Greetings seekers of wisdom. You may have come to this web site because you saw Duncan Black mention "krgthulu" on his web site Eschaton and you Googled the word. When Black uses that word, he's talking about Paul Krugman.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Jackson Browne reconsidered

I will conclude my romantic comedy series soon. But first...

OK, so maybe I was a little harsh towards Jackson Browne last year. I have had cause to reconsider Jackson Browne when I stumbled into Anita Gevison's memoir about her relationship with Warren Zevon, which contains this:

"Before seeing Warren, I had to participate in group therapy, so I would be prepared for our new life together once he got out. I thought it was touchy-feely bullshit. I’d been through this with my sister before she died, overdosing on scotch and liquid methadone. You can’t save people, you just can’t. And needy doesn’t turn me on. Needy does not do it for me, even if it’s me someone needs. I did not want to see Warren like this. When I finally did, in group therapy, he grabbed me with sweating hands, and my heart was breaking. Apparently he’d told everyone in the group all about me, and my picture had been hanging up on the wall in his room. As we went around the room, each story was worse than the one before it. When it came my turn to “share,” I took the gloves off. 
“I just don’t see how this whole thing is going to work,” I said. “How are any of you going to be able to walk out of here and resist the urge to drink or do drugs just because you had a little warm-and-fuzzy session with the rest of the derelicts?” Not exactly what any of them needed to hear.
Warren ran to his room. I followed. I sat next to him on the bed. He pulled one of my t-shirts from under his pillow — he’d taken it out of my drawer before he left. I told him I just didn’t think it was going to work and he shouldn’t come back to Philly. But I remember thinking that if I left Warren there, he wouldn’t die on my watch. 
Somehow, Warren didn’t see this coming. He asked me to leave. I went to the counselor’s office, and they asked me who I knew that could replace me as Warren’s “co-dependent.” There is only one person to call, I said, one person who is un-fucked-up and responsible enough to handle this. 
“Call Jackson Browne.” And then I packed up my shit and got on the plane.
So Jackson took over and made living arrangements for Warren out in Hollywood after he got out of rehab — in Oakwoods, the place where all the rock stars wind up after their divorces.
So good on you Jackson Browne. And this is especially since, as reported by Gevinson, Zevon resented Browne's success and they were not on great terms at the time Gevinson recommended him as Zevon's caretaker:
I always hated bringing Rolling Stone home. At that point, a good article about Jimmy Buffett or Randy Newman would set him off on a jag and he’d be back in his robe, padding around the apartment for days, rudderless, full of vodka and ruin. He was on the outs with Jackson, and anything good that happened to Jackson Browne was bad, bad, bad. Warren was pea-green with Jackson envy. Who didn’t want to look like Jackson Browne? Everything was so hard for Warren that was so easy for Jackson and Don Henley. Out of nowhere he would just blurt out to me: “You know, Jackson’s first name is Clyde, and Henley gets all of his ideas from the phone book, you know that, doncha?” I’d just roll my eyes.
Poor Warren Zevon. He died from cancer at the age of 56, eleven years ago. He was a fine looking man when Gevinson was with him, so I did enjoy this especially intimate moment in her memoir:

...And then there was the night in Philly when we came out publicly as a couple, and I introduced him to the crowd at the Brandywine, and before I could get offstage he ran out from the wings with his guitar and slid across the stage on his knees, trapping me between him and the microphone. Warren kicked into Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” The crowd went ballistic. I just stood there smiling, not knowing where to look. At him? At the audience? Do I put my hands on my hips? Or at my sides? Finally it was over and Warren escorted me off the stage, and I collapsed in a heap on a chair. Then he walked up to the mike and said, “There’s a certain Philadelphia girl that I’ve been in love with, and tonight’s my night to show it,” and then he started playing Alan Toussaint’s “A Certain Girl.” I was putty in his hands after that. 
Which is the only explanation I have for why I wound up agreeing to walk down the aisle with Warren. We were making love one night after a concert in Denver when he proposed — how do I put this delicately? — in mid-stroke. “Will you marry me?” he asked, and then thrust his pelvis for emphasis. I don’t know why — I guess because deep down, I really was in love with the guy — but I responded with a breathless “Yes.” So we got done having sex, and Warren went to the bathroom. I was lying naked in bed and already starting to have second thoughts...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Romantic comedy and theater

As we discussed, in the movies the romantic comedy has been taken over by dude-bro sensibilities, replacing the concept of the man and woman as quirky individuals who come to terms with each other as equals, with the concept of schlubby man-babies winning hot women.

But what about in the theater? Well in theater there is a different problem. In the theater the romantic comedy is problematic because by its nature it can't be portentous or cynical about love.

I knew playwright Annie Baker was golden when they started comparing her work to that of Harold Pinter, whom theater people revere as a god in spite of (or, I would argue, because of) his utter portentousness. If you google "Harold Pinter" and portentous you will see how often his work is described that way. One example:
And, as befits the first opportunity to see a Harold Pinter play in the Harold Pinter Theatre, Old Times is laden with the playwright’s trademarks: scattergun dialogue interjected with pauses and silences; menacing undercurrents of manipulation; portentous lines that remain utterly unexplained (the repeated “I remember you dead” being a memorable instance in this play); and a niggling feeling that underlying it all is just abject, aimless misery. You leave the theatre feeling confused, dejected and more than a little unsatisfied – for the Pinter fan, it has everything.
Ah yes, abject, aimless misery. The nectar of the gods for contemporary theater folk.

Here's what a positive review (they were overwhelmingly positive) of Baker's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Flick had to say:
At the end of the play, Sam begins to train Avery’s replacement, Skylar, using a version of the same script that opened the play. We return to the beginning and a somewhat dulling sense that this will all happen again. After the repeated failures of these three to become more deeply connected to one another, Sam confesses to Avery: “There’s a lot of good stuff in my life. Maybe I never told you about it. Sometimes, people you fall in love with, fall in love with you.” Sam recounts a typical scenario of an unrequited love ultimately reciprocated as something that “really” happens outside the cinema walls. Avery barely acknowledges this faith, another cinematic promise. He ignores the last bid to restore a friendship and leaves, holding cast-off 35 mm reels in hand.
How nice for Annie Baker to show us a bunch of losers in a dead-end job, who fail to connect with each other. A Pulitzer Prize-winning hot new thing whose parents were academics (...her father had been an administrator for the Five Colleges consortium and her mother worked toward a doctorate in counselling psychology - New Yorker) no doubt never had, and never will have to worry about working a crappy dead-end job. But it's nice that she can spend three hours showing us how much life sucks for the 99%. It's fun for the 1% who can afford theater tickets to wallow in loser-land - they can leave at the end of the play. And they can tell themselves that they've experienced the authentic, and the gritty, including all those realistic long-ass pauses.

Don’t let the sycophants get you down. I walked at intermission. The show was boring, arduously paced, and painfully mundane; like my life. I go to the theater to get away from it all, not to amplify my fatigue. I’m so amazed when supporters tell me how fresh and new this play is supposed to be. I watched a character scrape gum from a chair for five minutes. OK, I get it, they have tedious mundane jobs. But come on, is this a training skit parody for a janitor school?
But the commenter needs to consider the perspective. If you've never had to make a living through menial labor, and few of Baker's colleagues or target audience members have, watching someone scrape gum from a chair for five minutes absolutely is fresh and new.

That's another thing in fashion these days - complete self-indulgence on the part of the playwright. The thinking goes that you must be truly blessed by the muses if you can say fuck you to the audience and make them sit through your portentous pauses.

A proper romantic comedy is the opposite of all these things - it caters to the audience instead of saying fuck you; it takes out excessive "realism" to serve the heightened reality of its world; it does not take itself seriously; it doesn't wallow in squalor; and it doesn't deliver this message to the 99%: life sucks and then you die, alone and miserable after a hideously banal life.

As Andrew Romano said:
Sure, (romantic comedies) can be conventional. But pop songs tend to be conventional, too, and that doesn’t dull the dopamine rush of a perfect chorus. A well-made romcom—It Happened One Night, Sleepless in Seattle, Say Anything…, Groundhog Day, The Apartment—works in much the same way. It’s a dazzling machine doing exactly what it was designed to do.
A "dazzling machine" is an apt description. A machine built expressly to provide people - no matter their socio-economic status - with emotional gratification.

And that is why it is not considered serious theater - and that is why critics and Serious Theater People hate romantic comedies.

And then of course there is the notion that romantic comedies are for women - and the theater is already terrified of losing status due to its association with females. But that will be addressed further in my next rant.

But I think Romano is wrong to only consider romantic comedy a "machine" - because any good story-telling observes conventions that create a narrative reality that is different from ordinary reality. That's exactly why people want to hear stories crafted by gifted story-tellers of any medium -it takes them away from conventional reality. And that's why audiences hate post-modern novels and post-modern plays - which Theresa Rebeck has ranted so delightfully against. But in the theater, pleasing a broad swath of humans is not what counts - it's impressing awards judges and other theater gate-keepers that truly counts.

I was gratified by one of the reviews that Julia & Buddy received, which called my romantic comedy "unconventional" - not because I agree with her, but because I knew this would be perceived as a high compliment by most theater people - conventional anything, but especially conventional romantic comedy is perceived as, essentially, shit for the moron masses.

But you can see why she thought J&B was so unconventional by the way she describes romantic comedies:
Many romances have a predictable mold. It’s easy to tell exactly who is going to get the girl (often the underdog best friend) or how the girl is going to get the boy (usually via some sort of mistaken identity and then a full, happy realization by the end). However, with Julia and Buddy, there is a quality of unconventionality about it. It opens on Julia, a fledgling philosopher (played by Claire Warden), locked in her room and having a panic attack. Finally a maintenance man named Buddy arrives (played by Matthew DeCapua), and we begin to see the inherent ironies these two people come with. Julia, a philosopher, tries to understand Buddy and “put together the pieces of the puzzle” as she puts it, while at the same exact time Buddy seems to realize that Julia knows very little about herself: Just as Buddy figures out that Julia is calling for a maintenance man to unlock her door, when she is actually afraid of leaving the house, Julia simultaneously realizes that even though the maintenance man is supposed to fix the ills of an apartment, Buddy quite literally can’t do any of the things in his job description. 
This "underdog best friend" getting the girl as a standard rom-com trope is news to me - this must be the result of the dude-bro/nerd boy influence on romantic comedies.

But in fact J&B is so conventional by pre-dude-bro standards that it was modeled on the 1965 off-Broadway romantic comedy The Owl and the Pussycat. In O&C the "owl" named Felix (which of course should be a cat's name) is failing as a writer and the "pussycat" named Doris is failing as an actor, although both keep insisting that's who they really are. And they each see through the other's delusion. And aid and comfort each other.

But the reviewer is young (I looked her up in Facebook) and so to her the dude-bro standard in romantic comedy IS the convention. She isn't even aware of the classic rom-com conventions.

And this lack of awareness of pre-dude-bro romantic comedies is, I suspect, one of the reasons why the reviewer who trashed my play hated it so much. Well, OK, I have no idea why he hated it so much, calling it "agony" but when I read this part, I knew this was someone who didn't understand romantic comedy as I did:
The play gives no reason for Julia to actually like Buddy aside from his ‘cute butt.’ (mentioned ad-nauseum) McClernan is content to slap acting a few seizures onto Buddy’s backstory and call it a day, but what he and Julia actually do or want for one another (aside from very good sex) is non-existent. With no compelling reason for the pair to be together, McClernan gives us no desire to watch her lightly-camouflaged philosophy lesson unfold.
This reviewer is just out of college, but the other reviewer, in spite of also being young, got what Julia and Buddy give to each other - they see through each others' delusions, as in the Owl and the Pussycat - and they help each other in spite of their own problems.

But the concept of people helping each other get better is absolutely anathema to Serious Theater these days - it's considered naive if not flat-out a symptom of idiocy. I had a conversation online with somebody who adores Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and his description of it was basically: "they know they have a bad relationship and things will never get better." In The Flick nobody makes a connection. In another recent Pulitzer-winner August: Osage County family members hate each other and squabble and two family members are at each others throats at the end.

Cruelty, contempt and despair are hip. People helping each other is lame. Even in a romantic comedy, apparently.

But even without their helping each other, even if all Julia and Buddy had was good sex, that would be a noble end in itself. Perhaps this is another issue of perspective - a college student can't understand that for a single middle-aged woman, finding a partner physically attractive enough and personable enough and non-gay or non-married enough to only have regular good sex is fiendishly difficult. Finding a soul-mate is pretty much the impossible dream.

Yes, college boy, you have no idea how much life can really, really suck before it's done with you. You will be amazed to learn - and I admit I was pretty surprised to discover this for myself - that it's somehow possible to go on living, day after day, year after year, in a state of almost constant despair.

Enjoy yourself while you can.

 But college boy seems to misunderstand the purpose of mentioning Buddy's cute butt "ad nauseum" - this is what is known as a comedy bit - comedy being one of the essential ingredients of romantic comedy.

Maybe he didn't think it was very funny, but it's there for a purpose. Here is how it worked - Buddy expresses his resentment of what he believes is Julia's snobbishness:
You know what? My butt was on your radar. 
(Now he has her full attention.)  
Your butt was on my radar?  
It’s understandable. I’m known for having a nice butt. 
Then eleven pages later there's this:
Then why haven’t you fixed anything for me? You’re always around, in your very fashionable clothing. Pretty fancy for a maintenance man. I saw that designer label on your back pocket.  
That’s because you were looking at my butt.  
You and your damn butt. Maybe you should stop thinking about how good your butt looks and start thinking about fixing things. Why don’t you fix my light? 
Now it so happens that Buddy's one-upmanship - "she really did find me attractive" - in the sentence "that's because you were looking at my butt" pretty much always made the audience laugh. Which is good enough for me.

"Butt" is mentioned several times because repetition is a comedic device.

And the butt bit is used one last time, four pages later, for the sake of repetition, but also as the old switcheroo:

Can I ask you something? And I want you to answer honestly. 
OK.... go ahead... just don’t ask me if I want a... just don’t. 
My poor damaged brain wasn’t playing tricks on me, right? You really were checking out my butt. 
Yes. I confess. Your butt was on my radar. 

What happens here is that Buddy, thanks to his brain damage, has asked Julia three times already (rule of three and also more comedic repetition) if she wants a cat. So when Buddy says "can I ask you something?" Julia and the audience expects he's going to ask about the cat again - but instead he switches back into the butt issue again. This is there not only for the comedic value but also the romance value - Julia has to admit her attraction for Buddy, and right at this moment, so they can get speedily into a clinch and end the first half of the play with (off-stage) coitus.

And speaking of brain damage - I suspect that college boy was disappointed that the reason Buddy has brain damage is merely a dirt bike accident - my guess is that he wanted Buddy's back story to involved horrific sexual abuse at his boarding school. Which is a natural enough assumption about boarding schools but I declined to waste time in deep dark psychoanalysis for Buddy's back story seeing as this was a romantic comedy. And I wanted to bring it in under 90 minutes.

And one more classic rom-com convention I observed - I went to some lengths to find a very good-looking guy for the role of Buddy. Perhaps this added to college boy's displeasure. Probably his expectation was that Buddy should be played by an average-to-repulsive looking guy as in standard dude-bro "romantic comedies" and the notion that a woman would be portrayed lusting after an attractive man's ass offended his bro-honed sensibilities.

So there we have it - all kinds of romantic comedy conventions in Julia & Buddy.

So college boy reviewer is not overly-familiar with, or perhaps just doesn't like classic romantic comedy tropes. And admittedly rom-coms are not popular these days.

So romantic comedy is at a low point in our culture at the present time. Can romantic comedy be saved?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Romantic comedy: invasion of the dude-bros, revenge of the nerds, rants of the "nice guys"

I don't claim to know why the romantic comedy suddenly became the domain of the dude-bro. But as Andrew Romano observes:
Even romantic comedies themselves have become more male-centric over the last dozen years, with the Nora Ephrons and Nancy Meyerses of the world giving way to “bromance” auteurs such as Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin) and Jason Segel (I Love You, Man).
And let's not forget "Saving Sarah Marshall" and "Love, Actually", both classified as "Romantic Comedies."

But unlike romantic comedies in which the two lovers are equally balanced, the dude-bro romantic comedies are decidedly balanced in favor of the males - this is not give-and-take between two well-matched adversaries. In these movies, we are expected to root for the man to get a trophy woman. As Lindy West said of Love, Actually:
Colin Firth falls in "love" with Aurelia at first sight, establishing Love Actually's central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is.

None of the women in this movie fucking talk. All of the men in this movie "win" a woman at the end. This goddamn movie.
So what these dude-bro movies seek to do is change the formula in a romantic comedy from a man and a woman to a man and his prize. In other words, to make a romantic comedy more like all other movies, which are almost always about a male protagonist. 

The male protagonist who got the girl was originally an action hero - manly and attractive, like James Bond. Yeah, you had to be a part of a virtual harem, but at least he looked like Sean Connery. In these new movies women are no longer handed out as prizes to the alpha male -  they're being handed out as prizes to the men at the bottom of the social/aesthetic hierarchy. Revenge of the nerds indeed. And the expectations such narratives create are sure to lead to problems, according to Arthur Chu:
But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well. 
So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?
How far does this giving women to nerds as prizes scenario go in denying women their right to be "protagonists of their own stories"? Joe Queenan gets it exactly right:
Thus, even though Knocked Up - like The 40 Year Old Virgin and all its other kin - focuses on immature, misogynist, porn-obsessed male losers who revel in one another's smelly, unhygienic company, there are apparently insights and laughs aplenty to be found in this tale of a loser ultimately saved by the love of a good woman - a good woman, naturally, endowed with a stunning rack. 
There is, of course, another way of looking at this subject: that the new genre of romantic comedies are not really upbeat, coming-of-age motion pictures about young male schmucks who are saved by the love of a good woman, but heart-rending tragedies about beautiful young women who are doomed to spend the rest of their lives with juvenile, not especially good-looking dorks.
In dude-bro "romantic comedies" for men to win, women must lose. And not only that, they render women's ambitions pointless. Kathryn Hegl's character in Knocked Up is not only beautiful, she has a television career. Now why would a woman be ambitious and career-driven? So she can end up supporting a stoner porn addict baby-daddy? Only in dude-bro fantasies.

Or as I said a year and a half ago: it's the misogyny, stupid.

But what do these men think women are getting out of these scenarios? That's where we get into "Nice Guy" territory. From a much shared "Nice Guy" rant:
You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy.
That's what dude-bros and revenge nerds and "nice guys" think that women get out of these unequal relationships - emotional intimacy. And in exchange they owe men sex.

And that's why it's OK for the woman to be much much hotter than the guy. You don't need to be hot to provide emotional intimacy. Women are not allowed to want emotional intimacy with a hot guy - that's too greedy by the "nice guy"'s standards. This will not be allowed in the dude-bro "romantic comedy." That's why gorgeous Paul Rudd doesn't get to play the romantic lead in Knocked Up.

Joe Queenan again:
Where is all this leading? It's leading to a future so dark that women will look back on the decade that brought them The Runaway Bride, Notting Hill, My Best Friend's Wedding and My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a golden age. 
So can the romantic comedy be saved from the dude-bros?

And what about the portentousness and cynicism of the theater?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Romantic comedy and the perfect balance

Yesterday I mentioned that Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is the exemplar for romantic comedy, and it is, for its perfect synthesis of comedy and romance.

And bless Shakespeare for his genius - yet another example - the play was so far ahead of its time that it took almost 400 years to match that achievement. It took until 1940, and "His Girl Friday."

And then it took another 42 years to do it again, in 1982, with the television show "Cheers."

What the play, movie and television show all have in common is that the focus of the story is the couple (in the case of Cheers for the first five seasons before Shelly Long left the show), but even more essential: the romantic couple is perfectly balanced. Neither character is more important, and in the case of Much Ado and "His Girl", the couple is not only balanced but a very close match - they have quite a lot in common.

Cheers was more of an "opposites attract" scenario, but on the other hand it had five years, rather than five acts, to flesh out the relationship.

The relationship of Sam and Diane was so important to the first five seasons of Cheers there's even a Wikipedia article about the couple, which says that the show's creators...
...had intended Cheers to be a comedy about "family" of characters in a Boston bar, but quickly realized that the "Sam and Diane" romance was popular and decided that every episode would depict it. Burrows told the others several weeks after filming began, "Sam & Diane – that's your show."
Please note that Cheers was popular with a broad demographic, not just "chicks." I first saw it when I went to see what my father (then in his late 40s) was chuckling about in the TV room.

The Sam and Diane Wiki mentions the Tracy-Hepburn films as an inspiration, but I don't think they're quite up to the same standards - those films always seem to be more about the Hepburn character than evenly balanced.

Sam and Diane may be opposites - he's a working class regular-guy jock and she's a pretentious intellectual from the upper class, but they are equally matched in strength - Diane laughs at Sam's moves with (usually not very bright) women and Sam mocks Diane for her gullibility. Both have a past - Diane was ditched by her boyfriend in the first episode of Cheers and Sam destroyed his baseball career through alcoholism. Diane has mental health issues (which is how she meets Frasier Crane) and she leaves Sam at the end of season five to pursue a career as a writer (which doesn't work out very well, we later find.) But when they do occasionally find common ground, it's magic.

And bonus - the occasional feminist message, which was pretty progressive for the early 1980s.

The opposites-attract scenario can help sustain the sexual tension and prevent the couple from getting together right away, which is not so useful in a 3 hour play or 2 hour movie, but perfect for a serial TV show.

I've written about His Girl Friday before -  I believe that the Hildy character is such a good match for the Walter character because she was originally written as a man. Of course it helped that Rosalyn Russell (who was Howard Hawks' tenth choice for the role) hired her own writer:
In her autobiography, Life Is A Banquet, Russell wrote that she thought her role did not have as many good lines as Grant's, so she hired her own writer to "punch up" her dialogue. With Hawks encouraging ad-libbing on the set, Russell was able to slip her writer's work into the movie. Only Grant was wise to this tactic and greeted her each morning saying, "What have you got today?"
His Girl is often not put into the romantic comedy category, instead being called a "screwball comedy." NYTimes critic A.O. Scott does in this video clip - and Scott is focused on how the movie portrays the newspaper business.

We will be hearing from A. O. Scott again in this series on the romantic comedy.

Since Hildy was originally written as a man, she and Walter are both newspaper "men" and so completely understand each other when it comes to a good news story. And they both want to get back together again - Walter says that Hildy will be staying, rather than retiring from her career to be a housewife for an insurance salesman, but "she just doesn't know it yet." And she does end up staying, but not only because of Walter's desire - at the end of the movie Hildy breaks down in tears after one of Walter's tricks is finally revealed because, as she tells him, "I thought you were going to let me go." So they both got what they wanted, after much give and take and outsmarting each other in turn.

Give and take - that's what it's all about. I was conscious of this when I was writing Julia & Buddy and that's why I was pleased when one of the reviewers noticed:
Though Julia’s various phobias and stigmas and Buddy’s multiple problems and shortcomings pose a certain threat to their respective sanity, the two find solace in their understanding of one another.

That's what it's all about in a romantic comedy. Here we see Beatrice and Benedick go back and forth until they both have to give in mutually.

No matter how comedic a romantic comedy is, it is above all sincere about love. As Benedick says:
I'll tell thee what, prince; a college of
wit-crackers cannot flout me out of my humour. Dost
thou think I care for a satire or an epigram? No:
if a man will be beaten with brains, a' shall wear
nothing handsome about him. In brief, since I do
purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any
purpose that the world can say against it; and
therefore never flout at me for what I have said
against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my
And sincerity about love is not in fashion these days - it's much more acceptable to be snarky, alternating with portentousness. Those are the scourges of our present dramatic age.

But before I get into that, what happened to this give-and-take and balance in contemporary rom-coms? We'll talk about that and the rise of the dude-bro "romantic comedy" next.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Much Ado About Romantic Comedy

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms:
Romantic comedy, a general term for comedies that deal mainly with the follies and misunderstandings of young lovers, in a light‐hearted and happily concluded manner which usually avoids serious satire. The best‐known examples are Shakespeare's comedies of the late 1590s, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It being the most purely romantic, while Much Ado About Nothing approaches the comedy of manners and The Merchant of Venice is closer to tragicomedy. 
I don't know what the Dictionary means by "purely romantic" but I don't agree that Much Ado About Nothing approaches a comedy of manners. Much Ado About Nothing is the very exemplar of the romantic comedy as the term is now understood.

I know a bit about Shakespearean romantic comedy - my ill-starred Tam Lin  owes everything to the 5-act structure and standard tropes of Shakespeare. So much so that a reviewer referred to it as a "Late-Autumn Night's Dream." And it even includes the "bed-trick" trope, for which I am now ashamed. 

Shakespeare used the bed-trick in All's Well that End's Well - which does not make the Oxford list of romantic comedies, partly because it's not very funny and party because the lovers come together at the end only after it was revealed that Helena is pregnant by Bertram because she pulled the bed-trick on him - or in other words, raped him. 

It must be said that audiences absolutely adore the bed-trick - and that includes the Tam Lin audiences. That may well have been the most popular scene in the play. (The Tam Lin bed trick also results in pregnancy.) Audiences don't perceive it as rape, in part I suppose because it's considered silly to imagine men can be raped - men are assumed to always want it from whomever will give it - and it's even considered a funny joke in the case of prison rape.

Midsummer isn't quite exactly a romantic comedy - it deals with many couples and magical powers and is more comedy than romance. Not that I don't appreciate Midsummer - it is one of Shakespeare's hardiest vehicles - I've seen plenty of Shakespeare's plays screwed up by directors taking too many liberties - I've yet to see a production that screwed up Midsummer

Although arguably rape happens in Midsummer, since Titania is ensorcelled by Oberon into lusting after Bottom - although we don't know explicitly what goes on between them. And then there's the questionable "courtship" of Theseus and Hippolyta

Twelfth Night is a little closer to the mark, but there is still the problematic issue of the woman disguised as a man. The relationship of Orsino and Viola doesn't happen in earnest until the very end of the play when Viola's true identity is revealed. And while there is plenty of comedy to be had by the mistaken identities and the ever-popular mockery of Puritans (the character Malvolio) the play is more about misunderstandings than love. 

As You Like It, while dear to my heart, has the same problem with Rosalind dressing as a guy - although at least she meets Orlando first as a woman. As You includes a queertastic moment when Rosalind is wooing Orlando as Ganymede. Shakespeare probably didn't mean audiences to take it that way (or did he?) but when I saw the BBC production it seemed like Orlando could easily be falling for Rosalind while he thought she was a boy. It completely blew my mind. This, I thought, is waaaay different from Julius Caesar (the only Shakespeare play I was familiar with up to that point.) 

But the play is at least as much about the relationship between Rosalind and her cousin Celia as it is about Rosalind and Orlando. Call it an early buddy comedy.

And the four marriages at the end are accomplished via deus ex-machina when Hymen the god of marriage shows up. Not something you're likely to see much of in any self-respecting romantic comedy these days.

In Much Ado there is no supernatural match-making, Beatrice never dresses as a guy, and Beatrice and Benedick are introduced already having a history together. They don't even have to "meet cute." I used that idea in my Julia & Buddy.

Although in Much Ado there is a moment that comes close to a bed-trick: Claudio, believing he is responsible for the death of his fiancee Hero, has agreed to marry a cousin who just happens to look like Hero - according to her father. Turns out it it's Hero after all (Shakespeare used this scenario again in A Winter's Tale.) It's Claudio's own volition to marry the cousin, albeit a pretty dumb idea, that saves this from being a true bed-trick.

But although Claudio and Hero are the alpha couple in the play, nobody really cares about them. It's the B & B show. Here they are meeting up after not seeing each other for awhile - and the battle of the wits begins.

So do any other romantic comedies even come close to Much Ado? I will address that next.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I believe in love

Rom-Com Killers - prime suspects

After reviewing the various articles on the death of the romantic comedy yesterday it seems that the prime suspect in its demise is the dude-bro.

Andrew Romano:
Romcoms used to be known as “chick flicks,” and while the name isn’t entirely accurate (exhibit A: me), there’s something to it: Women tended to buy more tickets to these movies than men. But now that Hollywood has concluded that its only remaining competitive advantage is spectacle, it’s all but ceded the fairer sex to cable TV. The only demographic adrenalized enough to reliably show up for this weekend’s latest extravaganza is men aged 18-24, or so the thinking goes, and so the industry keeps churning out dude bait. Even romantic comedies themselves have become more male-centric over the last dozen years, with the Nora Ephrons and Nancy Meyerses of the world giving way to “bromance” auteurs such as Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin) and Jason Segel (I Love You, Man).

Amy Nicholson:
Men don't like romantic comedies -- or if they do, they can't admit it. A marketing executive at a major studio says that, in development meetings, there's a tacit agreement that a male "no" carries more weight than a female "yes." Why should studios risk selling guys on a romantic comedy when they can rely on guys selling their girlfriends on Transformers?
As the current wisdom goes: Men are stubborn; women are flexible. "It's the 'Will you hold my purse?' theory," Feig explains. "A guy's in a store with his wife or girlfriend and she asks him to hold her purse, it's, like, Kryptonite or something. They have to hold it so that no one around them thinks it's theirs. But if a guy says to his wife or girlfriend, 'Can you hold my backpack?' she's like, 'Sure.' She doesn't give a shit. I think Hollywood banks on that."
Hollywood didn't always. In fact, Walt Disney trumpeted the opposite. "Women are the best judges of anything we turn out. Their taste is very important," he wrote in 1959. "They are the theatergoers, they are the ones who drag the men in. If the women like it, to heck with the men." That all has changed.
Except it hasn't. Women continue to buy 51 percent of all movie tickets, a figure that becomes even more impressive when you calculate post-Walt Hollywood's wan efforts to lure them into theaters.
"Certainly not 51 percent of movies are centered on women," says writer-director-producer Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated, Something's Gotta Give). In fact, in 2011, only one in 10 films starred a female protagonist. Not even Katniss Everdeen driving The Hunger Games franchise seems likely to balance the odds in females' favor.
"But you know what they say: 'Women will go to movies about men, yet men may not go to movies about women,'" Meyers adds. "So as long as that theory prevails, I suppose no one feels the need to change the status quo."
But studios should. Forget squishy ideals of feminism and fair play. Studios should make female-driven films for a mercenary reason: They're leaving cash on the table.
Think of the lessons in Meyers's 2001 flick What Women Want, which grossed more than $374 million worldwide. First, that a film obsessed with understanding the female brain can become the second-highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. As for the second, the plot couldn't make it any clearer. Mel Gibson plays a marketer who specializes in testosterone-slick ads starring cool dudes and chicks in bikinis. Selling to men has made his company good money, but his boss, Alan Alda, suspects it could make even more. So instead of promoting Gibson, Alda hires Helen Hunt, who lectures the boardroom about the peril of ignoring the female dollar.
"When Sears decided to go after women in their advertising and said, 'Come see the softer side of Sears,' their revenues went up 30 percent," Hunt tells them. "We can't afford not to have a piece of a $40 billion pie."
Why does Hollywood think it can afford the loss? The only explanation is industrywide amnesia. When a female-driven film does well -- think Bridesmaids -- it's greeted as an unexpected success. But it should be no surprise that the predominantly female theatrical audience bought tickets to a great, female-centered comedy.
And while the suits swore they'd learn from its example, the projected Bridesmaids bounce in female-driven comedies hasn't happened. In the three years since it came out, only one other major female comedy has been released: last year's Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy flick The Heat . . . also directed by Paul Feig. It, too, was a hit.
Hollywood execs applaud Feig's successful formula, but they don't get the message. Instead of greenlighting more female comedies, they've begged Feig to make a movie about men.
"I've been lectured so many times by producers and people in power, 'You don't want to get pigeonholed in the whole woman thing,'" Feig chuckles. "Do I want to get pigeonholed in the menthing? I want to get pigeonholed in the people thing!"

Claude Brodesser-Akner:
JC Spink, a partner in the management and production company BenderSpink, which has executive produced romantic comedies like Monster-in-Law and Just Friends, notes that the rom-com genre has been damaged by studios’ desire to make every film appeal to everyone. “The studios have gone from aiming for one or two quadrants — younger women and older women — to three or four,” says Spink. Hence: the proliferation of the Apatow brand to bring in men; centering rom-coms around boorish, Tucker Max–ish guys (The Ugly Truth); or braiding romances with other genres like action or sci-fi (This Means War; The Adjustment Bureau). “But the effect, I think, is that the movie actually becomes less appealing to women,” says Spink.

Lindy West:
In keeping with that theme, Alan Rickman's secretary is just constantly pointing at her vagina and licking her own face, like she's a porn actress who forgot she was doing a mainstream movie. Or, more accurately, like the character is a porn actress who forgot she was working in a real office. I don't mean that there's anything wrong with porn actresses, or that the actress who plays Alan Rickman's secretary is anything but lovely here, I mean that LOVE ACTUALLY SEES NO PROBLEM WITH TREATING ITS FEMALE CHARACTERS LIKE GIANT BIPEDAL VAGINAS IN SWEATER VESTS.
(Also, she's still looking for a venue for the holiday party and it's only three weeks before Christmas!?!?! This is why you shouldn't hire any non-sentient organ to do clerical work. No matter how sexy it is.)
Anyway, the flirtation is a problem because Alan Rickman is married to Emma Thompson, but don't worry—she wears foundation garments and talks too much (see above) and therefore deserves to die alone with nothing but Joni Mitchell for comfort.
Laura Linney, the only other female character with some semblance of an inner life, meets a similar fate.
This is a movie made for women by a man.

But I would suggest that it isn't only dude-bro culture but also a good helping of nerd culture, as analyzed in this excellent piece Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement and Nerds.

More soon.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Walking in Space

Lyrics here.

Taking back the romantic comedy

In preparation for the first of my three promised rants I have posted the list of useful links on this topic from the NYCPlaywrights weekly email blast from July 26.

The Romantic Comedy Is Dead
by Andrew Romano

They Came Together is a comedy. This much is clear. The movie stars Paul Rudd (I Love You, Man) and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation). It was co-written by Michael Showalter (The State). It was directed by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer). These are some of the funniest people in the business. When you see it, you’re supposed to laugh.

And yet I left the theater the other day feeling sort of… sad.

The reason, I think, is that They Came Together isn’t just a comedy—it’s a parody of romantic comedies. Molly (Poehler) owns a quirky mom-and-pop candy shop on New York’s Upper West Side. Joel (Rudd) works at the big Corporate Candy Company that’s threatening to put Molly out of business. At first Molly and Joel hate each other—and then (surprise!) they fall in love.

If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it is; Wain & Co. borrowed it from You’ve Got Mail (which itself was a riff on the 1940 Jimmy Stewart classic The Shop Around the Corner). Many of their jokes refer to Nora Ephron’s canonical 1998 romcom as well. There’s Joel and Molly’s over-the-top obsession with New York, which everyone keeps reminding us is “almost like another character” in their tale. There’s the used bookstore where Joel and Molly finally discover they’re right for each other. There’s Joel and Molly’s sense of shared bemusement at the increasing intricacy of the modern coffee-industrial complex. And so on.

But You’ve Got Mail isn’t the only movie They Came Together strip-mines for satire. Basically the film is a compendium of every romcom cliché known to man, lovingly compiled, combined, and amplified to an absurd degree. Molly acting clumsy. Joel and his bros discussing lady problems while shooting hoops. Molly ordering food a very specific way. Molly and Joel playing Charades at a holiday party. A falling-in-love montage. A trying-on-clothes montage. “I’ll have what she’s having.” If you’re a fan of the romcom genre, watching all of these gags in quick succession is dizzying, delirious, and ultimately very funny.

Appealing young actresses who could have been this generation’s Meg Ryans or Julia Robertses—actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, and Scarlett Johansson—have read the writing on the wall and increasingly gravitated toward big tentpole jobs.
It’s also strangely depressing. Here’s why: As They Came Together wore on, I started to realize that every movie it was referencing was at least 15 years old. That no one under the age of, say, 30 would have any clue what Rudd and Poehler were parodying.

And then it hit me: Could it be that the Romantic Comedy is dead—and that I didn’t notice until it was too late? How in the name of Meg Ryan did this happen?

I’m afraid the answer to the first question is yes. I should start by saying (in case you haven’t figured it out already) that I really like romantic comedies. Sure, they can be conventional. But pop songs tend to be conventional, too, and that doesn’t dull the dopamine rush of a perfect chorus. A well-made romcom—It Happened One Night, Sleepless in Seattle, Say Anything…, Groundhog Day, The Apartment—works in much the same way. It’s a dazzling machine doing exactly what it was designed to do. 




Rom-coms used to be a cash cow --and wildly popular with audiences. What happened?
by Amy Nicholson

The corpse lay crumpled on the conference table, close enough that the studio executive could tug on the red heel of her Louboutin. She'd been lying there unnoticed, or perhaps just ignored, for quite some time. Her wedding veil was tattered, and someone had spilled coffee on her white satin dress. A receipt had been crudely shoved in her bouquet.

Once, she'd been worth a fortune -- at least $100 million, according to her friends, who sat at home and rewatched tapes of her at her prime. Every woman had wanted to be her: Julia, Meg, Sandra, Reese. Not anymore.

The romantic comedy is dead.

In 1997, there were two romantic comedies among the top 20 box office performers. In 1998 and 1999, there were three. Each cracked $100 million in sales. Even as recently as 2005, five romantic comedies topped $100 million at the box office.

Contrast that with 2013: There's not one romantic comedy in the top 50 films. Not even in the top 100.

Men and women are still falling in love, of course. They're just not doing it onscreen -- and if they do, it's no laughing matter. In today's comedies, they're either casually hooking up or already married. These are comedies of exasperation, not infatuation.

It's not only that audiences are refusing to see romantic comedies. It's that romantic comedies aren't getting made, at least not by the major studios. The Big Wedding, 2013's sole boy-meets-girl-meets-matrimony comedy, was unceremoniously dumped into theaters by big indie Lionsgate and limped to No. 101 on the chart.

What happened?




From As You Like It to The Front Page, theatre was once captivated by romantic comedies. Did we get too cynical?
By Lyn Gardner

The other week I interviewed the playwright David Greig and the musician Gordon McIntyre about their lo-fi musical, Midsummer. The show (opening at Soho theatre this week) is being sold on the novelty of its indie soundtrack – but when I saw it in Edinburgh last year, it wasn't the music that stood out, it was the romance. Indie music in theatre isn't so uncommon. But romantic comedy? If there'd been popcorn for sale in the Traverse foyer, it could hardly have seemed more out-of-place.
So is theatre down on romcom? It wasn't always thus: consider As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream et al, and Shakespeare starts to look (well, just a little) like the Nora Ephron of the Elizabethan age. Romcoms were popular, too, in the theatre of the early and mid-20th century. Some of the great Hollywood examples – The Philadelphia Story, The Shop Around the Corner, His Girl Friday (based on Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page) – were cribbed from hit plays. Bernard Slade's Romantic Comedy, recently revived by (and starring) Tom Conti, was one of the genre's last hurrahs.
Of course, there are still plenty of romances in theatre – but not many plays that satisfy themselves with romance alone, and fewer still that are funny. The classic romcom traces the lovers' will-they-won't-they trajectory up until consummation – and then blushingly draws a veil. But when modern stage comedies take love as their subject – Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, for example – they seldom send us home with romantic illusions left intact. It's instructive to compare Stoppard's theatre romcom with his script for Shakespeare in Love.




…I’ve long had the desire to fire every romantic comedy into the sun. I despise romcoms, and I never spent time figuring out why. Now that the answer is in my face, it’s undeniable: they’re one way we disseminate all of the worst ideas about relationships we have as a culture, including (especially) the male master narrative. What was once just an annoyance to me now looks like the worst kind of reprehensible irresponsibility. And that’s just one tiny corner of the art we produce. 

It’s easy to say, Oh, it’s just a play; it’s just a movie, etc. But there is no “just.” The narrative art form is POWERFUL. The human brain can experience narrative as if it’s happening in real life. The brain of a person telling a story and a person listening to that story experience neural coupling. Art is where we discuss who we are as a culture; our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our past, our imagined future. It’s the most important aspect of how our culture is created and how it is changed. Stories are the building blocks of culture, and we’re the ones who create and tell those stories.



~ OR ~
Why I despise and loathe the Pulitzer Prize-winning play TALLEY'S FOLLY
In which I explain why I have a problem with a play that presents a stalker, who forces a woman to remain in a boathouse until she submits, as a romantic hero.
by N. G. McClernan

When I first saw Lanford Wilson’s TALLEY’S FOLLY, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980, I didn’t even pick up on the horrific stalking and bullying aspect. This was in the early 1990s, when I first became interested in writing plays, and I considered it homework to go and see a community theatre production of the play in Haddonfield New Jersey. I picked the play exactly because it had won the Pulitzer Prize: I figured it had to be good. Like Shakespeare good.

But instead I was bored. It’s a ninety minute play that felt like two hours, but I gritted my teeth and stayed until the end. As I was walking out of the theatre I remember wondering whether I should abandon playwriting and go back to painting. If that was theatre, then I hated theatre.

My impression of the play, based on that long-ago production, was a long boring conversation, with lots of exposition, and the man doing most of the talking. I don’t know why I didn’t pick up on the truly repulsive underlying message of the play - perhaps it was the way it was directed - I don't remember any physical force used, as it is specified in the stage directions of the published script. 

Cultural gatekeepers have always been men (or men's female enablers.) To this day the vast majority of movie and theatre critics in the traditional media are men. But thanks to the new technologies all kinds of excellent feminist commentary is available to the public. One of the best purveyors of feminist culture theory is a web site called Tiger Beatdown. And one of its best essays is called TIGER BEATDOWN FOR DUDES Presents: That’s Not Funny. No, Seriously Dude, It’s Not.



Can the Romantic Comedy Be Saved?
By Claude Brodesser-Akner
It was not that long ago when romantic comedies were a reliable date-night staple at the box office. It was a carefree, frothy time, when Julia, J. Lo, Kate, Katherine, Sandra, and Reese could show up onscreen, meet cute with just about any handsome male specimen, and pull in seven figures. But audiences seem to be falling out of love with the genre: The near-total rejection of Gerard Butler’s Playing for Keeps ($12 million, and fading fast) is only the latest casualty.

Earlier this year, Wanderlust ($17 million) and The Five-Year Engagement ($28 million) fizzled, while the genre’s once-reigning doyenne, Reese Witherspoon, saw her hybrid action/rom-com, This Means War, met with yawning indifference: It grossed just $54 million domestically, ten million less than its explosion-heavy budget. The highest-grossing rom-com of the year was Kevin Hart’s Think Like a Man ($91 million), and that film never truly broke out beyond its predominantly African-American target audience. “It is the hardest time of my 30 years in the business of doing them,” said Lynda Obst, the producer of romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle, One Fine Day, and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. Vulture asked several top filmmakers, producers, and executives for a heart-to-heart about the reasons why the genre is getting the cold shoulder — and as with most splintering relationships, there’s plenty of blame thrown back and forth: Studio chiefs blame audiences and stars, directors and producers blame studios and audiences, and agents blame their clients.

The downward slope of the rom-com’s fortunes has been steep. Just a decade ago, theaters were packed with date-night fare that took in hundreds of millions of dollars: In 2002, the top five highest-grossing romantic comedies alone — My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sweet Home Alabama, Maid in Manhattan, and Two Weeks Notice — collectively took in a whopping $555 million in domestic box office. There were seven rom-coms in the top 100 films of that year, and this septet averaged a $96 million take. In 2008, there were eleven rom-coms in the top 100, with an average domestic gross of $77 million. By 2010, there were fourteen rom-coms in the top 100 highest grossing films — but their average domestic gross had dropped to $53 million. This year the average gross in the top 100 is up a hair to $54 million, but that’s based on only four movies that have cracked that list. (Many more did not.)



Clearly, the rom-com is in dire straits, and things only seem to be getting worse.
by Phoebe Robinson

This week marks the 25th anniversary of arguably the best romantic comedy of the modern era: "When Harry Met Sally." (I write “arguably” to appease the ornery person who always steps to me, proclaiming "Love Actually" is the new sheriff in town.) And to that I say, “Show me the receipts,” which usually includes someone pointing out the film’s omnipresence on basic cable as proof, but I’m still unconvinced because Actually contains one of the most ludicrous love stories of recent memory. Colin Firth's character, Jamie, falls in love with a gorgeous, non-English speaking foreigner and they subsequently get engaged thanks to her father's response to Jamie's asking for his daughter's hand in marriage: "Who? Her? Sure." O...K. 
Clearly, the rom-com is in dire straits and things only seem to be getting worse. "Think Like A Man Too," which was released three weeks ago, has decent box office numbers ($61 million dollars), but is saddled with a 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In the past, this sort of critical lashing would have been an anomaly for movies of its ilk instead of what it is now: par for the course.
Since the early aughts, the average rom-com now is not only getting bad reviews and poor to middling box office returns, but major film studios are releasing fewer of these films in theaters (in 2002, there were 13, including "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" which grossed $241 million domestically; this year, only five romantic comedies are coming out).
The rom-com genre is going the way of the wooly mammoth, but I have three ways it can save itself from extinction: 
1) Let’s get some comedy up in here!
The genre is called “romantic comedy,” so why are so many of the films low on the funny? Where’s the witty Cary Grant/Rosalind Russell banter of "His Girl Friday," the satire of "Clueless," the go-for-broke rom-com/gross out humor mash up of "There’s Something About Mary"? Too often what's passing for "comedy" in rom-coms these days is a basic Katherine Heigl-type chick dressed in basic beige linens who vacillates between klutzy and shrill. Ugh.


I Rewatched Love Actually and Am Here to Ruin It for All of You
Lindy West

We open in a fucking airport. A fucking AIRPORT!!! Of course Love Actually, the apex of cynically vacant faux-motional cash-grab garbage cinema would hang its BIG METAPHOR on the bleak, empathy-stripped cathedral of turgid bureaucracy known as "the airport." Of course. And then, of course, Hugh Grant's voice pipes in to tell us how inspiring and magical the airport is, because when you're at the airport you can't help but notice that "love actually IS all around." THE FUCKING AIRPORT!!!!!

If that's not the epitome of unexamined privilege—declaring that the airport is your favorite place—then I don't know what is. Welcome to Love Actually.

Bill Nighy and his technicolor dream-blouse are in the studio recording a shitty, vapid Christmas song in hopes of squeezing a few dollars out of idiots who will pay for any tatty garbage as long as it has a celebrity's name attached (way better metaphor for your movie than "the airport," BTW!). Bill Nighy keeps ruining perfectly good takes so he can yell about how shitty his shitty Christmas song is, because Bill Nighy doesn't care about the valuable time of the hardworking professionals who are just trying to finish his vanity record so they can get home to their families. Not Bill Nighy's problem! He's done heroin before!

Question: Can somebody please adjust Bill Nighy's microphone so he doesn't have to cop that weird squat anymore? I should be able to watch a movie without my brain being forced to contemplate the current dilation of Bill Nighy's butthole. Thx.

Text appears on the screen to alert us that it's five weeks before Christmas. Why are you recording a Christmas single FIVE WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS!?!? This movie is so fucking incompetently made that even the people doing their fake jobs inside the movie are incompetent.

Colin Firth's girlfriend is sick. NBD, right!? WRONG. Turns out, she isn't sick with the flu—she's sick with ColinFirth'sBrother'sDongitis! Colin Firth cannot deal, so he runs off to France all sulky to fucking type a novel on a fucking typewriter in a mansion. Siiiigh! "Alone ah-GAYN!"

This old French woman shows up at Chateau de Firth and is like, "Here, I found you a lady. I'm literally giving you this lady." Score! Free lady! The lady is named Aurelia and she only speaks Portuguese, and so does her entire family, apparently, even though all of them live in France. It's irritating.

Colin Firth falls in "love" with Aurelia at first sight, establishing Love Actually's central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is.

None of the women in this movie fucking talk. All of the men in this movie "win" a woman at the end. This goddamn movie.



The greatest romantic comedy: His Girl Friday

Hawks stages an exceptional battle of wits and sexual politics between Grant and Russell, two performers matched in their capacity to hurl  verbal jabs with machine gun speed. Russell’s Hildy Johnson wants out of the newspaper game to marry her dopey insurance salesman fiancé, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), and make a family in Albany. She arrives at the Morning Post’s offices to tell her editor, Grant’s Walter Burns, of her plans to wed Baldwin the next day after catching a train that evening. With little time to maneuver, Burns concocts a scheme to keep her around, in part because his paper needs her sharp reporting, and also because he still loves her. “Oh, she’s staying,” Burns quips. “She just doesn’t know it yet.”  His biggest hook is the execution of Earl Williams (John Qualen), a cop-killer who should have been tried with an insanity plea. Should the Morning Post cover the story, they could save Williams’ life and simultaneously rub out the careers of the corrupt Mayor (Clarence Kolb McCue) and his ineffectual sheriff (Gene Lockhart). Burns dangles the story in front of Hildy, lays an effective guilt trip on Baldwin, and Hildy eventually agrees to write one last story, in exchange for Burns signing a life insurance policy with Baldwin that will provide the new couple a financial nest egg. After Hildy interviews Williams to play up the insanity angle, the prisoner escapes, creating a frenzy of newspapermen trying to get the scoop. Working together again with Burns to get the story makes Hildy realize she still loves being a reporter and still loves Burns too.



Study: Rom-Coms Could Save Your Marriage
by Kat Stoeffel

Watching and discussing romantic movies is roughly as effective as couples therapy in reducing the divorce rate among newlyweds, according to a University of Rochester study published in December's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Researchers looked at 174 couples over the first three years of their marriage, when one in four couples divorces. Couples were randomly assigned to one of three month-long programs — conflict management, compassion training, or movie-and-talk — as a kind of secular surrogate for the marriage-preparation classes offered by churches. The conflict-management and compassion-training groups required about twenty hours of therapist-supervised lectures and practice sessions, whereas movie-and-talk required half as much time, involved watching movies, and was almost entirely done at home. But all three groups halved the divorce rate of the control group, from 24 percent to 11 percent. 

Their conclusion? People already know how to fix their relationship problems, they just need the excuse to think and talk about them…“


OBVIOUS CHILD - Take Back the Rom-Com