The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Cinephile's Confession

by Tamara Lee

I’m a film buff. Not just a movie nut, but one of those annoying movie-lovers who would name Guy Maddin, Werner Herzog, and Jacques Tati as a few of her favourite filmmakers. Who is more moved by film noir and French New Wave cinema than blockbusters or bible stories. Who doesn’t just have a membership at a repertory cinema (and actually knows what that is), but who has volunteered for one for over 10 years. Yes, I’m one of those.

Call me a film snob, il ne me fait rien.

But my screenwriter self has a sentimental side that no Roberto Benigni retrospective could wholly satisfy. Within me, The Romantic and The Comedian are tussling about the bed sheets trying to make a good Romantic Comedy. One that won’t embarrass me, or my fiction-writer self.

That fiction-writer self, meanwhile, has often touched upon the stuff of love and sex. (If hesitantly, since writing about sex in fiction is a dangerous venture, lest you end up winning the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction award.)

So why is writing about love and sex in literature doable, if hard, but writing about love and sex in film is, well, ahem, pardon me, erm, harder? Thankfully Rom-Coms are not about the sex. In fact, the best Rom-Coms are really about the not getting any.

And “best” is definitely relative when dealing with the genre that gave us one too many Meg Ryan movies. As a friend recently put it, when I listed off some of my favourite romantic comedies: “Well, yeah, those are good movies. I guess when I like them, I immediately think of them as a different genre.”

It’s true. We pooh-pooh the Rom-Com because this oft-insipid genre has outlived its welcome in our cynical post-millennium world. Not that we’ve become a loveless society. It’s just that we’re more savvy about love’s ridiculousness. And by ridiculous, I don’t mean that heavy-handed, “but-I-saw-you-kissing-her” bull-honkey.

Depicting sweet innocence is not enough. Nor are lame attempts at Shakespeare-redux, or trying to recapture a previous year’s hit scene. We want more, but we just don’t seem to realize that wanting more means accepting less. And by less, I don’t mean less clothing.

The golden age of Rom-Coms—the ‘40s and ‘50s—seems more progressive than anything we see today, especially when you consider gems like Some Like it Hot and 1971's Harold and Maude were in many ways even dangerous. Originality in genre is no easy feat. That’s why when we see such a gem it’s a real sparkly. In these films, there's some actual insight into human relationships, something racy about the characters we’ve not seen before.

So why do the Rom-Coms of old seem less dated, while most after 1980, generally, feel uncomfortably old-fashioned? Perhaps DeLoreans and shoulder pads provided a metaphor for what was to come: some things should just never happen.

Nevertheless, the Rom-Com persists, and the bulk of what’s out there is disappointing. Thus, my experiment to see if I can, in fact, write one worth sitting all the way through. As Rom-Com writer/teacher Billy Mernit suggests, Rom-Coms with the most staying power don’t follow strict formula, they throw in a bit of history, satire, suspense.

And that’s just what I’ve come to realize when I look at my list. Not a one is straight-ahead Rom-Com. I'm sure I've forgotten some, and some of you may disagree with what I've put here. By all means, feel free to suggest your favourites to me.

Love 'em or leave 'em, without further ado, here’s my list of 15 thoroughly watchable Romantic Comedies:

1930/1940
My Man Godfrey
Bringing Up Baby
His Girl Friday
The Philadelphia Story
Adam’s Rib

1950/1960/1970
Indiscreet
Some Like it Hot
Harold and Maude
What’s Up, Doc?
Annie Hall

1980-present
Truly, Madly, Deeply
Benny & Joon
High-Fidelity
Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amelie)
Lost in Translation

11 Comments:

Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Tamara. You've listed two of my favourties -- Some Like It Hot and Harold and Maude -- so I'm happy! You're right about romantic comedies being hard to do without coming across as sappy. How to dig for the deeper truth?

Mon Feb 26, 11:05:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger MelBell said...

His Girl Friday! Probably one of my favourite films of all times!

Great post, Tamara.

Mon Feb 26, 12:32:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

A great list. Harold and Maude is one of my all time faves, as is Lost in Translation for it's understated emotional power. And there's nothing wrong with film buffs, we need more of them.

Mon Feb 26, 02:00:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

A refreshing list of movies (is there any pair of lovebirds in history like Harold and Maude?). I think I'll go check some of them out from our library. Thanks Tamara.

Mon Feb 26, 05:22:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Tamara, this is a wonderfully smart post, thanks for making me think. I see a few Rom Coms on your list that I haven't experienced yet. Thanks for the recommmendations.


And great links to check out...I'm going to look at bad sex in fiction.

Mon Feb 26, 09:07:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Martin Heavisides said...

Le Roi du Coeur (King of Hearts)
Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise)
Addicted to Love
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
are some I'd add.

Mon Feb 26, 10:07:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks, all. Love the suggestions, Martin. I had Eternal on the list at one point, but couldn't decide if there was enough Com to make it a RomCom. Great film, though. It made me like Jim Carrey, which is something I never expected to happen.

Tue Feb 27, 01:09:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

Martin, I remember seeing King of Hearts and Children of Paradise, I guess it was back in the 1980s (at a repertory) and I loved them. I wonder if I still would?

Tue Feb 27, 06:48:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger sass said...

you had me until Benny & Joon / High-Fidelity...

Tue Feb 27, 12:39:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Sorry, Sass. Heh heh. Yes, it was difficult coming up with contemporary films. To be honest, I haven't seen Benny & Joon since it came out, but I remember really liking it then. I make no apologies, though, for High Fidelity. I lived that world... :)

Tue Feb 27, 08:10:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Martin Heavisides said...

Seen Addicted to Love? Incidentally, isn't any list of romantic comedies incomplete without Les Enfants du Paradis?

Wed Feb 10, 04:13:00 pm GMT-5  

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