Is it the end for the romcom? After all, who says romance and comedy go together like a horse and carriage? It seems to be a chiselled Hollywood commandment that the two shall be forever conjoined in cinematic matrimony, but perhaps it’s time they went their separate ways. Sure, they got off to a great start. But recently they haven’t quite looked the happy couple; the spark just hasn’t been there.
They’ve been stuck in the same repetitive formula: boy meets girl, they all get along, something gets in the way, it all looks in doubt at the end of the second act, but then everyone remembers they have got to live happily ever after and pulls it together again. It was great when you had stars like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and classic directors like Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Capra or Preston Sturges making it all tick behind the camera.
But now you’ve got Jennifer Aniston and Ashton Kutcher, and a relentless flow of stories that either reheat the glory years or squander their one good idea in a rush to beat the other movies who’ve also had it, hence the glut of copycat set-ups like No Strings Attached/Friends With Benefits, or The Bounty Hunter/One For The Money. No wonder they’ve been spending more time apart. Rom has been hanging with the indie crowd, looking to recover its edge with hip and heartfelt fare like In Search Of A Midnight Kiss, Before Sunset or, recently, Like Crazy. Either that or it’s been sucked into deadly earnest weepies where love spans continents/generations, as in Nicholas Sparks’s movies (The Notebook, Dear John, etc), and lit-lite such as The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Com, meanwhile, has been hitting the bong and hanging out with the guys far too much, hence the Judd Apatow brand of ‘mostly com with a little bit of rom’ (Knocked Up, etc), the Frat Pack ‘rom’s coming, run in the other direction!’ school, and the general rise of the bromance, where it’s the chemistry between the leading men that must be settled, while the woman waits patiently at the altar. As last year’s Bridesmaids showed, the women have grown tired of waiting.
Creatively and critically they’re on the skids, but commercially, the marriage is still convenient. More than any other genre, romcoms are reliant on their stars. As such, romcom is the genre that now attracts ‘basically playing themselves’ actors rather than ‘see how I disappear into the role’ thespians; the type of actors you find in the pages of celeb mags. But don’t give up hope! If the history of romcoms was itself a romcom, right now we could just be in that end-of-second act bit where all is lost and it looks like there’s no hope of them ever getting back together. We’re pretending we haven’t seen this a thousand times before, but we all know what’s supposed to happen next. And if it doesn’t, we want our money back.