Bye-bye romantic comedies

Dara Stevens Jun 9, 2011
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Bye-bye romantic comedies

Dara Stevens Jun 9, 2011
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Tess Vigeland: This weekend’s big summer blockbuster wannabe is “Super 8.” If you’re unclear as to what the movie is about — that’s the way it’s supposed to be: big secret. Something about kids and aliens. Gotta go to the cineplex to find out the rest.

But there’s another genre of pictures that has commentator Dana Stevens asking: Where, oh where, have you gone?


Dana Stevens: It’s become a critical truism to say that the romantic comedy is in decline. The genre that gave us Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby,” William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall,” and John Cusack and Ione Skye in “Say Anything,” has been reduced to pairing up Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in “The Ugly Truth” or Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in “Just Go With It.”

That isn’t meant as a slight toward contemporary actors; with the miserable vehicles they’re trapped in, how do we even know what our modern day comedians and comediennes are capable of?

Most Hollywood romantic comedies now seem to come in two flavors. There are those so enervated and bland, they seem to have been boiled dry of any real conflict or substance. Those are the ones marketed at women. Then there are those so crassly sexist they make you despair not only for the future of cinema, but the future of the human race. Yes, those are the ones marketed at men.

Many reasons have been adduced for this decline. Changing social mores have de-codified the rituals of courtship, removing many of the obstacles that traditionally kept the lead couple apart until the final frame. Then there’s the new economics of Hollywood — movies can no longer afford to be modest successes, they must “win the weekend” and reap vast global profits to be worth making at all. Dialogue-driven, special effects-free rom-coms, however charming they may be, don’t have the international theater-packing power of a “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

But just as happens with romantic love in real life, our hopes for the romantic comedy somehow keep springing back unabated after every soul-grinding disappointment. Later this summer, Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks will appear in “Larry Crowne.” Hanks directed the film about a man laid off from his job who goes back to night school and falls for his teacher. Hanks and Roberts are both veterans of the era when romantic comedy still occasionally contained both romance and comedy. Here’s hoping — against hope — that their new film recaptures a little of that old screwball charm.


Vigeland: Dana Stevens is the film critic for Slate and the co-host of their Culture Gabfast podcast. Got your own take? Send ’em in.

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