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The Newfangled, Unsatisfying Romantic Comedy: A Rant

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Dirty Dancing was my first. Since then, I’ve continually sought out the pleasure of the moment—that moment—when, against all odds, a star-crossed pair discovers they’re in love. I don’t discriminate; I consume romantic-comedy classics (in 1995, I found Annie Hall at Blockbuster: “Mom, have you seen this? It’s, like, so awesome”) and the embarrassingly schlocky with equal enthusiasm. In fact, the more frustratingly contrived the circumstances the more I like it. I sat through all of No Reservations, for God’s sake! A recent study in Scotland found that romantic comedies may be bad for real-life relationships—raised expectations about love can wreak havoc, blah, blah. I’m not buying it. For 90 minutes, you’re in a world in which everyone is as cute as a button, the hot guy falls for the geeky girl, and no one has to fold laundry. What’s wrong with that? After the lights come up, I’m not expecting Patrick Dempsey to sweep me off my feet, nor do I want him to. So why, then, after seeing three current high-profile rom-coms—New in Town, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Confessions of a Shopaholic—was I left feeling so ... empty? Did all three have the big kiss? Check. Silly complications on the way to true love? Check. Did I develop a new celebrity crush? Check, next to Hugh Dancy. And then it hit me. Since Sex and the City, a woman has become the central protagonist in a genre that used to have two (so instead of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, you get Carrie and … her computer). Thus, these women have to follow the logical course of main characters—learn, change, grow—alone. The men? They’re just fine as is. In New in Town, Renée Zellweger plays a driven careerist who moves to a small town to revamp the local factory, where she meets union rep Harry Connick Jr. The moment comes only after Zellweger’s cold heart has been melted by the superfriendly town. In He’s Just Not That Into You, Jennifer Aniston, long-suffering girlfriend of marriage-phobic Ben Affleck, gets a proposal only after deciding she doesn’t need marriage. In Confessions of a Shopaholic, Isla Fisher is a debt-laden journalist who falls for her editor, who can’t reciprocate until she’s given up her expensive shopping habits. Think about it: Harry loved that it took Sally “an hour and a half to order a sandwich.” Harry didn’t say, “Hey, Sally, if you fix that ordering problem, maybe we can make it work.” I’m all for women-driven movies, but from Jane Austen to Bridget Jones, the traditional appeal of romantic comedies is that the man comes to his senses and realizes the flawed/chunky/smarter-than-he-is heroine is perfect as she is. I’m not looking for realism (that’s what I go to documentaries for). Please allow me to indulge in my fantasy where Hugh Dancy realizes I am the woman of his dreams. Thank you very much.


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