In her column at the New York Times today, Maureen Dowd tag teams with film writer Sam Wasson to bemoan the state of the romantic comedy. It’s a not-uncommon complaint (and a variation on the larger “there are no good movies anymore” one trotted out by Joe Queenan last week) that usually goes something like this: “Romantic comedies used to be awesome, but they totally suck now, don’t they?” “Totally!”
While Dowd runs through the usual questions — “How did we get from ‘Two for the Road’ to ‘The Bounty’ and ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’?” — Wasson, the author of recent making-of-“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”-tome “Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.,” makes an important point:
Even the studios that are run by women aren’t run by women. They’re run by corporations, which are run by franchises. Unfortunately for us, Jennifer Aniston is a franchise. So is Katherine Heigl and Gerard Whatever-His-Name-Is, and even when their movies bomb, their franchise potential isn’t compromised because overseas markets, DVD sales and cable earn all the studio’s money back… The worst part of it is, from Hollywood’s point of view, it ain’t broke.
Butler, sir. That would be Gerard Butler. And what is the incentive for studios to do a better job with potted rom-com movie product when enough people seem perfectly content to watch the ghastly things they churn out? Other than pride in artistry, something presumably beaten out of most movie execs by years of fear, bottom-line thinking and market testing.
What I personally find disturbing about the current state of the rom-com — more so than the general dismal quality, the frequent lack of chemistry between the leads and the absence of anything resembling sparkling repartee — is the underlying hostility many of these films seem to have for their female characters. Back in the Times, Manohla Dargis, reviewing a recent Whatever-His-Name-Is vehicle, noted:
One of the lessons of “The Ugly Truth” — beyond the obvious one that a desirable, desiring woman can never, ever, be happily single and sexual in modern Hollywood — is that holding to your hard-won ideals is of no consequence, at least when there’s a guy to be hooked.
And that’s been true of a fair amount of recent mainstream romantic comedies, from “The Proposal” to “Leap Year” to “He’s Just Not That Into You.” The battle of the sexes, the I-can’t-stand-you-let’s-make-out that’s been a standard of screwball romance for ages, has gotten awfully one-sided, becoming more a question of a woman getting humiliated and punished until she gets over herself and learns to appreciate the man in front of her. If that’s what’s become of escapism, no wonder “Twilight,” in which a girl’s mere existence is enough to make (supernaturally powered) guys throw themselves at her feet, has become so successful.
As a palate cleanser, a taste of a grown-up romance with prickly, interesting dialogue, though it’s not a multiplex one: