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Romantic Comedies: They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To

Gone is the heyday of the classic 90's romantic comedy, but why is it that so many contemporary romantic comedies fail?

Romantic Comedies: They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

In light of the 20th anniversary of the ageless classic My Best Friend’s Wedding, it seemed only right to assess the evolution of romance onscreen, and ask the striking question: ‘are romantic comedies truly as good as they once were?’. It goes without saying that the romantic comedy film genre remains an exceptionally popular and thriving one. Granted that overtime they may have been branded more commonly as ‘Chick Flicks’ or ‘Cheese Fests’, but we’d all be kidding ourselves if we said there aren’t some classics out there that are idolised. On the other hand, there are some that fail to compete.

However, the correlation between the successes and flops is odd. It seems that – whilst movies in this category are still raking in the profits – the older, more traditional films in this style are much more widely loved, and don’t disappear off the face of the earth like many of the more recent equivalents. The particular reasons for this are somewhat unclear, and of course, down to our own subjective opinions.

It could be argued that the era itself seems so long ago, so it’s almost a form of traditional escapism for us nowadays. The typical ideologies and dogmas that tend to be associated with older versions of romantic comedies variety generally seem more fantasied and wistful to audiences who tend to experience much less than that in reality-fuelled relationships.

Romantic Comedies: They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) – source: TriStar Pictures

But it might be something much more simple and stripped back than that. Older, more timeless movies tug at our heart strings and our feelings of nostalgia much more than modern ones do. Therefore, films such as When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing usually rate higher in our favourites list than more recent alternatives such as Crazy Stupid Love, Valentine’s Day and pretty much anything scripted from a Nicholas Sparks novel. But why is this?

When Modern Flair Flops

The underlying problem a lot of us likely feel with modernised rom-com movies, is the sheer lack of conventional connotations within the essence of the story and its characters. A simple google search of ‘romantic comedies’ led me to an initial list of films that were mostly produced in the 80’s and 90’s, with the odd few 21st Century titles thrown in.

These appear to be the glory decades for this style of film. Before that, the ‘comedy’ aspect was very much lost, and a lot of the even older – usually black and white – versions of our typical ‘chick flicks’ would have focused solely on the romance and the drama that came with it. The model distinctions in this category, of course, would be masterpieces such as Gone With The Wind and Casablanca. Both of which surfaced way back in the 1940s when Hollywood was at its golden age and film had only just begun to make a solid impact on our lives. This is drifting a little far into the past, but it’s important to consider that even these examples are deemed to outshine any modern counterparts of their sort.

The issue with the more modern adaptions of romantic comedies is that they seem to focus more on alternative plot-lines or moral high-grounds in order to challenge the usually accepted stereotypes of such movies. For instance, The Other Woman, Trainwreck, Mothers Day and This Means War all focus on the female character having sole power and addressing her problems solo before a man is introduced as a secondary character. More often than not, it ends up with the leading lady realising that she doesn’t need a man in her life at all. This has been a strong development in cinematic history, and is a noteworthy movement in terms of the progression of feminism and equality. But as great as it is to address this in film, it doesn’t generally stick to the typical romantic links we all crave in movies of this type.

Romantic Comedies: They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

When Harry Met Sally (1989) – source: Columbia Pictures

Not only that, but in comparison to their older counterparts, these particular films ended up being a bit of a flop in terms of figures and ratings. This is providential evidence that audiences prefer the old-school mantras and themes illustrated in traditional romance flicks. If anything, it seems as though filmmakers enjoy ploughing famous faces into big budget movies in an attempt to deliver a story line which – at its core – is rather pitiful and poor, all in an effort to make money. This tends to result in a movie that promises to be the next big classic but, in reality, has no substance, a forgetful script and leaves an audience feeling empty as opposed to reeled in.

Sticking To The Script

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a half-decent rom-com produced in the last ten years, because of course there has. But it seems that the most celebrated successes are the ones that have adhered to the conventions of the archetypal romantic comedy ritual. Movies like the Bridget Jones trilogy, Friends With Benefits, P.S I Love You and The Proposal are stand-out cases in which romantic comedies have continued to impress audiences.

However, it could be said that this is down to the essence of the story, and the way in which it is portrayed. Each of these films have both a male and female central character that the story focuses around for individual reasons, as opposed to conveying an array of secondary characters or concentrating more on friendships like many others try to do. These examples relate to our older, more widely-adored benchmarks of romantic comedies. But is this because – as an audience – we expect this and we aren’t ready for anything remotely different? Or is it because the more modern attempts are being created inadequately and are totally incomparable?

Tale As Old As Time

The truth is, the era isn’t changing enough. It’s merely clutching at old straws, but endeavouring to spice things up in the modern world – yet it’s being done badly. Another issue is that the films are being produced like factory chickens. There’s dozens being written every year, and there’s almost no time for breathers in-between. Romantic movies are being shoved in our faces left, right and centre; which leaves little room for progress to be made, and little time for a decent one to leave a memorable impression or impact on us.

For some people, the ‘tale as old as time’ attitude in terms of romance on-screen isn’t necessarily a good move in terms of how cinema has progressed. Unfortunately, many of the more modern same-sex romances are pushed to the back of the agenda, and even on Netflix the division of these is substantial, given that they have their own genre category entirely. Isn’t it about time that we had one singular category for movies of this type? Why aren’t we mixing old with the new and accepting all levels of on-screen romance?

Romantic Comedies: They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Pretty Woman (1990) – source: Buena Vista Pictures

I have yet to visit the cinema to view a romantic comedy about two girlfriends struggling to make it in LA, or two men who keep missing the chance to be with each other. It’s true, there is a long way to go in terms of equality like this. These movies are being made, and some have even had rave reviews from critics such as Blue Is The Warmest Colour; but they just aren’t being accepted on the scale that they deserve.

I even recently read an article entitled ‘The 20 Best Queer Romance Movies To Catch On Netflix’ which shocked me – because why wouldn’t they fall under a generic ‘The 20 Best Romance Movies To Catch On Netflix’ list instead? Ultimately, we need to find the balance between creating endless afterthoughts of rom-coms because they’re easy, and truthfully challenging the older classics by producing solid, first-class films that leave an impression on us like our old favourites did.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, the answer is simple. We adore the old conventions, but we need them to be pushed forward into the 21st century and beyond. We need carefully thought out, well-structured and old-school romantic stories that come from the heart. But they need to be centred around modern society, as opposed to trying too hard to make them somewhat unique just because time has moved on.

So, what do you think? Are the old classics being pushed aside for modern twists or are they impossible to out-do? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

I'm Alice. I'm a writer, blogger, film nerd, determined dreamer, foodie, vino inhaler and reality TV nut. I have ambitions to become a crazy dog lady in the very near future -

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