Jeeves, fetch me my soapbox. I just read a very intriguing piece on The Daily Beast, “The Romantic Comedy Is Dead” by entertainment writer Andrew Romano, and I’m sorry, but I cannot let that shit stand. As a rom com writer (a novelist, not a screenwriter but hey, there’s always tomorrow), I call bullshit and must rebut.
In his article, Mr. Romano laments the death of rom coms, the passing of a genre that included so many quality movies only a couple of decades ago. He points out that the new rom com parody, They Came Together, starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, drives a stake into the heart of a favorite movie genre.
Not quite. Yes, rom coms are dead, but They Came Together didn’t kill them. Parodies like the Poehler/Rudd flick (which, by the way, I can’t wait to see!) don’t arise until the thing they’re parodying overstays its welcome and makes a joke out of itself first. And, let’s face it, rom coms definitely did that, ages ago.
Oh yes, I acknowledge rom coms are dead—and that’s saying something, considering I write ‘em—and to that I say “yay.” Rom coms should have gone tits up, considering what they turned into before they faded away completely: downright terrible formulaic garbage with tissue-thin scripts.
So what went wrong? Mr. Romano blames several factors: a decline in quality (agreed), a decline in quantity/abandonment of the rom com genre by the movie industry in favor of tentpole blockbusters (true, but alas, ‘twas always thus), abandonment of the genre by “big name” movie stars (but can you blame them, once the quality declined?), and…women in the industry.
Mr. Romano writes, “Girls [really, Andrew? GIRLS?] have something to do with this shift as well—again, on both sides of the camera. Take Mindy Kaling, who has made no secret of her love for rom coms….And yet Kaling hasn’t created a big-screen romantic comedy yet.”
Oh? It’s the “girls’” fault? Seriously? Let’s go back through your list of reasons, Mr. Romano. You say the industry has reduced the number of “mid-budget movies” they greenlight, like rom coms, in favor of blockbusters. “The only demographic adrenalized enough to reliably show up for this weekend’s latest extravaganza is men aged 18-24, or so the thinking goes, and so the industry keeps churning out dude bait.” But that’s still the “girls’” fault, not the fault of the studio execs—you know, the dudes who hold the purse strings—who only want to make the biggest opening-weekend/foreign markets haul possible?
Still, Mr. Romano goes on to say that there’s room for both blockbusters and rom coms, if only Hollywood would accommodate both, and I agree. But let’s set a few ground rules before we continue.
First, let’s start with quality scripts. Wait. Let’s make that first, last, and always. Rom coms shouldn’t be produced like a game of Drunken Dinner in College, where you open your fridge and try to make something out of its half-rotted anomalous contents, serve the stuff up on a plate, and call it edible. If you’re going to do it, do it right.
Let’s face it: the movie industry sucked the life out of the genre specifically by churning out too many rom coms too quickly, with all of them following the same “formula” till they pretty much all ended up limping along, gasping, “Matthew McConaughey…shoes…cupcakes…meet cute…wedding…New York City…”
But that’s not what makes a good movie. We all know that. You can’t pick and choose from a checklist of tropes, get a “big name” movie star or two, and not pay attention to the story, direction, cinematography, or any other element that usually goes into making a quality movie, of any genre. Why did that continue for as long as it did? One guess, and here’s a hint: It’s the same mindset that made Mr. Romano refer to rom com crafters as “girls.”
That leads me to my second “must”: Respect your audience. In this case, the “girls.” Don’t demean us, don’t assume we’re stupid enough to spend our hard-earned money on any old garbage a studio shovels out, don’t feed us drivel and expect us to say thank you may I please have some more. If it’s crap, a half-assed money grab, we won’t be dazzled by a candy-colored Manhattan backdrop and a cutesy soundtrack. We’re. Not. Idiots.
Likewise, Hollywood should respect its (ahem) women in the industry. If Mindy Kaling wants to produce a rom com flick, as Mr. Romano noted she said in a 2011 interview, then let her. Trust her to write a kickass script, trust others in the industry (even if—gasp!—they have bewbies) to do their jobs well enough that they’ll create a quality product that other bewbie-sporting humans will enjoy. Heck, it might even be good enough to transcend whether the humans entering the movie theater are sporting funbags or not. (Because, really, should that even be a factor in determining audience? Even Mr. Romano noted that he wrote his article as a lament because he likes rom coms.)
Right now, television is more amenable to those “girls” Mr. Romano says aren’t bothering to step up (never mind that they’re not the ones who decide what movies get made), so it’s no surprise that those “girls” are cleaning up on the small screen. The success of The Mindy Project and New Girl and Girls should be proof enough that rom coms are still welcome—again, if they’re done right.
“[They Came Together] is…strangely depressing,” writes Mr. Romano. I disagree—acknowledging the death of the rom com as we knew it (well, the Frankenstein monster it turned into, in the end) is welcome and necessary. We shouldn’t be trying to go back to the ‘90s and ‘00s; instead, we should dance around the funeral pyre of the old, hackneyed rom com, then give the talented women free rein to build something new and just plain better.
Yes, rom coms are dead. Long live the rom com.