Recently, I came across a review by Andrew Romano of the film The Came Together, that declared, “The Romantic Comedy is Dead,” which reminded me of Amy Nicholson’s article from late February, “Who Killed the Romantic Comedy?” This idea of the rom-com film genre as being dead in the water has become a common trope among film reviewers and critics, regardless of how accurate the statement may or may not be.1
But I’m not going to argue the legitimacy of such a claim. Instead, for the sake of argument, let’s claim it’s true and rom-coms are not delivering at the box office or bringing in audiences and that the rom-com’s clichés are tired instead of familiar and comforting.
How do we fix it?
The rom-com is only dead if we continue in the current model — of male directors adapting tired, clichéd novels, generally written, of course, by men, and then those same directors expecting women audiences to fall over themselves in gratitude that anyone took the time to throw them any sort of movie bone, no matter how demeaning.
But the thing is, rom-coms aren't dead at all — in literature. In fact, business is booming for romance novels. And the genre, as it stands today, bears little resemblance to the clichéd ideas of Nicholas Sparks and his ilk...or of the schlocky throw-aways we "borrowed" from our mums and grandmas in our childhood and giggled at with our friends. No, these books, written predominantly by women, are clever, creative, funny, and full of the romantic emotion that would keep audiences begging for more.
If filmmakers really want to "save" the rom-com (if it even is really "dead"), then this is where they need to go. For contemporary romance, look to Jennifer Crusie's novels, nearly any of which will translate beautifully to the screen, but I'm partial to Agnes and the Hitman (written with Bob Meyer) or Bet Me or Welcome to Temptation, personally. Or Sarah Mayberry, whose Her Best Friend is even centered around refurbishing an old cinema, a beautiful layered meaning for the filmmaker. Or, if fantasy romance is more in vogue, then to the wife and husband writing team of Ilona Andrews, whose Innkeeper Chronicles series promises to be brilliant (and even takes the hyper tired vampire-werewolf-human love triangle and makes it exciting). Or maybe the historical film is the way to go: Eloisa James' Three Weeks with Lady X holds all the charm of Georgette Heyer, with a much more assertive heroine.
The point is the stories are out there, and already making bank — many of these authors are NYT bestsellers. If the mainstream rom-com must reinvent itself, and I personally believe it must, then why not go to the works with built in audiences? And, in the process, trust that maybe, just maybe women creators and predominantly women audiences may know what they are craving.
1 And for all the evidence that suggests the genre is on the wane, there is also evidence suggests that it’s not. Anecdotally, within days of Romano’s review, Alexandra Molotkow also wrote a review of the same movie and titled it,
Andrews, Ilona. "Innkeeper Chronicles." Innkeeper Chronicles. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://demo.ilona-andrews.com/.
Crusie, Jennifer "Jennifer Crusie's Books." Jennifer Crusie. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.jennycrusie.com/books/fiction/.
James, Eloisa. "Eloisa James." Eloisa James. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.eloisajames.com
Mayberry, Sarah. "Sarah Mayberry :: Books." Sarah Mayberry. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.sarahmayberry.com/books.
Molotkow, Alexandra. "Long Live the Rom-com! Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd Bring Back Clichés." The Globe and Mail. June 27, 2014. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/long-live-the-rom-com-amy-poehler-paul-rudd-bring-back-the-cliches/article19377102/).
Nicholson, Amy. "Who Killed the Romantic Comedy?" LA Weekly. February 27, 2014. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.laweekly.com/news/who-killed-the-romantic-comedy-4464884.
Romano, Andrew. "The Romantic Comedy Is Dead." The Daily Beast. July 7, 2014. Accessed July 9, 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/07/the-romantic-comedy-is-dead.html.