Romantic Comedies: So good

Andrew Hampp


I’ll be the first to admit that virtually all romantic comedies pretty much follow the same tried and true formula: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl are forced apart, boy and girl are back together and end up happily ever after.

But every now and then a romantic comedy will come along, mess with the formula a little bit and turn into a highly enjoyable, semi-groundbreaking little movie. That, my friends, is why I can appreciate a good romantic comedy, or chick flick, or rom com, as I like to call them.

Warning — The remaining paragraphs contain huge spoilers to the plot details of many recent romantic comedies. If you’d prefer to not know how some of these movies end, read with caution!

Take My Best Friend’s Wedding, for example, which boldly went where few movies of its kind dared to — it didn’t have a happy ending. Oh sure, Dermot Mulroney and Cameron Diaz will have a happy life together after their marriage at film’s end, but Julia Roberts, the undisputed queen of romantic comedies, is left with her gay guy pal (Rupert Everett).

Any movie willing to let J. Ro not get the man for once has some serious balls.

A considerably more obscure film with a similar failed quest of unrequited love is Tadpole, a 2001 indie starring Aaron Stanford (X-Men 2), John Ritter, Bebe Neuwirth and Sigourney Weaver as the object of Stanford’s affection — his stepmom.

Before you say ‘ew!,’ rent Tadpole and let yourself be blissfully entertained as Stanford pulls out all the stops in getting Weaver to think of him as more than just a stepson by trying out dog-hair sideburns, bringing her lunch and having an affair with her best friend (a never-sexier Neuwirth). It’s a romantic comedy with all the typical trappings on the surface but enough quirks and neuroses to qualify as a fun Woody Allen-lite New York City romp.

While these two films are examples of romantic comedies that courageously went against their genre conventions, there are also plenty of recent chick flicks who put their own spin on the traditional boy-meets-girl stories and still end happily.

Tadpole director Gary Winick’s 13 Going on 30, for example, couldn’t have been a more joyful movie if it tried. Jennifer Garner practically radiates in a role that plays to her goofy, comedically gifted strengths as a 13-year-old stuck in a 30-year-old magazine editor’s body.

In a Best Friend’s Wedding-esque twist, Garner’s Jenna Rink finds herself falling in love with her long-time male best friend (Mark Ruffalo), only she actually gets the guy in the end. And don’t tell me the parts with the “Thriller” dance, Razzles and “Love Is A Battlefield” didn’t bring a smile to your face, if not at the very least a happy dose of ’80s nostalgia.

2001’s Serendipity also put an inventive twist to the rom com standard by letting its lovebirds — played by John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale — leave their budding relationship to fate rather than their own efforts.

Director Peter Chelsom does a helluva job in building suspense for our main characters’ inevitable reunion, following them in their respective quests across New York City and certain parts of the country to find each other. And moments as romantic as the couple’s chance re-meeting are extremely hard to come by in a time when Sin City and Sahara are reigning supreme at the box office.

So although I am an admitted fan of many romantic comedies, there are still plenty of things I’d like to change about them.

For starters, Brittany Murphy, Hilary Duff and Kate Hudson should no longer be allowed to star in any more chick flicks. Murphy’s Uptown Girls and Little Black Book were ambitious but fell horribly flat. Duff’s Cinderella Story was positively nauseating in its lame attempt to mess with the classic fairy tale. And Hudson’s awful Alex & Emma and Raising Helen made the surprisingly decent How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days look like The Godfather.

Ultimately, I think romantic comedies have a definite place in the canon of classic films, and the oft-cited leaders of the genre, like Annie Hall and Pretty Woman, will still be worthy of praise 50 years from now.

They even have a promising future, now that former gross-out gurus like Chris & Paul Weitz and the Farrelly Brothers are trying their hands and succeeding at making quality romantic comedies with In Good Company and Fever Pitch, respectively. As long as Hollywood keeps churning out cute romantic couplings, witty dialogue and fun plot twists to balance out the testosterone-heavy action flicks and heady dramas, I, for one, will always be watching.

Contact Pop Arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].