Thursday, January 14, 2010


Quality Romantic Comedies
Spoiler Warning!

Believe it or not I'm actually a fan of good romantic comedy. I know many people would laugh upon hearing me say that but honestly, how could I claim any interest in American cinema and then unabashedly despise one of it's most stable fixtures? No, I believe in the romantic comedy, I just think it's a genre that's suffering.
This is one genre in particular that's relatively bankable. Hollywood knows "the formula", and they know that as long as they choose two decently known names to plug into it they'll make some money. This can make for some unfortunate moments when standards are less than upheld... and even more where good storytelling is sacrificed for that warm fuzzy ending.
So in defense of the romantic comedy I offer this list full of movies that sailed clear of the bar. Now, it would be easy for me to fill this Five!! with all the delightfully "off-beat" entries I've seen over the years- but I think that would take away from the point. So instead I've limited it to only movies that follow the formula, as proof that that doesn't mean they can't still be interesting. My apologies to 500 Days of Summer, your just to inventive for this list.
In no particular order:
When Harry Met Sally...
In one of the few movies me and genre junkies agree on, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan lead us through scene after scene of material that would be copied nearly to death, even after more than twenty years. But unlike many of the "me too" films to follow, this is quality cinema from start to finish. The beauty of Nora Ephron's screenplay is that it's just as much about the world of relationships as it is specifically the title character's, and along with their story we are exposed to numerous other relationship successes and failures.
The comedy is strong, and rarely sexual (which makes the sexual comedy hit even harder), deciding instead to thrive off observational relationship humor. Most importantly, at the end of the movie you feel as though this couple and the events that brought them together really could have happened. These are believable characters in believable situations (well ok, other than the deli scene), and because the two main characters actually get to know each other their love rings with a bit more truth by the time we hear it said out loud.

Imagine Me and You
Monogamy is a funny thing in romantic comedies. It (or rather the lack there of) is just as often used to amplify the "romance" as it is to paint a character as repugnant. I personally am almost immediately put off by "cheater" story lines as they're usually used to create conflict where honesty would have solved the conflict days ago. I find myself saying: "Just leave them if you don't want them," but sadly the characters never listen.
Enter Ol Parker's Imagine Me and you. What makes this movie work for me is the conscience the characters display. Do they do the wrong things at times? Absolutely. Do they let that stop them from doing the right thing? No they do not. I love this movie because it shows a side of love this genre isn't always happy to bring out: loving someone enough to let them go.
Lena Headey and Piper Perabo lead the cast (which includes Anthony Head!), but I would like to take this moment to recognize Matthew Goode. If I'm going to take the time to bash movies like the sleep inducing Leap Year, it's only fair that I point out the beautiful performance Goode offers in Imagine Me and You. It's only fitting that this handsome Englishmen be in one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, considering he now appears on my list of most hated as well.

The American President
Rob Reiner (That's two for those counting) directs a movie that deserves praise if only for providing a role in which Michael Douglas doesn't come across as utterly creepy. Another reason it gets my vote is that it's about more than just the relationships within it. It's certainly no Micheal Moore pundit-fest, but for a movie of it's genre it offers a great deal of political insight, subtle as it may be (it was written by Aaron Sorkin, who would go on to create the critically acclaimed series The West Wing).
As if Annete Bening as a lead isn't enough; Martin Sheen, Michael J. fox, and Richard Dreyfuss are the highlights among an electric supporting cast. And when it comes time for conflict, the "boy royally pisses off girl" fight is not only over a believable reason, it's actually relevant to the story in it's entirety with the entire cast in conflict along with our two lovers. This shifts the emotional weight of the film onto the bigger story which serves not only to elevate the romance but the entire movie, and also to make me cheer every time I watch that final press conference.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
I know a lot of people would disagree with this choice but what can I say- it's my list not theirs. outside of being peppered with hilarious musical comedy, I love the way this movie apologetically explores how (illogically) miserable break ups can make us. How we'll do anything for even a few moments of relief- even though the things we try usually blow up in our face.
Not only does the movie capture the often hard to explain but universally known "politics" of breaking up- it also expresses the healing process in true terms. In the end, the conflict between the endearing and relateable Peter (played by Jason Segel who also wrote the film) and Rachael (Mila Kunis, who has apparently done a great deal of blossoming since playing the annoying Jackie on That 70's Show) comes from the fact that Peter has not mourned and moved on from his failed relationship. Instead of Rachael miraculously healing him he has to go home, get his life together, and move on from Sarah Marshall before he can offer a real relationship.
And one more quick point: I love that this movie gives Sarah (Kristen Bell) a chance to point out all the things Peter did to contribute to the relationships demise. To quote Segel: "Anyone can write a diatribe on how horrible their ex is." Marshall is aware of itself enough to say there there is rarely an innocent victim in any break up. Points awarded.

Love Actually
Here's a movie that not only brings us the story of a relationship, it does so eight times over. From the Prime Minister to a poor twenty-something, from unrequited to brotherly- Love Actually takes a look at love from nearly every angle (I still don't get how a movie with such a broad approach managed to dodge any homosexual content). And even with all these angles the movies only contrived point is really one of it's truest. That the separate stories of this movie are eventually revealed to be not so separate, rings true in that throughout our lives relationships intersect and overlap in ways we don't even know about. Despite it's holiday theme, this is a universal story. The time of year means nothing, just like where your coming from means nothing. And with dialogue able to inspire warm feelings without making you feel completely manipulated, this movie is highly accessible. Love Actually has something to offer even the hatiest of genre haters.

Honorable Mentions: Romancing the Stone, 500 Days of Summer, Knocked Up, Shallow Hal, Run Fat Boy Run, Joe Versus the Volcano
Thank you Youtube. Thank you Nninchen91, Americanpresicent , and Yungkelvision for your posts. The Reel Deal, of course, owns the right to nothing.

If you have any you think deserve to be one the list, feel free to leave comments!

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