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Did Woody Allen ruin romantic comedies?

Did Woody Allen ruin romantic comedies? (photo)

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In a thoughtful appraisal better than “The Back-Up Plan” deserves, the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis doesn’t so much review the movie as the entire landscape of the contemporary romantic comedy, one of her favorite topics. She observes a decline from the days of witty banter to “speeches about feelings”: “Freud might have hit Hollywood decades earlier, but Woody Allen and the generations of funnymen and women he inspired, have a lot to answer for.”

On that note, it’s fascinating to wonder about how “Annie Hall” might have lead to the mess we’re in now. The rom coms of the ’30s-’50s remain supremely watchable to both genders — you’d be a fool to label the Hepburn-Tracy movies “chick flicks.” While the power imbalances and assumptions are now definitively of their time, they still awarded parity to both sides when it comes time to make the rhetorical case.

Something happened in the 1970s, the decade when the public discovered sex. (Nope, it wasn’t the ’60s: the ’70s were when people had to reckon with what they’d learned.) Indeed, Woody Allen does have a lot to answer for: “Annie Hall” inverts the romantic comedy and reinvents it something born of disillusionment, a difficult movie to watch, acutely despairing as it is. ’70s cinema is fraught with loveless, despairing sex — 1977, the year “Annie Hall” hit theaters, also brought us Diane Keaton in “Looking For Mr. Goodbar,” in which she plays a schoolteacher who, for her pains in trawling the singles bars, ends up dead.

04232010_backupplan1.jpgThe effort to reconstitute movie romance is downright heroic if you look at it in a certain light — it had to be taken out of the realm of teen love, à la John Hughes, and restored to the world of adults. How else to explain Nora Ephron’s transition from bitter chronicler of divorce in “Heartburn” to shameless huckster of enduring romance in “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless In Seattle” and beyond? It’s almost admirable, even if the ensuing movies aren’t — and, in the process, somehow got tagged as and made for women only, a lamentable shift.

The contemporary rom com is often an inadvertently angry thing, fighting for transcendent love (or at least a decent date) in a post-sexual lib, post-romance world, a fairly toxic combo. Jennifer Lopez didn’t ask for all this — she’s just fighting her way through it the best she can. We may return to banter someday; right now we’ll have to settle for angry misunderstandings, obscenely expensive evenings out, and a wariness of being hurt that’s unbelievable.

[Photos: “Annie Hall,” MGM/UA Home Entertainment, 1977; “The Back-up Plan,” CBS Films, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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