By Hollis Gillespie
What's Up Doc?
The Danger of Modern Romantic Comedies
First, I'd like to warn you that romantic comedies ruined my life, but I don't think the devastation would have been so thorough if I hadn't also, as a teenager, read a truckload of epic romance novels on top of it. It did not at all help to be 14 with "ample breasts bursting with desire." I spent decades just leaning pensively against balustrades in hopes someone would want to sculpt me.
This was a major waste of time.
Then I ended up with a boyfriend who broke up with me by pushing me out of his car. Granted, it was a VW, and granted, it was parked at the time, and granted, I was clinging to him like a love-sick squid and there really was no other way to get my bawling, begging ass out the door, but still. He moved to Australia the next day, so frantic was he to escape the yoke I tried to place on him - the yoke of the romantic-comedy leading man.
I have since become a jaded, misanthropic, smirk-prone sea urchin, which is (probably) a more realistic stance to take when tackling life. I still rent romantic comedies by the bushel, but not because I buy into their lovely little life-is-roses, pearl-of-wisdom, everybody-foam-at-the-mouth- and-fall-over-backwards messages or anything. I rent them because I enjoy shouting at the screen, "Ha! Like that's ever gonna happen!" or "Oh, I am so sure!" and such. You can't get away with that at a movie theater. (I've tried, and they are not polite when they ask you to leave, either.)
That's not to say I'm not in love. I am, as you read this, in love with someone who absolutely, without a doubt and with all his heart... probably loves me back, sort of. He owns the bar where my best friend works, and took me on a movie date once, to see a romantic comedy, no less: The Family Stone (2005). It was all of 15 minutes before he got up to get more popcorn and, uh, never came back. But I don't blame him, I blame the movie. He could probably quickly see the huge heavy yoke he would have had to bear. How could he possibly compete with Luke Wilson as he held back the hair of a barfing Sarah Jessica Parker? How could he hope to compare to Dermot Mulroney as he confessed his dreams, all big-eyed and quivery-lipped, to Claire Danes? It would have been the same as taking me to a porn flick and expecting me to perform that knees-behind-the-ears trapeze maneuver first made famous by Marilyn Chambers in Behind the Green Door. It's just not possible.
You have to ease into these things. While the aforementioned man now doesn't return my calls, I've been primed by a lifetime of these movies to expect this to be just be a phase. Until this phase is over, I'm renting romantic comedies.
You, too, can be me, if you adhere to the subsequent simple format when delving into the romantic comedy genre:
I Hate You, You Hate Me
This is how it almost always starts; the two leading characters meet and share an attraction that is obvious to everyone except themselves and, due to some external (or internal) factor, they do not at first get romantically involved - although some involvement is necessary, and it helps if they hate each other. Take You've Got Mail (1998), (a remake of sorts of Ernst Lubitsch's Shop Around the Corner), the quintessential for-women-only romance comedy, in which Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks play rival bookstore owners who spew heated barbs at each other until they each realize the other is their own personal internet love mate to whom they've been secretly (even to each other) baring their souls over the year.
Or even better, What's Up, Doc? (1972), with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal (also a sort of remake, of the screwball classic Bringing Up Baby). She doesn't really hate him, but he hates her enough for both of them until the end, when he realizes Streisand can really pull her appearance together, what with that amazing tan and the fact she hadn't yet begun the unfortunate habit of perming the hell out of her hair.
In fact, Streisand pretty much owned the seventies in romantic comedies. After What's Up Doc?, came The Main Event (1979), in which she played a rich perfume-scent inventor gone bust because of a criminal accountant, and Ryan O'Neal (again) plays a down-and-out boxer she unknowingly endorsed because said accountant figured said loser boxer would be a creative tax break. At the film's start, Streisand and O'Neal hate each other with equal passion, with Streisand the first to come around. She seems to always be the first to come around. Even in Hello, Dolly!, which was made in 1969 when Streisand was only 25 years old, she was in love with Walter Matthau long before his big old bassett-hound head knew anything about it.
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