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Why Romantic Comedies Are Good. Wait. Are They?

Our Regular Contributors Discuss a Hot Topic this Week

Paola-Bassanese-authorPaola Bassanese, music lover and a contributor for itcher magazine.

Johnny SweetJane Howarth, Disney fan and a contributor for itcher magazine.

Paola_Bassanese_itcher_contributorAre romantic comedies your favourite type of movies? Or do you think they are just a con to dupe women into thinking a knight in shiny armour will rescue them? Do you deem rom coms bad for relationships? ~ Paola Bassanese

Hello, my name is Paola Bassanese and I am a reformed romantic comedy addict. In other words: I used to love romantic comedies (and have written plenty of articles on this subject!) but I have recently had a change of heart.
It’s not me, it’s you.

I used to like flicks like Dirty Dancing and Notting Hill and then I started developing a bit of an allergic reaction. I think I have now reached a point of no return.


Hi there! I’m Jane, a Scottish writer, designer and most importantly, itcher magazine contributor. I like things that make me think, but you know what? I can’t resist a bit of cuteness – and that’s why I’ll be showcasing the best of romantic comedy.

Sure, rom coms have a frivolous side, but that’s all part of the fun.


JANE: Why Romantic Comedies Are Good…

If you’re wondering why romantic comedies are good, let me share my perspective.

Firstly, I should own up. There are romantic comedies I love to bits, but others… not so much. Here’s the reasoning behind my overly-complex feelings towards the genre:

  • If I feel like watching a rom com, it’s romance and comedy I’m looking for, so I can forgive a few other things
  • Romantic comedy traits show up in other genres already, so we may as well give in
  • Not all rom coms are the same, and while some really aren’t my thing, there are others I wouldn’t be without

Why Do I Watch Romantic Comedies?

Some things are acceptable in a rom com but if they happened in another movie, I would be giggling into my popcorn (in a bad way).

The reason? I love movies with a smart side, an unusual side, something brilliant that stays with me afterwards – let’s say Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) or North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959).

Movies like these rely on super-complex plots – or simple plots brilliantly executed – and that’s their job. I don’t want to watch Cobb and Arthur go on a series of woefully mismatched bad dates.

On the other side of the rom com-adopting coin, The Riot Club (Lone Scherfig, 2014) is definitely not part of the genre, but it uses some of the conventions. Think hopeless chat-up lines, mismatched couples and some genuine laughs, until the thriller part ramps up.

But with a pure romantic comedy, I’m mainly here for a likeable love story.

Sure, there’s usually a formula, but with great writing and talent, that shouldn’t be a problem. For proof, just look at Wikipedia’s quick and easy guide to Shakespearean comedy and compare it to contemporary movies. Yes, the format’s the same, misunderstandings and all.

Hold on a Moment!

There’s a lot of variation within the genre, and I quickly discovered that not all of the subcategories are my thing.

The realisation hit me part way through Maid in Manhattan (Wayne Wang, 2002) when my teen self thought, “You know what? I’m neither charmed by the characters nor the script, and I haven’t laughed once”.

A huge tip-off is the old favourite, ‘funniest romantic comedy of the year’… in January. Yes, it’s happened, and no, it really didn’t sell me this apparent beacon of hilarity.

Jennifer Aniston movies are often culprits. Sorry, Jennifer, that slightly quizzical poster-face won’t win me over either.

Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999), on the other hand, had me rolling with laughter in the first ten minutes (the book scene, if you’re wondering). Great timing and unexpected lines meant I didn’t mind the formula behind it or, to paraphrase Paola, its romanticised view of London.


Will These Romantic Comedies Convince You?

`Sliding Doors´ (Peter Howitt, 1998)

One of my favourite romantic comedies, in spite of the dubious ‘short hair equals empowerment’ message. I’ve already talked about it here, but to quickly catch up, a Londoner’s life splits into two versions of events when she misses, or alternately catches, a tube train.

I like the slightly strange twist. We never really know if the parallel Gwyneth Paltrow was real or not, which makes it feel a little bit like, if not quite sci fi, maybe a Du Maurier novel.

PAOLA: I loved that movie so I can’t really disagree with you – the parallel lives theme added extra interest to the story. Is this enough to make me reconsider my position on rom coms? Not quite.

Paola’s Romcom-ometer: 50%
`It Happened One Night´ (Frank Capra, 1934)

Yes, this pre-Hays Code classic is a rom com and an unmissable classic. A journalist meets a runaway heiress on a cattle class bus to New York, and is torn between the once in a lifetime scoop and a possible love affair.

Just like in Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) and Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1952), romantic comedy’s format provides the perfect excuse for some genuine laughs and some cuteness, driven by two main challenges: the romantic one, and the non-romantic.

I think it works perfectly, and since respected critic Roger Ebert agrees, I’m in good company.

PAOLA: That’s an excellent suggestion Jane, I haven’t watched this film and it is a classic, so I will add it to my watch list. But would your perfectly-argued point convince me to start loving rom coms again? Unfortunately not, but nice try!

Paola’s Romcom-ometer: 50%
`Mamma Mia´ (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008)

Just before her wedding, Amanda Seyfried’s character, Sophie, tries to track down her mystery father from clues in her mother’s diary.

The best part? It’s based entirely around Abba songs.

Lots of movies mix genres, but I think musicals and rom coms go together perfectly. In my opinion, Mamma Mia’s combination of silly moments, overlapping love stories and a singing Pierce Brosnan make it really lovable.

PAOLA: I refuse to watch this, sorry. I did not want to be dragged by my friends to see Mamma Mia in the West End, and shall not watch it on screen either. I don’t even care about the stellar cast, just watching the trailer made me cringe too much. But hey, each to their own so I am glad you got plenty of enjoyment from watching this movie!

Paola’s Romcom-ometer: 0%

Verdict: 33% Convinced

Not enough to make me change my mind, but you really made a good effort, Jane! I prefer to remain my cynical self and look vaguely bored and mildly intellectual…


PAOLA: Why Are Rom Coms Bad – The Low Down

Let me tell you more about how I arrived to this conclusion.

  • Romantic comedies pull at the heart strings so your rational brain becomes less involved and you suspend all judgement
  • Romantic comedies are a build-up from children fairy tales and viewing should only be confined to pre-teenage years with plenty of health warnings that they are not representative of real life
  • There are some truly ghastly productions out there that bank on the charisma or popularity of the lead actors to hide a multitude of sins in the script

Are these enough reasons for why romantic comedies are bad for you? No? Let me tell you a bit more then.

`La Boum´ (Richard Sanderson, 1980)

Yes, Richard Sanderson, I blame you.

Dreams are my reality sang Sanderson, dreadfully lip-synching in his video from La Boum‘s soundtrack . We were doomed from the start. Incidentally, this is one of the earliest music singles I ever owned (a 45” vinyl, no less). The grooves imprinted on that black piece of plastic must have etched a permanent mark in my brain, too.

The year was 1980: as a pre-teenager I was totally a sucker for romantic movies and in terms of demographics I was the perfect target for the rom com hype.

I was the perfect target for the rom com hype

In La Boum (The Party), Sophie Marceau was the fresh-faced teenager going to the much-anticipated school disco – aeons before she played Elektra King in the Bond film The World is not Enough (1999). Vic (Marceau) has a slow dance with her beau Mathieu (who has clearly invented silent disco, as he puts headphones on Vic’s ears to create a romantic atmosphere) while everybody else jumps around to some French rock.

So there I was, thinking that every school disco will be exactly like that – or at least any house party I would be going to in the near future. But no, I was the one circulating the crisps and snacks at parties.

Then again, I was never the optimist.

JANE: I haven’t seen this one, but I’ll check it out. True, I’ve never been anything other than the snack girl either, but I’m going to stick to the belief that movie parties are something completely fictional and fantastical. People don’t really have awesome school discos… right? Right?


`Dirty Dancing´ (Emile Ardolino, 1987)

Dirty Dancing ruined my life.

Nobody puts Baby in the corner said Patrick Swayze (Johnny) to Jennifer Grey (Baby) in Dirty Dancing:

Ah, cool! So if I just sit there playing wallflower, a dancing knight in shiny shoes will come and rescue me and we’ll hit the dance floor making everybody stare with jealousy as I leap in the air and he catches me mid-flight! (Did I say that out loud?)

Fast forward to twenty years later – I took some Argentine tango dance classes and guess what: if you just sit there waiting for someone to ask you to dance, you’ll grow a beard and cobwebs. It’s only the ladies who are already dancing who are asked to dance!

Can you see where I’m getting at? Romantic comedies and dancing… a dangerous combo!

Confession – I always feel inspired to dance when I watch this, and overlook the romance part! (Sorry, Swayze

JANE: Yeah, a beard and cobwebs really won’t attract dates. I think the wallflower problem is rife everywhere, not just rom com land. How many books, movies or songs are about girls who don’t realise their potential until a guy notices their shy glances?

`Failure to Launch´ (Tom Dey, 2006)

Failure to Launch is the epitome of everything that is wrong with rom coms.

Not even the pairing of mega-stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey could rescue a truly ghastly movie like Failure to Launch. I spoke briefly about this movie and the only positive thing I could say about it was that it had some good photography.

This film is the antithesis of genuine and banks on the popularity of TV show Sex and the City together with the appeal of the two leads.

It’s the lack of authenticity that really got me the hump.

JANE: I won’t argue this one – for me, it’s just lacking charm all round. It’s like nobody made any effort.


I Should Have Signed a Rom Com Prenup

It is definitely a case of “it is you, not me”.

Dear rom com movies, you have duped me and now I want my money back. I knew I should have signed a prenup before watching La Boum in 1980!

What do I want from a good movie then?

I have come to the conclusion that I want more from a movie than just romance: life is more complex than that, there’s a whole range of emotions and situations that need to be explored and focusing only on romantic love is too limited for cinematic treatment.

For example, Out of Sight featuring Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney or The Secretary with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal (see what I had to say about this movie and similar here) have all the elements of what I look for in a movie: they are multi-faceted and yes, they do feature some romance but that is not the key theme.

Actually, it has dawned on me that Spanish film makers like Pedro Almodovar have the right formula: there’s laughter, drama, love, intrigue… it’s the perfect mix.

So, What Do We All Think?

JANE: Well, there are definitely some questionable romantic comedies out there, but it would be sad to see the lazy efforts put people off the gems.

Paola, I’ve got to agree with you, rom coms don’t represent real life too well. For me, the problem is that while other movies can distinguish themselves more easily as a cinematic escape, these guys can end up in limbo. But as you probably know from my usual movie preferences, I don’t mind a little fantasy.

PAOLA: I am not going to love romantic comedies again but Jane made some great points and Hollywood classics like It Happend One Night, I believe, are still worth watching.

And, What About You?

And now we can’t wait to hear what you think about this topic – rom coms, yay or nay?

I am Paola Bassanese, and I love twitter – I think in slogans! I am a contributing author at itcher mag covering mainly quirky movies that I like and that I hope you′ll like too. [n-e-x-t] I have written a few books including The Foraging Home Cook, and also write about health and lifestyle for the Huffington Post. I consider myself to be a Londoner even though I was born in Italy. I love 80s music and foreign language films, but I also enjoy going to the opera and ballet.
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