Monday, December 11, 2006

Dissecting the Romantic Comedy

So, let's say you're in the mood to go see a romantic comedy and the new Cameron Diaz film, "the Holiday" looks appealing because you love Jack Black and Kate Winslet. Don't do it. Go see "Stranger than Fiction", go rent "Shallow Hall" or "Titanic" (I'm just joking about that), heck, go dust your tv edited vcr copy of "When Harry Met Sally." Somehow, "The Holiday" succeeds in failing all of the romantic comedy tests:

Dialogue? Horrible.

Chemistry? not there. Except for Jude with the little girls. No one else has any chemistry. The leads? Nope.

Old movie references? Painful to watch.

Acting? Cameron Diaz is Keanu Reeve's female counterpart.

the meet cute? Totally described in the we the audience don't know what the "meet cute" is. Seriously!!!

Movie length? at least 30 minutes of this 2:15 movie could've been cut out.

Gratiutious, badly edited Diaz run? check.

I had to check the writing credits to see if Sorkin helped wrote one plot played out like one of the weakest episodes of Studio 60.

The thing about a romantic comedy is that the audience already knows the plot. The difference between "Failure to Launch" and "When Harry Met Sally is the following things:

Chemistry. There's only about 15-45 minutes in a screenplay to figure out why these two characters should be together when they inevitably break up. As Sky Masterson says, he'll know when he finds his love to chance and chemistry. If the two leads don't have it, the movie won't fly. If they do, chemistry can gloss over other flaws in a movie. Another example of this is "Desk Set" with Tracy and Hepburn. Really one of their worst movies for several reasons...but I'll rewatch it any time because of the chemistry between the two.

Dialogue. If the movie has strong dialogue, plot holes and even a little chemistry can be forgiven. Remember the movie "You've got mail"? Really, not that great of a show. There was some chemistry, some plot holes...but the movie had dialogue, and that's why it gets watched and rewatched by quite a few people.

Gratuitous "classic romantic comedy" references This one is more of a beef of mine. Anymore, almost every romantic comedy refers to an older romantic comedy. "Sleepless"-"An Affair to Remember," " Harry Met Sally"-Casablanca (this reference did work). "Mail"-- "Pride and Prejudice," among others. Sometimes this works, but more often than not, the classic(this is referring to quality and not necessarily age) romantic comedies don't refer to an older piece of work.

Anyway, there's more common elements to the romantic comedy, some are so basic, I'm not going to mention them (unless I decide to go back and change this blog into a complete essay about the romantic comedy.


Hoo said...

You forgot to mention that you really can't feel sympathy over Cameron Diaz's perdicament. She has the best house, the best body, the best clothes, the best hair in the why is her life so hard? REMIND ME AGAIN? Oh, because she dumped one hot guy to have another hot guy COME TO HER DOORSTEP. BOO FRICKING HOO!

Boo said...

Ohhh. I saw the 11:50pm showing on Saturday night and really liked it. Perhaps I will agree with you if I see it when I am more awake.
Either way, I have to say Jude Law is sexy when he comes down the stairs and puts on his glasses. Yum!

Sherpa said...

Jude's 33 right? I wonder if he's going to bald naturally or wear a toupee.

Sorry, I like Jude Law, but that's one of the thoughts going on in my head during the meeting. He's hot, but those glasses couldn't save the movie, but that's just my opinion.

stacer said...

You'll have to help me out here--the "meet cute"?

Also, your picture is from The Philadelphia Story, which is one of those classic romantic comedies that has a major flaw (the father blames the daughter for his infidelity) but that is totally worth overlooking because of the chemistry of both the main characters and the supporting characters (Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart were all three leads in this one). And it had great dialogue, too, and more than a little slapstick humor to boot.

Grant and Hepburn were *always* great together. If you liked Philadelphia Story, make sure you also see (if you haven't yet) Bringing Up Baby and Holiday. The former is one that most people have heard of, but Holiday was their first film together, way back in 38 or 39, and involves Cary Grant tumbling. It's awesome.

Sherpa said...

Stacer, you probably know what the "meet-cute" is, even if you haven't
heard of the term. Its one of the standard elements of a romantic comedy. Here's the wiki entry of the meet cute:

Meet cute
This article or section does not cite its references or sources.
Please help improve this article by introducing appropriate citations. (help, get involved!) This article has been tagged since July 2006.

In the genre of romantic comedy film, a 'meet cute' is the encounter of two potential romantic partners in unusual circumstances: a comic situation contrived by the filmmakers entirely in order to bring them together. Sometimes used as a verb, 'to meet cute', or hyphenated, the 'meet-cute'.

In many romantic comedies, the potential couple comprises polar opposites, two people of completely different temperaments, situations, social statuses, or all three (It Happened One Night), who would not have anything to do with each other under normal circumstances. The meet cute provides the opportunity.

In movies, the chemistry of the lead characters must be established quickly and firmly. The subject matter of romantic comedies are the obstacles that the potential pair must face before they can acknowledge, fulfill, or consummate their love, and the audience must care about the relationship enough to finish the movie. The meet-cute, by virtue of its unusual situation, helps to fix the potential relationship in the viewers' minds, and the spark of the meeting is the impetus by which initial vicissitudes of the developing relationship are overcome.

Certain movies are entirely driven by the meet-cute situation; circumstances throw the couple together for the span of the movie. However, movies in which the situation is the main feature, rather than the romance, are not considered "meet-cutes" (Some Like It Hot).

The use of the meet-cute is less marked in television series and novels, in which there is more time to establish and develop romantic relationships. In situation comedies, relationships are static and meet-cute is not necessary, though flashbacks may recall one (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mad About You) and lighter fare may require it.

Roger Ebert, a film critic, popularized the term in his reviews, and may have originated the term. The culture of the extremely compressed movie pitch meeting may have also contributed to its continuing use.

While the device seems clich├ęd today, it may be a victim of the decline of rigid class consciousness in the U.S. since its heyday during the Great Depression. Screwball comedy, which made heavy use of these contrivances, also peaked during this period.

[edit] Examples
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Canonical examples of meeting cute include:

* In My Man Godfrey ditzy socialite Irene (Carole Lombard), following her sister to a dump, chooses Godfrey (William Powell) to be her "forgotten man" for a charity scavenger hunt.
* It Happened One Night throws runaway heiress Ellie (Claudette Colbert) and world-weary ex-reporter Peter (Clark Gable) together in a dispute over the last seat on a bus.
* In Bringing Up Baby nervous paleontologist David (Cary Grant) finds that his golf ball and his car get inadvertently driven by strong-willed heiress Susan (Katharine Hepburn).

I don't think the father blaming the daughter for his infidelity is a "major flaw" in the script per-se. I don't think it sits well and that scene is a tiny bit heavy handed, but I don't think its a major flaw, just something thats undesirable to watch, especially as a woman 60 years after the film was made. Philadelphia Story is one of the best romantic comedies of all time. The dialogue, chemistry, acting and story is solid. One of my fave films of all time.

Stace, I've seen all three. Holiday I just saw a couple of years ago after wanting to see it for years and only seeing clips--I grew up on Philadelphia Story, I didn't mention because there was no need, but wanted to put a pic of a classic movie. Bringing up Baby has been an all-time fave since I was little. Great film. The Hepburn and Grant films are great, but if you haven't seen all of the Tracy/Hepburn films--seriously stellar work. Even the mediocre ones. His Girl Friday is a fave Grant film also.

stacer said...

Yeah, I have all the Cary Grant romantic comedies, and several Hepburn-Tracy ones. I can't recall if I've seen Desk Set, though I imagine I must have at some point, because I went through a phase of watching every Hepburn movie I could get my hands on. I just remember the ones I own more vividly. :)

And you're the first person I've met in YEARS that knows all these movies! Hurrah!

Sherpa said...

Cool, I like talking to people who really like "old" movies, and have seen a lot of them.