Sunday, December 30, 2012

Romantic comedies and real life

As everybody knows, romantic comedies are not cool. They rarely have a dystopian world view, tend to be un-portentous, and the men in them actually like the women, as human beings, with distinctive personalities. Well, at least they used to. I would argue that one of the reasons that the work of Judd Apatow is the modern standard of romantic comedy is because it changed the focus of the romance from a male/female pairing to a dude/bro pairing with hot women on the side. Just so we all know what's really important.

In Salon, back in March, their film critic (I assume) Andrew O'Hehir complained about romantic comedies. His problem with the genre seems to be that in the end the man and the woman get together and are happy. Unlike in real life, for in the grand evolutionary psychology tradition he explains:
As my closest female friend likes to muse when contemplating the marketplace for books and movies and other forms of entertainment, nobody ever went broke trying to convince heterosexual women that men will fall in love with them and stay faithful forever, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Is pure biological imperative enough to explain the persistence of the most formulaic kind of romantic comedy, even in the age of widespread divorce and destigmatized single-parenting and same-sex marriage? I’d hate to think so, and in fact I don’t think so. But something must explain it. A desire for old-fashioned comfort in chaotic times? You tell me.
O'Hehir is just too big a hipster to get romantic comedies. Although please note that he makes sure to let you know that it's actually a woman - his "best female friend" - who really doesn't get them. This is the favorite "a woman said it so it's OK" tactic so beloved of people who hire Caitlin Flanagan and Katie Roiphe to write think pieces on some aspect of women's lives.

He then goes on to blame Norah Ephron, because she pioneered (he apparently believes) the concept of the couple getting together at the end. Fortunately the comments include plenty of snarky rebuttals. One of my favorite comments:
What Andrew O'Hehir seems to be saying is that he wishes more films would end with the male lover stuck as a passive observer deep inside the consciousness of the love child of the heroine's love child with her lesbian paramour, ala "Being John Malkovich."
Other commenters make the point that contemporary romantic comedies are just more crappy now than in the past, and in any case, mediocrity can be found in any genre.

I actually don't know much about Norah Ephron's movies - I don't think I've ever seen one, although I know about many of the plots from reading reviews and from various references. So I can't say if they are awful or not. I will say that I've never felt compelled to see "When Harry Met Sally" because Billy Crystal is not my idea of an attractive leading man.

Although romantic comedies are mostly crap in the movies, they do at least exist in the movies. They don't exist at all in New York theater. The web site Did He Like It has a handy list of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows currently running, and there are no rom-coms there. There are a few musical comedies that reference romance like MAMA MIA and COUGAR: THE MUSICAL, and a musical drama with the focus on romance, ONCE, but there are certainly no romantic comedy plays. Maybe the recent VENUS IN FUR counts but I'm not sure that's exactly a romantic comedy - more like a kinky comedy, although I suppose male submissives find it plenty romantic.

So basically the "romantic comedy" is all but extinct in New York theater, which is why I thought it was bizarre that during a recent online discussion some guy, who I guess thinks he's all cool and cynical, said something along the lines of if you really want to make money in the theater give the stupid audience a romance with a happy ending.

If romantic comedies are the way to big money, nobody has clued the theater producers in. Somehow only cynical hipsters hold the secret to big Broadway bucks.

I actually do think that an effective romantic comedy could do well, in part because they are so rarely seen in the theater these days and people actually do like it when the couple gets together at the end. Even some men like that! Although of course not the dudebros in the New York Off-Off Broadway theater scene. But then again, they don't write plays for audiences, they write plays to impress each other and Martin Denton with how portentous and sci-fi and boundary-smashing they are. And when they do venture outside their bubble, for some reason they don't have massive hits. Our work is just too smart, they tell each other. Those stupid audiences want romantic comedies where the man and the woman get together and have a happy ending! Ew, yuck, girl germs!

There is a great irony to Andrew O'Hehir grousing about how romantic comedies are unrealistic because they try "to convince heterosexual women that men will fall in love with them and stay faithful forever." I don't think any of the otherwise astute commenters pointed out the irony either: O'Hehir expresses his skepticism about the possibility of long-term heterosexual relationships in the context of a review of Jennifer Westfeldt's movie "Friends with Children".

Jennifer Westfeldt is married to Jon Hamm.

They've been together since 1997 and they recently got married. Now we don't know if Hamm will stay faithful to her forever, and we don't know if they have any kind of swinging arrangements, but we do know that this woman has had a long term relationship with Jon Hamm for a decade and a half, and I'd say that even a single year of monogamy with a guy like Jon Hamm would trump twenty years with a guy like Andrew O'Hehir.

If anybody has the authority to write a romantic comedy about a happy ending with a hot guy, it's Jennifer Westfeldt.

And that's what really bothers O'Hehir - women dream of having a long-term relationship with a hot man because every once in awhile it actually happens. How dare they have such dreams on his planet?

He really needs to switch to reviewing theater - the romantic comedies and hot men are few and far between there and he'd feel much more comfortable.

And in honor of him and the asshole hipster who thinks that his plays and those of his friends would be successful if it wasn't for all those damn romantic comedies with their happy endings crowding them out, I decided to make the first NYCPlaywrights Play of the Month theme of 2013 "two people in love."