Monday, July 23, 2007

Now for Something Completely Un-HP-Related: Recent Romantic Comedies

Warning: spoilers for "Knocked Up" and "Waitress" ahead.

If you're interested in romantic comedy as a genre, don't miss David Denby's terrific article in last week's "New Yorker" on its twentieth-century development in film, and particularly the current spate of male-slacker vs. female-striver movies. (And click quick, as I don't know how long that link will last.)

Exhibit A in his discussion: The very funny "Knocked Up," from the writer-director Judd Apatow. I liked "Knocked Up" a lot, but I agree with Mr. Denby that the romance is distinctly underdeveloped; it seems like Apatow knew those two people would never actually fall in love (or, let's face it, that she would never fall in love with him), so he cut around it as much as possible and focused on the relationship between the two couples instead. On the other hand, there IS a fantastic romantic moment in Act III of the film: Ben moves out of the slacker house, gets a job in web development, and decorates his apartment with an amazing semblance of taste for the man who came up with "" In other words, he sacrifices his previous unproductive lifestyle in favor of the woman he loves (sort of) and the child they'll have (he hopes).

And sacrifice is pretty much Tool #1 in the romance-creator's arsenal: Darcy giving up his pride (and entire previous character) for Elizabeth, Jack giving up his life for Rose (yes, my second "Titanic" reference in two days -- again, shut up), Randolph Henry Ash giving up his right to his daughter, a whole lot of bachelors giving up their all-business-all-the-time lives in bad category romances. (There ought to be some examples of women making sacrifices here too -- romance ought to run both ways -- but because the genre is generally designed to please women rather than men, it's usually the men who change.) Ben's decision to get a life, and his follow-through on it, made "Knocked Up" unexpectedly Austenian for a film that contains the line "Steely Dan can gargle my balls," but the ending is quite appropriately un-Austenian and uncertain for these uncertain romantic times: They'll love their child, live with each other, and see how things go.

I also think there's a very interesting comparison to be made between "Knocked Up" and "Waitress" -- another film about unplanned pregnancy by an undesirable father, but this one written and directed by a woman, the late Adrienne Shelley. It's a charming little film -- one of the best examples of directorial "voice" I've seen recently -- but outside its fairy-tale cinematography and ending, it's deadly realistic about how pregnancy ties the protagonist Jenna (the woman, I'd like to emphasize) to her awful, abusive, controlling husband, and to her dead-end life. Jenna hates her baby, truly and virulently, for a good deal of the movie, which impressed me a lot because it made me so uneasy. A gift from her mentor enables her to kick the husband out, and she eventually decides to drop her unreliable married lover as well in order to focus on her baby and what's best for her -- another fictional choice that really impressed me with its guts: getting rid of all the useless men in favor of a matriarchy with pies. "Waitress" isn't meant to be a romantic comedy, I don't think, so it's not trying to do the same things as "Knocked Up"; but stylized as it was, its women and their choices felt much more real to me, and taken seriously to me, than Katherine Heigl in the latter. . . .

I want to see new-millennium remakes of "Adam's Rib," "It Happened One Night" ("The Sure Thing" (sigh) was twenty years ago now -- we're due for a new take), and "His Girl Friday" -- great romances where the men and women are equals in work and in one-liners. I want more women to write and direct romantic comedies (or really anything). I want more male directors to pay attention to women -- Judd Apatow is actually great at women's characters and issues, comparatively speaking. I want Michael Bay to have to direct a romantic comedy and not get to blow one single thing up. I want romantic comedy to explore marriage, living together, break-ups, friendships after break-ups, hook-ups, serial monogamy, all the interesting dimensions of love and sex outside the standard one-true-love courtship model. (Actually, this probably means I want "Sex and the City," simply because it had the time and characters to work all the complexities.) I want romantic comedy as a genre to stop being identified and dismissed as "women's pictures," and more great relationship stories on/from both sides of the Y-chromosome divide.

Also, I want a pony.

But these things are possible. People: Go write them.


  1. Now the Titanic theme song is in my head.

  2. Using the unbiased method of declaring whatever song we heard most on the radio during our road trip to spring break as our official spring break song, "My Heart Will Go On" was, unfortunately, the official Spring Break '98 Theme Song for me and my seven buddies.

    Darn West Virginia and its lack of any rock stations.

  3. Uhg! I did my sign language final to that song.

    That Y-cross-over thing:

    My husband hates "mush" but he liked (and even teared up in) the movies: Just Like Heaven, Return to Me and Notebook. Go figure. Maybe he's secretly obsessed with death. ;)

  4. Oh, I LOVE The Sure Thing. Classic. I went through a serious John Cusack phase there for a while.

    Say Anything <--kind of cheese, but he's hot, so...
    Better off Dead <--best freakin' movie of all time.
    One Crazy Summer <--Hoops!
    Serendipity :) I just like the word.

    Sorry, I'm getting carried away...time for sleep.

  5. We are in the middle of watching "Ball of Fire" and Barbara Stanwyck is hysterically hot. She just about toasts poor Gary Cooper's lips off. It's all silliness in the plot department but the slang is rhythmic and snappy. It makes you want to call everybody, "Dad", "Sister" or say, "Hey Kids!"

    We originally got it just to see Gene Krupa play "Drum Boogie" on a matchbox but stayed for Stanwyck.

    Being in a relationship does take sacrifice and change. The trick is getting things to balance somewhere between being inflexible and wimpy, stubborn and doormat.

    I keep hearing that there is a remake of "The Women" in the works. I'd like to see a 21st century version called "The Men" showing how guys deal with relationships. I’d pitch it with John Cusack. Honest.


  6. I just wanted to stop in and say hello. I only discovered your blog today, but I will be back.

  7. When you find a GOOD relationship flick, let me know! That will happen the same time the 'FROG' comes to lives in Iowa. Isn't it about time for a rematch???

    Aunt Carol