In Defence of: Romantic Comedies

Young Couple Kiss in the Rain

Image shared by ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser on Flickr via CC

Is this a title you didn’t expect to see on my blog? If so, why? Did I not seem like the ‘type to like romantic comedies’? Well let’s stop right there, shall we. Since when was it OK to dismiss a whole genre? I’d struggle to find even a sub-genre that I’d feel comfortable dismissing as universally rubbish, probably Snuff, though is that a form, not a genre? Sub genre of documentary? Anyway, killing people is fucked up. Stop it.

Back to point.

I AM SO BORED of the lazy dismissal of romantic comedies. I was having a discussion on Twitter yesterday about Space Westerns, I like the genre, and I thought I might try one, probably in a comic book collaboration I’m vaguely starting. Cue much self-satisfied snarking of ‘you mean like Firefly’ as if a) I had imagined I had invented the genre (srsly) and b) Firefly was the only one of its kind (try Star Trek (‘the final frontier’?) Star Wars, Halo Jones, Mass Effect, Cowboy Beebop, and they’re only some of the good ones). I tried to put this point to someone who suggested it could be nothing but a Firefly copy, by suggesting that had I said I was going to write a Romantic Comedy, he would not have suggested it must be a ‘Singing in the Rain’ ripoff. He responded that if that had been the case he would have considered it immediately rubbish anyway.

Though this made me facepalm, I’m willing to admit that there was, many a year ago, a point at which I would have agreed with him. That was the point, probably in my early teens and recognising something in society, I was in full-blown tomboy mode. I did not like musicals and romantic comedies because they were all rubbish, weren’t they? Why? The same reason I was imitating male clothing, academic ambitions*, sporting prowess. Because I have always wanted to be good at things, score high, understand how things work, learn. And what I had learnt from society was that ‘girl’ was not as good as ‘boy’. It was an insult. ‘You throw like a girl’. I bloody well didn’t, I bowled on a par with the boys and made it onto the school cricket team, I got the highest GCSEs out of the whole school, boys included**. And I won acceptance from boys for acting as they did. And Romantic Comedies, with their ideas of love and happy endings, they were uniformly feminine. And therefore, obviously, rubbish.

“There are the stereotypes – oh, the abundant stereotypes – about women, not me, of course, but other women, those women with their bad driving and their relentless shopping habits and their PMS and their disgusting vanity and their inability to stop talking and their disinterest in Important Things and their trying to trap men and their getting pregnant on purpose and their false rape accusations and their being bitches, sluts, whores, cunts. And I am expected to nod in agreement, and I am nudged and admonished to agree. I am expected to say these things are not true of me, but are true of women (am I seceding from the union?). I am expected to put my stamp of token approval on the stereotypes. Yes, it’s true. Between you and me, it’s all true. […] Not every man does all of these things, or even most of them, and certainly not all the time. But it only takes one, randomly and occasionally, exploding in a shower of cartoon stars like an unexpected punch in the nose, to send me staggering sideways, wondering what just happened. Well. I certainly didn’t see that coming.

These things are not the habits of deliberately cruel men. They are, in fact, the habits of the men in this world I love quite a lot.” Source

Romantic comedies do the worst thing a narrative can do – they typically have a female protagonist. Which means obviously they aren’t meant for men. Never mind that most other films have a male lead, never mind that the white, straight man*** is considered the ‘neutral’, that women are expected to watch all manner of in pretty much every other genre and have the ability to identify with their leads, but if a film has the temerity to buck this trend there’s no way it could be for a straight man.

There’s something called the Bechedel Test. It is not a measure of a good, or feminist movie, but rather is the measure of a movie that 1) has at least two women in it, who 2) talk to each other 3) about something besides a man. It is simply about the presence of women in a film/other fiction. There are plenty of excellent movies who fail this test. There are not enough movies that pass it. examples: here

I’m not saying that romantic comedies are feminist in any way, I bet most don’t pass the Bechedel test. Some might, but many reinforce anti-feminist ideas about needing a man, beauty, capitalism. But that they are universally dismissed as rubbish-as-default is the same as calling someone a ‘girl’, or ‘gay’ when you mean ‘not good’. You’re saying that a woman could never have something to say that might interest you. And that’s a problem.

If you’ve ever gotten all the way through my ‘about’ page you’ll know I did the flagship playwriting studies masters at the University of Birmingham, the one Sarah Kane hated, y’know. On that course several different playwrights ran our weekly sessions, including the course’s founder and eminently serious and political playwright David Edgar. Do you know what we studied with him? When Harry Met Sally. It’s fucking brilliant example of exposition-within-a-form – whenever the two male characters talk about their feelings they’re engaged in sport. It’s brilliant and hilarious

Here are some excellent romantic comedies:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Pride and Prejudice
The Importance of Being Earnest
Singing in the Rain
Annie Hall
When Harry Met Sally
Stranger than Fiction
Scott Pilgrim
The Secret of Monkey Island
Juno
High Fidelity
Sleepless in Seattle
Wall-E
Amelie
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Groundhog Day

Comment with any of your own Rom-Com ‘must-watches’ (especially ones with a female lead, there aren’t enough in my list).

I generally don’t appreciate Hollywood Action movies. But I’m pretty confident that there are as many shit Action films as there are Romantic Comedies. And brilliant films in each. An individual film may not be to your taste, but if you find yourself dismissing a whole genre, just for second, it might be worth asking yourself why.

*male academic ambitions consist of believing you can be good at any subject but Home Ec.

**actually the boy I beat by one A* was my boyfriend at the time, is still a friend, and is the loveliest person ever.

***There are a few exceptions to this of course, see Will Smith.

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EDIT

I decided to try collating recommendations and comments that I’m getting on Twitter on here with Storify:

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3 Responses to “In Defence of: Romantic Comedies”

  1. Adam January 6, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Hey,

    I will add my two 10 cents here about something I dislike. When girls tell me (as a guy) that I just don’t get a film, because its for women.

    A good film that is ‘aimed at women’ will be just as engaging for men simply because its a good film above anything else.

    It almost seems that a lot of poor romanic comedies try to cover there bad filming up, by claiming half the audience will not understand what they are trying to do, and would always hate it….Kerrrr-ching.

    your point about female leads is sadly very true…Its a shame but…normal female main characters are in short supply.

  2. Hannah Nicklin January 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Hi Adam, thanks for your comment, but I think you’ve misunderstood the whole point here – I’m in no way suggesting you should like any one Romantic Comedy, or that because you don’t like one movie you hate women, I’m saying the dismissal of the whole genre as some how worse-by-default, or to be taken less seriously than any other (e.g.) Action movie, Drama, etc., is part of the marginalisation of women in popular storytelling.

    As per the Bechedel test I think you can agree with that.

    Dislike what you want, but do so on its own terms, and it’s own worth, as well as now and then, questioning your reactions. Always check your privilege, as I too try to do with non white, LGBTQ, non middle class, western world, etc. points of view.

    This is a really interesting post to a similar effect: http://io9.com/5422666/when-will-white-people-stop-making-movies-like-avatar

    Thanks again.

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