Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On Romantic Comedies as a Dying Genre

So, I was eating my Cheerios this morning and reading Time magazine (shit, I just admitted to reading Time magazine. Damn it.), when I happened upon an article about the lack of romantic movies being made anymore. The author, who was female, seemed bothered by the fact that major movies these days don't really focus on romance or relationships.

Even worse, I guess, it's been years since a romantic comedy managed to gross significant amounts of money (or something like that, I wasn't reading too closely since I was mainly concentrating on the Cheerios). Well, to make a long story short (more accurately, I'm about to make a really short story a whole heck of a lot longer), it got me to thinking about romantic comedies.

Obviously, there's other kinds of romantic movies (she brings up Titanic, which apparently isn't a comedy...who knew?). However, I'm only going to spend my time thinking about romantic comedies because I'm lazy (and I tend to avoid romantic dramas or whatever they're called because that's combining two genres I don't like, as opposed to romantic comedies, which are combining a genre I like with one I don't).

I would like to start by saying, "Yes." I'm not going to argue with the fact that this genre seems to be on the decline. I'm pretty sure I don't even mind. But, I sincerely doubt that it's truly disappearing.

Let me bring in a completely random example, to help make my point. Think of video games. One of the biggest selling games of all time was Myst (stupid Sims for taking the top stop away). It was in a genre called "point and click adventures". Nobody makes those anymore unless they like wasting time (and not making money). Does that means that the ideas and concepts of that genre are dead, just because no one makes games like it anymore? Of course not. Instead, the current crop of popular genres incorporates some of those same ideas and uses them to add to their experience. The Metroid Prime series from Nintendo feels remarkably like a point and click adventure (with the targeting system, information system, and focus on exploration), but it's a first person shooter.

How does this relate to romantic comedies? It doesn't, I'm just excited about the fact that Metroid Prime 3 comes out in less than 2 weeks. But it totally could.

Think about it. What really defines a romantic comedy? A movie that features a very cute couple that should be together (typically, it's pretty obvious they should be together as well) and the very cute and comedic struggles they have in actually getting together. In the end, they finally get together, overcoming whatever obstacle it was that required them to take 95 minutes of our time for them to overcome. Some examples include: not knowing each other (I think, Sleepless in Seattle), class differences (tons of examples), guy's immaturity or girl's neurosis (again, way too many examples), and the list goes on.

Well, the above paragraph pretty much summarized the romantic comedy genre in the space of two sentences. Admittedly, action movies could probably go faster (Pointless action! Boring exposition! Bigger pointless action! Credits, hopefully with funny outtakes!). But, that's not the point. The point is, the basic definition is really simple.

It's so simple that the last really popular romantic comedy (Love Actually) was literally a collection of cute examples of the application of those two sentences, all cut together into one giant movie (while skipping all the stuff that typically makes a romantic comedy original). It was a pretty huge success. And it did this by merely condensing the basic premise of a romantic comedy into small sections of a bigger movie (admittedly, the bigger movie was made up of similar sections, but that's not the point).

What does this show? It shows that the fans of the genre don't actually need a feature length romantic comedy to be spend on a single relationship. They seem to almost be happier when less time is spent on the couple trying to overcome the obstacle (Love Actually tends to just skip the obstacle all together using the Christmas season as an excuse, in order to expedite the arrival of the cute romantic ending). The key pieces of a romantic comedy can satisfy most fans of the genre simply genre simply by being present in a movie, potentially with other topics involved as well.

Amazingly, I can now go back to my initial video game example and apply it to romantic comedies. The romantic comedy genre can no longer support itself (because it's been done into the ground), but the desire for the content hasn't dried up. The result is an opportunity for other genres to borrow themes from romantic comedies to reach out to additional audiences (i.e. - the fans of romantic comedies).

And we can see this happening.

Stardust, a fantasy movie based on a graphic novel/book by Neil Gaiman features interactions (read as: bickering) between the main characters that would fit perfectly in just about any romantic comedy, and cute scenes of them overcoming the obstacles preventing them from getting together. Is it a romantic comedy? No. It's a fantasy movie with a decent amount of action, but it still found it worthwhile to build their budding relationship into the framework of the movie.

Family movies have been using those same genre themes for years. Recent examples include Ratatouille and Flushed Away (read as: the last two family movies I've seen), but pieces can be seen in Disney movies much farther back (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, et al).

The last example would, of course, be action adventure movies. They may be considered the realm of guys, but even as far back as Star Wars, can we see examples of the romantic comedy genre present. The dialogue (bickering) of the heroes with the women they are trying to impress is most certainly taking its cues from romantic comedies. In recent memory, the first thing I can come up with that follows this formula very closely would be the November blockbuster from a few years ago, National Treasure (not that I recommend you go see this movie, mind you).

So, yeah, you probably aren't going to see too many more true blue romantic comedies anymore, but that doesn't mean the genre and it's traditions have been abandoned. They are being incorporated into other genres. Hiding in plain sight if you will.

That is all.


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