Ro­man­tic come­dies are back

Af­ter fad­ing for a num­ber of years, genre re­turns with sto­ry­lines that re­flect life to­day

Times Colonist - - Go - LIND­SEY BAHR

LOS AN­GE­LES

Sum­mer is al­ways full of ac­tion and su­per­hero pics, but this year a once dor­mant yet ut­terly adored genre is com­ing back in a big way: the ro­man­tic com­edy. Af­ter a 2017 with­out any from a ma­jor stu­dio, this sum­mer is prov­ing to be a re­birth for this lost Hol­ly­wood sta­ple with five no­table releases, in­clud­ing Crazy Rich Asians and a Mamma Mia! se­quel.

The rea­sons for the genre’s de­cline are many. A post-re­ces­sion fo­cus on in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences, fran­chises and su­per­heroes have helped to push rom-coms off the pri­or­ity list for stu­dios. Also, af­ter a long and fruit­ful run in the late ’80s through the 2000s, en­thu­si­asm started to wane. They had be­come stale. There were a few out­liers, of course, such as Amy Schumer’s Train­wreck, but the big stu­dio rom-coms be­came de­riv­a­tive, lazy and dull.

“They didn’t re­flect the way that so­ci­ety was chang­ing. They were all about white, straight cou­ples. They fell back on the con­ven­tions that de­fine the genre,” said Erin Carl­son, au­thor of the book I’ll Have What She’s Hav­ing: How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Ro­man­tic Com­edy and an up­com­ing book about the films of Meryl Streep. “Peo­ple just got tired of them.”

A death, of sorts, was nec­es­sary for the genre to rise again with a new set of voices. It didn’t hurt that The Big Sick made a splash at the box office and went on to get a screen­writ­ing Os­car nom­i­na­tion — the kind of pres­ti­gious recog­ni­tion rarely af­forded to clas­sic rom-coms that don’t have a Sil­ver Lin­ings Play­book edge.

“[The Big Sick] showed that peo­ple still want a good rom-com at the mul­ti­plex, but they want one that pushes the genre for­ward in new, in­ter­est­ing ways that re­flect real life to­day, not tired tropes of yes­ter­day,” Carl­son said.

And in­deed, the rom-coms of 2018 are con­tin­u­ing that for­ward move­ment. Ear­lier in the year, there was Para­mount’s Book Club and its fo­cus on older women, 20th Cen­tury Fox’s Love, Si­mon’s gay, teen pro­tag­o­nist, and the bilin­gual Over­board, which has be­come the high­est-gross­ing film for Pan­te­lion Films.

Set It Up, a Net­flix re­lease out Fri­day, is per­haps the most throw­back of all the up­com­ing films. It is about peo­ple with ac­tual jobs that con­sume their lives in­stead of play­ing a glam­orous back­drop to what­ever ro­man­tic ex­ploits the movie dic­tates. Zoey Deutch and Glen Pow­ell star as assistants who de­cide to set up their mis­er­able and dif­fi­cult bosses, played by Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs.

It was dreamt up by Juliet Ber­man, the head of de­vel­op­ment for Tree­house Pic­tures, and screen­writer Katie Sil­ber­man, both ar­dent rom-com fans who met as assistants in Los An­ge­les.

“I grew up at a time when rom­coms didn’t have a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion, they were just my favourite movies,” Sil­ber­man said. “I wanted for a long time to try to write some­thing that would make au­di­ences feel the way the movies I loved grow­ing up made me feel. They’re fun and kind and warm and nice and smart.”

The script got the at­ten­tion of Hol­ly­wood with a spot on the cov­eted Black List in 2015, a sur­vey of the in­dus­try’s best un­pro­duced screen­plays. It was picked up by MGM and even had Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke to star, but it started to fall apart when the stu­dio wa­vered and Clarke had to go back to shoot her tele­vi­sion show. The team, in­clud­ing Pow­ell, was un­de­terred.

“We met with a lot of peo­ple who re­ally liked the script but so many peo­ple would say, ‘Oh it’s not right for our plat­form,’ or ‘It’s not right for our slate,’ ” said Set It Up di­rec­tor Claire Scan­lon. “There were so many rules for peo­ple who were pick­ing up films and if it didn’t fit per­fectly with ex­actly what they had com­ing out, then they didn’t want to do it.”

That all changed in a meet­ing with Net­flix, when ex­ec­u­tive Matt Brodlie agreed to make it in the room — he said yes in Jan­uary and they were shoot­ing by May. Net­flix has also re­leased a few other ro­man­tic come­dies this year in­clud­ing Ibiza, When We First Met and The Kiss­ing Booth. And, like­wise, Ama­zon was the shop that took a gam­ble ac­quir­ing The Big Sick.

It’s not just stream­ing plat­forms re-em­brac­ing the genre — the big stu­dios are too. Uni­ver­sal has Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again com­ing July 20, with many of the orig­i­nal cast as well as Cher and Andy Gar­cia. And Warner Bros. is re­leas­ing the adap­ta­tion of Kevin Kwan’s pop­u­lar novel Crazy Rich Asians on Aug. 15.

Nina Ja­cob­son, who pro­duced Crazy Rich Asians, saw an op­por­tu­nity in the story about a Chi­nese Amer­i­can woman who trav­els to Sin­ga­pore to meet her boyfriend’s par­ents to take au­di­ences to a world they haven’t seen in a main­stream Amer­i­can movie, and also touch on uni­ver­sal themes.

“So many [ro­man­tic come­dies] be­came so for­mu­laic,” Ja­cob­son said. “But it is a genre that has been his­tor­i­cally beloved and suc­cess­ful and this felt like a great way to re-ap­proach it.”

The in­de­pen­dent realm, which has been keep­ing rom-coms alive for some time, also has a few bound­ary-push­ing releases on the sched­ule, both about peo­ple in their early mid­dle age find­ing love. The Sun­dance charmer Juliet, Naked, based on the Nick Hornby novel and star­ring Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke, comes out Aug. 17, fol­lowed by Des­ti­na­tion Wed­ding, which boasts a ’90s dream cast in Wi­nona Ry­der and Keanu Reeves who star as sin­gle wed­ding guests.

“It’s a dark com­edy,” said Des­ti­na­tion Wed­ding pro­ducer Gail Lyon. “They’re play­ing the idea of two bro­ken peo­ple who have had the [ex­ple­tive] kicked out of them in the love de­part­ment. Can they re­ally find enough hope to find some­thing or is cyn­i­cism go­ing to rule the day? It’s re­ally funny and re­ally hon­est about find­ing love later in life.”

Lyon, who also pro­duced Win a Date with Tad Hamil­ton!, knows that the movie busi­ness is cycli­cal, but thinks that rom-coms needed to get back to the ba­sics — char­ac­ter and di­a­logue — while also “twist­ing the par­a­digm a lit­tle bit to keep it fresh,” which she says Des­ti­na­tion Wed­ding (Aug. 24) does.

If 2018 is the start of a new era of the ro­man­tic com­edy, Carl­son thinks that one day we may trace it back to The Big Sick. She com­pares it to how Moon­struck, which won three Os­cars in 1988, helped get the genre out of the cyn­i­cal An­nie Hall phase and pave the way for When Harry Met Sally and all the clas­sics that hit spawned.

“Peo­ple have writ­ten the ro­man­tic com­edy’s obit­u­ary over and over and over again,” Carl­son said. “But the genre will al­ways sur­vive as long as it’s pushed for­ward in ways that re­flect con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety. And it will also sur­vive as long as love and re­la­tion­ships elude and fas­ci­nate us — that is, it will never go away.”

Stars of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again are, from left, Alexa Davies, Jes­sica Keenan Wynn and Lily James. The film is in the­atres July 20.

KC BAILY, NET­FLIX

Zoey Deutch and Glen Pow­ell star in Set It Up, pre­mièring June 15 on Net­flix.

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