screen wriTer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - dclarke@irish­times.com

It’s time to re-in­vent the rom­com, says Don­ald Clarke

Happy be­lated Valen­tine’s Day. Why don’t you cel­e­brate by tak­ing your sig­nif­i­cant other to a ro­man­tic com­edy? Just as hor­ror movies colonise Hal­loween, films fea­tur­ing cute meet­ings dom­i­nate mid-Fe­bru­ary. Don’t they?

You can prob­a­bly guess where this is go­ing. A glance at the re­lease sched­ules con­firms that – through cyn­i­cism, care­less­ness and sheer bad faith – Hol­ly­wood has fi­nally man­aged to kill off one of its most cher­ished gen­res. Only two cur­rent films come close to meet­ing the cri­te­ria: the mo­rose, shrill This Is 40 (see re­view, page 11) and the cyn­i­cal, pes­simistic I Give It a Year. You could, at a stretch, ar­gue for zom­bie ro­mance Warm Bod­ies. But, in truth, the sea­son is bereft of any de­cent com­i­cally ro­man­tic (or ro­man­ti­cally comic) en­ter­tain­ment.

Pe­ruse the box-of­fice chart for 2012 and the di­ag­no­sis seems starker still. Get this: the high­est gross­ing rom­com re­leased in 2012 sits at a dis­tant 46th place. Yes, the al­most en­tirely ter­ri­ble This Means War is the only rom­com to break the top 50 – and then only just. (No, you can’t have The Vow. That wasn’t a com­edy.) This is an al­most un­prece­dented act of self-mu­ti­la­tion on Hol­ly­wood’s part.

It is true that, once a re­li­able sta­ple, the west­ern was grad­u­ally wiped from sched­ules in the 1960s. But that was, for all its flex­i­bil­ity, a very thinly de­fined genre: a his­tor­i­cal pic­ture set dur­ing one era in one cor­ner of one coun­try. The clas­sic Holly- wood mu­si­cal was an even more ec­cen­tric beast: a de­light­fully lu­natic amal­gam of op­eretta and high melo­drama. By way of con­trast, the ro­man­tic com­edy has, in var­i­ous forms, been with us since Shake­speare be­gan de­vis­ing un­likely sce­nar­ios in­volv­ing cross-dress­ing twins.

There is some cause for sat­is­fac­tion in the grim news. Through­out the medium’s his­tory, glo­ri­ous films such as It Hap­pened One Night, The Philadel­phia Story, Ro­man Hol­i­day, The Apart­ment and Man­hat­tan demon­strated that the genre of­fers in­ex­haustible scope for rein­ven­tion. The cur­rent de­mo­tion of rom­coms to the sta­tus of cin­e­matic sludge re­sults from a slide in stan­dards that set in dur­ing the mid-1990s.

Not­ing that au­di­ences for When Harry Met Sally . . . and Four Wed­dings and a Funeral skewed to­wards the fe­male, the closet misog­y­nists in head of­fice took them­selves down a slip­pery path to­wards obliv­ion. Th­ese were “women’s pic­tures” and women were not to be treated as adults. A low­er­ing of wit, an in­crease in sen­ti­men­tal­ity and – worst of all – a de­vo­tion to crass con­sumerism even­tu­ally led to the ter­ri­fy­ing tyranny of the Lopez-Anis­ton chick-flick axis. It’s not that pun­ters won’t pay to watch re­con­sti­tuted horse dung. But they will only pay for so long.

The genre col­lapsed be­cause the pub­lic re­fused to be treated like rav­ing id­iots. The time is ripe for one more rein­ven­tion.

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