Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mixed Feelings: Loving and Hating Romantic Comedies, Part Two

Warning: The following "spoils" the ending of Leap Year, 27 Dresses and The Holiday. I'm sorry if it shocks you.

At the end of the last romantic comedy-related post I wrote, I suggested that I should skip out on the romantic comedies that I know will be completely predictable and practically devoid of any reality whatsoever. I didn't follow my own advice, and I recently found myself watching Leap Year. My curiosity was piqued by the setting in Ireland, the presence of Matthew Goode (who actually gives good performances in non-romantic comedies A Single Man and Brideshead Revisited) and the use of a newer song by Snow Patrol (one of my favorite bands), "Just Say Yes," in the trailer. It is also directed by Anand Tucker, who I thought did a good job with Shopgirl. But now I'm thinking that might've just been due to the involvement of Steve Martin.

Leap Year is pretty much your standard modern Hollywood romantic comedy: a neurotic, control-freak female lead finds herself in the company of a pessimistic male lead who is really romantic but is insanely heartbroken. He senses this caricature of a woman could help him overcome said heartbreak, especially after she has a scene or two where she "lets her hair down." She is not interested in him, at least at the beginning. By the end of the movie, they are inseparable. If you take the title and replace it with any major romantic comedy released in the last few years, you can see how ridiculous and recycled these plot lines are. (The best examples I can think of are 27 Dresses and the Cameron Diaz-Jude Law storyline in The Holiday.) The only major difference is that Leap Year is set in Ireland.

I might start to refer to this as When Harry Met Sally syndrome. I love that movie. It is truly an original story about love, and is probably the romantic comedy that originated that general storyline I mentioned above. To me, it seems like writers, directors and studios are repeatedly trying to recreate the film, and they fail pretty much every time - if not financially, most certainly critically.

I think that the most common problem is that these modern stories are just boiling it down to sweeping romantic moments and are not doing a very good job of filling in the gaps. Romantic relationships need romance and passion, but the two characters also need to have some sort of deeper connection to bond them. The Casablanca phone call scene in When Harry Met Sally is a perfect example of that. There might be a tinge of romance to the scene, but it's about these two people connecting through the movie and other bits of information that circle around their conversation about and viewing of Casablanca. The inclusion of the line, "I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship," into the narrative of When Harry Met Sally is essential and it comes off without being incredibly cheesy and obvious (see the story Matthew Goode's character tells Amy Adams' character in the castle in Leap Year).

To end on a high note, I'll leave you with the sequence I described, which only constitutes the first three and a half minutes of the following clip.

Leap Year: 1.5 (out of 5)
When Harry Met Sally: 4.5
27 Dresses: 2
The Holiday: 3.5 (rating elevated due to Kate Winslet-Jack Black-Eli Wallach storyline; Cameron Diaz-Jude Law alone would likely receive a 2)


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