My four year old daughter has developed a fascination with vampires of late. This is how I ended up sitting in front of “Hotel Transylvania”, a feature length cartoon about an overprotective father who happens to be Dracula and his attempts to keep his own daughter from falling in love with a human being. The film was not “Philadelphia Story” by any stretch of the imagination; but it may as well have been when compared to almost any rom-com I can think of made in the last decade. It is strange that if you made a list of the best romantic comedies of the current period, most of them (if not all of them) would be children’s movies. This is less a commendation of the way cinema for children has improved since the turn of the century (and it has) and more of a condemnation of the rut rom-coms have allowed themselves to fall into.
The romantic comedy genre has a venerable history. The aformentioned “Philadelphia Story” is but one of many well-written and well-acted films that filled out cinema’s first century. “It Happened One Night”; “An Affair to Remember”; “Some Like It Hot”; “The Apartment; “Annie Hall”; I could go on for some time, but I’ll stop there. It used to be that the “woman’s film” as it was called in more sexist days was where a premium was placed on witty dialogue and creative plotting. Somewhere along the way, that tradition died.
Think about the most well known rom-coms of the last ten years. “Failure to Launch”; “What Happens in Vegas”; “Bride Wars”; “Just Go With It”; “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”; the entire J-Lo oeuvre; what is notable about these films isn’t simply that they’re terrible (which they really, really are); it is that they are so incredibly badly written. The script – that element which used to be the thing that made rom-coms soar – has become a predictable thing of ugliness in the rom-com business.
I often wonder why the writing on kids’ films is experiencing a golden age, while movies for grown ups seem like they are being written by children. Is there something Freudian in there? Perhaps there are some simpler reasons for this trend. Part of what used to make rom-coms tick was the intense mess of rules that existed to stop men and women from getting it on. While it’s not like all rules in that regard have fallen by the wayside, the scene in “It Happened One Night” with the blanket between the sides of the bed couldn’t be shoehorned into a modern day film without it seeming forced and corny.
Which wouldn’t stop them trying, mind you. One of the worst things about modern rom-coms is that they set them in the present day and then try and pretend that things are less liberal than they actually are. So nonsensical roadblocks appear to keep potential lovers apart, adding to the bad writing quotient. I guess what I’m really saying here is that perhaps social liberalism killed the rom-com.
It shouldn’t have. There’s a reason the genre has been around forever – it has an amazing ability to re-invent its own rules in order to adapt to any situation. But no one is bothering with it at the moment except for Disney. It seems like the Hollywood producer who could re-invent the rom-com for the 21st century could become a rich individual. Yet I’m not holding my breath on this one. I’m likely to to find the only believable on-screen romance in the form of cartoons for the foreseeable future.