringing Up Baby (1938), Pretty Woman (1990) and Resort to Love (2021).

The romcom reinvents itself with each generation. Clockwise from top left: Bringing Up Baby (1938), Pretty Woman (1990) and Resort to Love (2021).Credit:AP, Touchstone Pictures, David Bloomer/Netflix

It’s also true that romantic comedies generally avoid sex. It’s always behind the scenes, but rarely on screen. The unwritten rule seems to be that kisses are romantic, foreplay and the other thing are not. True love can drive them, but the movie version is more about hugs and candlelight – or it used to be. A movie like Friends with benefits (2011) went about it without becoming too self-conscious.

The modern romantic comedy became more transactional and ambitious the younger it was. Romantic comedies don’t just offer the perfect love: they now promise the perfect job, apartment, and life in the big city. sex and the city defined the values ​​of a generation. It was a rom-com reimagined on equal footing — though the course of true love didn’t run smoothly there either. Carrie and Big: what a saga! It was like a romantic comedy about viagra. Even if you wanted it to disappear, it wouldn’t.

Ten romantic comedies for the ages

The Lady Eve (1941) Directed by Preston Sturges. Possibly the best romantic comedy ever made, albeit very viscous. Henry Fonda as a millionaire; Barbara Stanwyck as the con man who falls in love with him.

Harold and Maud (1971) Directed by Hal Ashby. A romance between a suicidal teenager (Bud Cort) and a rebel in her seventies (Ruth Gordon). No one had ever seen anything like it.

Annie Hall (1977) Directed by Woody Allen. About as much drama as a comedy can handle. Diane Keaton and Woody chasing lobsters in the kitchen – what more could you ask for?

lonely hearts (1982) Directed by Paul Cox. Piano tuner Norman Kaye falls in love with wallflower Wendy Hughes. A sweet and enduring Australian romantic comedy, in a minor key.

something wild (1986) Directed by Jonathan Demme. Melanie Griffith as a vampire kidnaps Jeff Daniels and teaches him to live life to the fullest. Sexy as hell and unrestrained.

Dreamer (1987) Directed by Norman Jewison. Reopened the door to an older cast. Cher is supposed to marry Danny Aiello, but she falls in love with Nic Cage. Romcom as a family affair.

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When Harry Met Sally (1989) Directed by Rob Reiner. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan explore a Shakespearian premise: can men and women ever just be friends? There is much more here than a fake orgasm.

clueless (1995) Directed by Amy Heckerling. by Jane Austen Emma, set in Beverley Hills, with a career-defining performance by Alicia Silverstone. Hilarious, clever, brilliantly satirical.

The wedding of my best friend (1997) Directed by PJ Hogan. Julia Roberts tries to stop Dermot Mulroney from marrying Cameron Diaz. Superb slapstick by Roberts and Diaz, with irresistible charm and songs by Rupert Everett. A return to adult comedy – sort of.

(500 days of summer (2009) Directed by Marc Webb. “Intimacy, awkwardness, passion”. For once, advertising got the better of this beautiful modern romance starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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