I Spent A Year Watching Romantic Comedies And This Is The Crap I Learnt from Chloe Angyal, who spent a year studying Romantic Comedies and also got broken up with.
It’s easy to dismiss romantic comedies as fluffy, mindless cinematic dreck, and some of them are just that. In every genre there are some well-made movies, and many more middling and awful ones. But there is such a thing as a good romantic comedy, even the most ardent chick flick-hater will agree. […] Romantic comedies are made almost exclusively for and about women –- in fact, they’re the only genre that is. I dislike them because regardless of any fluffiness or mindlessness, they are powerful pieces of popular culture. Rom coms furnish us with ideas and expectations about some of the most important things in life: love, work, friendship, sex, gender roles. And some of those ideas are worryingly sexist and regressive.
Angyal likens a number of modern rom-coms to Shakespeare, but not in a good way:
Movies like The Ugly Truth andThe Proposal upped the ante on the well-worn trope of the highly strung and socially incapable single career woman. It is nothing new to suggest that a humbling at the hands of a modern-day Petruchio is the only cure for this particular disease. But in recent years, the shrews have become higher strung, the Petruchios more chauvinistic, and the humbling more humiliating than ever before. Remember how in The Ugly Truth, Gerard Butler’s character reduces Katherine Heigl’s character, a competent, professional and authoritative adult woman, to curling up in the fetal position in the closet of her office? And how she then she falls in love with him? Tamed, indeed.
She notices a growing trend:
More recently, romantic comedies have given us a great deal of graphic male nudity. Male nudity is a growing trend in the genre: in the last [few] years, we’ve seen the barely-clad bodies of Justin Long (Going the Distance), Jake Gyllenhaal (Love and Other Drugs), Ashton Kutcher (No Strings Attached) and Justin Timberlake (Friends With Benefits).
And also notes that all of these are white men who look pretty much the same naked. She also noticed a growing acceptance of casual sex in films like No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits.
though Angyal points out the problems therein:
This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, if romantic comedies depicted women and men, and sex and love, in a positive and realistic way. But they don’t. Romantic comedies teach us that a woman’s life is empty and meaningless without a man, and that any woman who believes she is happy being single is simply lying to herself.
Then there is Hollywood’s racist problem:
[Rom coms] teach us that love is only for straight white people –- skinny, beautiful straight white people
And the gender essentialist messages:
[Rom-coms] teach us that men are sex-crazed, commitment-phobic animals who have to be manipulated into romantic relationships, and that when a man really loves a woman, he’ll demonstrate his feelings with grand gestures that barely skirt the line between love and stalking.
How To Be A Single Woman In A Mainstream Rom-com, from Ryan O’Connell at Thought Catalog is a spoof how-to guide which alerts us to the most common character tropes found in romantic comedies:
Have a weird, random dream job that would only exist in a Hollywood script. You’re a product tester of…products, or a “GLAMOROUS” dog walker, or a super chic editor of Chic Magazine located in Loveless Metropolitan City, U.S.A. Your job is your life. In the office, you’re an assertive smart woman but at home, when no one is looking, you open a bottle of wine and become The Sad Wine-Drinking Single Woman.
Romantic Comedies Aren’t What They Used To Be. Then Again, Neither Is Love, from Slate, in response to: Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad? from The Atlantic
Christopher Orr makes the argument that rom-coms ran out of steam in 2012. He argues that although they only stopped being profitable that year, they’ve been terrible for decades (though he did like Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally and Pretty Woman. He also likes the darker rom-coms like The Silver Linings Playbook and Moonrise Kingdom). Orr noticed that although big name (male) actors may start in rom-coms (and do a great job), as soon as they get breaks in other genres they rarely come back to rom-coms, perhaps thinking that would be slumming it. As an example he offers George Clooney, who has modelled his career on Cary Grant’s in every way… except that Cary Grant did rom-coms. As for the storyline itself, he points out that in the modern world it’s harder to find an original way to keep two characters apart, which has lead to some ridiculous storylines. Embedded in this article is also the video A Brief History Of Romantic Comedies.
Alyssa Rosenberg points out that both male and female actors are opting out of rom-coms too, if they get the chance. defends defends rom-coms a bit, pointing out some good ones. (She likes 40-year-old Virgin and Bridesmaids, in which the hero/heroine has to have their own inward character arc before they’re fit for being in a partnership.)
[In short, critics don’t mind rom-coms if drama is one of the major genre blends.]
What Went Wrong With Romatic Comedies (Part 2). As Orr subtitles his piece: Critiquing a critique of my critique of modern-day rom coms.
Orr responds to Linda Holmes at NPR who pointed out the misogyny of this debate (without using the word misogyny, though Orr doesn’t mind using it):’we’re not going to enter another “golden age” until we address the epidemic of weirdly aggressive actress-hating that seems to befall anyone who trades on straight likability. Linda Holmes writes also that ‘there is a useful distinction between romantic comedies that are greatand romantic comedies that are greatly loved’, and cautions anyone critiquing a rom-com to critique them for having ridiculous plots, which is the very point, especially in the old classics. Pretty Woman is an example of a ‘greatly loved’ film which is not technically great. She also argues that there is still plenty of opportunity for writers to keep lovers apart.
If Rom-Coms Are Getting Worse, It’s Not Because Society’s Getting Better by Noah Berlatsky is another response to the Orr piece. His favourite rom-com is Say Anything because the main characters are not actually assholes. He also thinks it works because the characters are young — young people still have constraints but older people are free to hook up as they please.
The Top 10 Romantic Comedies according to Hello Giggles, and here’s a list of the worst, at least during the last decade from Pajiba. The Guardian asks for a list of the best AND the worst. Except I’ve recently pledged not to read comments sections, so I’m stuffed.
6. It’s Not Too Late To Save The Romantic Comedy From Itself from Jezebel, and Don’t Give Up On Romantic Comedies from New Statesman
Tracy Moore suggests rom-coms can be much better if writers/directors made the following modifications:
- More female characters who need to undergo a character arc before they get with a man. (like Bridesmaids)
- Men have been allowed to be flawed heroes for a while now but we need women who are equally flawed. (Equal opportunity assholes)
- Less of the gender stereotyping
- Sex can be easy to get but more focus on the relationship itself (going back to the classic rom-coms, in which the characters are even already married at the start)
- More stories about the nuances of relationships and how they can drift apart
- No more of the extreme ‘cougarizing’ of women in relationships where the woman is much older
- More interesting story structures such as Sliding Doors
- More stories about ‘less than lovers, more than friends’ couples
- Women making Grand Gestures in the way men typically do
The Romantic Comedies Which Prove You Wrong About Romantic Comedies, from Pajiba, in which the writer writes a love letter to: The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Better Off Dead, Bridget Jones’s Diary, While You Were Sleeping and The Apartment.
These fluffy romantic comedies are actually remakes of horror stories from io9. While Mindy Kaling likened rom-coms to sci-fi because of their ludicrous other-worlds in which heroines behave in completely unbelievable ways, this article argues that Forces Of Nature is a remake of Dracula and so on.
Five Reasons Why Romantic Comedies Have Gone Downhill from Huffington
Every Romantic Comedy Ever, a video shared by Jezebel
Women Didn’t Abandon Rom-Coms, Roms-Coms Abandoned Women from Jezebel, who obviously love writing about Rom-coms.
5 Romantic Comedy Tropes That Need To Die from Thought Catalog: Too many white people, too much with the pathetic fallacy of raining, not accepting a woman’s ‘no’ (I’m looking at you, The Notebook), women falling for hot men despite them being assholes, from a writer who also wishes Kate Hudson would get no more work in Hollywood.
Six Annoying Women Character Tropes in Black Romantic Comedies from Bitch Media: The hypersexual Jezebel, the asexual matriarchs, the Strong Black Woman, the Welfare Queen.
Love Actually Is the Least Romantic Film of All Time from The Atlantic. I hate the messages in that film so much. At least I’m not the only one. For an excellent example of a love story by Richard Curtis, see the made-for-TV movie The Girl In The Cafe, which demonstrates his excellent skill as a writer but with interesting messages.
9 movies that make women think it’s romantic to be stalked from Hello Giggles. While I can’t stand this plot point in stories myself (and here’s evidence, in my breakdown of Waitress), I do wonder: Are women, grown women who have lived in the world, really ‘learning how to live life’ from rom-coms? I doubt it. I think most grown women recognise stalking when we see it in real life. As in the apparent frequency of con-non-con fantasies among women (formerly known as ‘rape fantasies’), being ‘stalked’ inside a fantasy by a fantasy sexual partner is not actually stalking at all, because the definition of ‘stalking’ means you don’t want it and don’t want the stalker. I do wonder about girls, however. At what age is it okay to introduce Twilight to your daughters (and sons)?
The word ‘stalker’ is used casually now, to describe deep liking someone’s social media posts. And it’s used casually in the song below. But genuine stalking is a scary matter…