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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 17, 2009 @ 11:27 am

    Romantic Comedies

    Fiona McCann

    Been thinking about romantic comedies. You know, the Sleepless in Seattles and Roman Holidays, and the one I saw most recently, The Proposal (being dubbed by some in the media as The Formula, for reasons that will become clear should you ever see this predictable Anne Fletcher flick, which is rescued somewhat by a few genuinely funny moments, and the presence and timing of its watchable leads). Sure, the notion of a romantic comedy is as old as Shakespeare and older again, but so many of the more recent iterations are – let’s not mince words, here – predictable pap. Yet given that rom coms do follow a formula, what makes one work over another? Because occasionally – admit it, you cynics – a romantic comedy appears that manages to be both romantic and funny. It may be a rare breed, but I would solemnly submit that such was the case with When Harry Met Sally and Sideways. So what’s the secret? The gags or the chemistry between the protagonists? And what – speak up now, you closet romantics – are the best of a much maligned genre?

    • I agree with your comment about “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sideways” as being two outstanding comedy films, regardless of whatever sub-category you choose. In fact until you flagged it, I had never even thought of “Sideways” as a Rom-Com.
      Anyway, surely what makes them stand out from the crowd is the quality of the writing (with excellent casting as a secondary asset)

    • John says:

      Annie Hall, without a doubt is the finest romantic comedy. While it is at times surreal, it is also realistic. The subtitles! The flashbacks! The asides!

      One of Woody Allen’s finest hours.

    • Stan says:

      A rare breed indeed, but it can be done. What makes one work and another not work is very subjective, but the following (loosely rom-com) films all have charm and laughs to spare, and a lack of trite sentimentalism for its own sake:

      The Apartment, The Man With Two Brains, Groundhog Day, Grosse Pointe Blank, There’s Something About Mary, Annie Hall, The Philadelphia Story, Some Like It Hot, The Sure Thing, His Girl Friday, Punch-Drunk Love, Roxanne, The Hudsucker Proxy.

    • Fiona says:

      Michael Collins: In fairness, hadn’t thought of Sideways as a Rom Com myself until I found it on a list somewhere, and realised that yes, I guess it does fit the genre in its own wonderful way. And yes, I agree, good (and uncliched) writing is a whole lot to do with it.

      John: Annie Hall! Would you believe, I haven’t seen it, so couldn’t include it. I was hoping someone would mention it though – am positive it belongs at the top of the list, despite not actually having seen it. (Yes, I know, I know – I should have just lied about that, but it’s the big gaping hole in my cineducation).

      Stan: Some lovely ones on that there list. I’d agree with many of them – interesting more recent films there too, like Punch-Drunk Love (loved it) , though I’m one of the few people unwowed by There’s Something About Mary, alas.

    • I have a shockingly high tolerance for romcoms. I like Bridget Jones Diary (hangs head in shame), When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. The problems is that so few are done well – movies like Two Weeks Notice and [insert random Kate Hudson movie here] do the genre no favours

    • Stan says:

      Fiona: Taste in films is a strange and unpredictable thing. I added There’s Something About Mary almost automatically, but it’s certainly a lesser one in the list. I prefer the Farrellys’ ‘Stuck on You’, which is romantic only in a brotherly-love way so I left it out.

      But I will now add: The Princess Bride, Harold & Maude, and Delicatessen.

    • Fiona says:

      Declan Cashin: No need for shame. I will admit to having enjoyed that one myself. But I agree with the churn-em-out rom coms a la Kate Hudson vehicle. Shame, because there are some classics around.

      Stan: Haven’t seen Stuck On You, but am delighted to see The Princess Bride get a look-in. An absolute classic.

    • BRENB says:

      you haven’t seen Annie Hall? are you serious???? GET IT NOW! While you are at it Manhattan is amazing too. hmmm, Four Weddings? Is High Fidelity a rom-com?

    • Steve K says:

      The Princess Bride and Sideways aren’t romantic-comedies surely. I’m not even sure either of them are comedies. They’re movies that include comedy and romance.

      Knocked-Up was funny and romantic.

    • Fiona says:

      BRENB: I know! I know! But I have seen Manhattan. And loved it. I would get it right this minute but am off on a train to Kinsale so I am. Perhaps on Sundee. And yes to Four Weddings and High Fidelity , both of which I think qualify . . . but . . .

      Steve K: See, here’s the problem: what defines a romantic comedy? Maybe I should have started with that. Knocked-Up would definitely fit the bill, though.

    • Danielle says:

      I like Clueless (very loosly based on Jane Austen’s Emma). Clever, sweet and remains watchable even though I first saw it probably about 14 years ago.
      Also 10 Things I Hate About You is not bad for a teen-based rom-com (Shakespeare inspired).
      So classic literature is largely why both of the above are good.
      Annie Hall is excellent and neatly sums up the different ways men and women approach relationships (the therapist scene cracks me up).
      Happy Go Lucky I guess is not so much a rom-com, but the main character does start seeing a guy in it and the delicate way their relationship grows is so heart-warming and realistic. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside!
      Embarassingly, I have to admit I like part of You’ve Got Mail, despite the fact that I hate Meg Ryan. I’ve never seen the original, but I love the email relationship part of it – shows how people can connect mentally but then realistically, but hate that she falls for him anyway. Sell-out!
      What about Groundhog Day? carpe diem and all that.

      Too many hollywood movies have lazy sterotypes of men and women. I think the secret to a successful rom-com is realism, a flawed main character (or both) and how a love forms to help overcome that flaw (sort of like finding redemption but in a lighter, more humourous way). Cos you gotta love people’s flaws as well as the good bits!

    • clom says:

      punch drunk love is absolutely sublime!

      i brought the missus to see it on valentines many years ago, afterwards we shared a family bucket of kfc.

      we both reckon it was the most romantic valentines we’ve ever had.

      other stone cold romantic (although not strictly in the rom-com genre) classics round our way are The Thin Man (to be watched during the day with martinis at an irresponsible hour) and the life and death of colonel blimp.

      oh, and while we’re on the subject of Powell & Pressberger, A Matter of Life and Death. Niven’s Peter Carter is pretty much the ultimate romantic hero.

    • Kate says:

      Rom coms: Love old classics like Singing in the Rain and My Fair Lady (thanks Mum!)

      The Ephron sisters usually come up trumps: Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks is a realistic male, not too pretty, smart, funny, good person etc. Meg is a bit annoying but what can you do.

      Pride and Prejudice, the BBC version or the recent film are both amazing, love Jane Austen! Throw in Sense and Sensibility there too, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman make an excellent cast.

      Re: Kate Hudson, I agree most of her films are passable but How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days was quite funny.

      Really liked Something’s Gotta Give and As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson not the stereotypical leading man but both very funny and entertaining.

      BJD was ok but the sequel ruined it for me…. and now they’re making another one! Disaster.

      Honourable mentions: Pretty Woman, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, The Mirror Has Two Faces….. ok I think I’ve embarrassed myself enough for one day.

    • Fiona says:

      Danielle: Clueless! Great addition to the growing rom-com list. And congratulations on being the first female commenter on this post so far – ain’t that a turn-up for the books?

      Kate: You’re a sucker for those rom-coms, girl. Nice name-checking of the two Austens – Sense and Sensibility was particularly excellent, though I have to disagree about that KH flick – shudder.

    • david says:

      The difficulty with Rom-Com’s is that the formula dictates that you get your leads together near the midpoint of the film (at the latest, just before the final act). Then you have to break them up so you can reunite them for the finale. The break-up invariably forces one or both of the couple to act plain stupid (usually revealing a secret they’ve harboured from the beginning and that we’ve all been wondering why they hadn’t just come clean at the start – my favourite being: ‘I underwent an operation and now have the heart of your late husband!!!’, but often its just I was paid to take you out the first time, or I was your stalker, or I’m so popular now I’m going out with you I’ve lost my soul or I hear women’s thoughts and I’ve been manipulating you from the beginning and even tho I now love you I can’t live with the shame of my earlier actions and the fact that I got you fired! etc).

      When Harry Met Sally is possibly the best ever Rom-Com because the getting together at the mid-point is EXACTLY the reason for the break-up. They were meant to be friends, not lovers they think. And that’s been long set-up by Billy Crystal’s earliest argument in the film that men and women can’t be friends cos the sex gets in the way. Nora Ephron is a genius!

      The new ‘lad’ rom-com movies tho are also finding good ways to deal with the formula: 40-year-old Virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You Man (this one’s particularly good, because the rom-com relationship’s between two hetero men) have re-invented the genre.

    • Medbh says:

      “500 Days of Summer” opened yesterday. It’s fab, by far the best rom-com in recent memory.

    • Robert says:

      I love that movie Serendipity, may be trite with lots of corn, but I’ll watch John Cusack in anything! Oh and LA Story is my all time favourite.

    • clom says:

      LA Story is good tack alright.
      French romcom caper Priceless is pretty good fun too.

    • Fiona says:

      david: that’s why it’s so annoyingly predictable – the bit where they have to break up / hate each other / become unconvincingly separated so that they can run into each other’s arms at the end. Cringe.

      Medbh: dying to see it – love Zooey.

      Robert: John Cusack is one of my favourites, but he let me down with Serendipity, I gotta say. Found the whole premise really grating . . .

      Clom: Don’t know Priceless, but LA Story made me laugh, alright.

    • I don’t know if either of these really fits… but the Princess Bride and Strictly Ballroom. They have everything.

    • Fiona says:

      Raptureponies: Strictly Ballroom – how could I have left it out. One of my all time favourites . . . Rom and Com in spades.

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