Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for a good ole romantic comedy. From When Harry Met Sally to Love Actually to 27 Dresses (don’t judge me here), I just can’t get enough of painfully cute and predictable rom-coms. You know you love them; the one where Kate Hudson dates Matthew McConaughey for a social experiment but ends up falling for him, or the one successful Katherine Heigl ends up with loser Seth Rogen after getting pregnant after their one night stand (yes, I realize that I’ve already mentioned two Katherine Heigl movies and I’m only slightly ashamed). But seriously, who doesn’t love curling up on the couch on a rainy day with a meet-cute, get-in-a-fight, live-happily-ever-after chick flick?
The most recent movie I saw in the rom-com category is Friends With Kids, a sweet little movie in which two thirty-something pals decide to have a kid just to get it over with already. Their married friends advise against the idea, but they go through with it anyway and realize that having a baby without actually being together, while still dating other people, isn’t as easy as it seems. But, of course, being a romantic comedy, the film falls prey to predictability, and (SPOILER ALERT) the two friends fall in love. Friends With Kids let me down; up until the last twenty minutes, the film was a refreshingly smart look at unconventional parenting and romance in the 21st century. Then, all of a sudden, the two characters decide that they love each other in the final minutes of the film, and clichés abound: He confesses his love; she slams the door in his face; he makes an impulsive u-turn in the middle of the highway to go back to her place; and it turns out she wants to be with him, too. If this were any other movie, I probably would have swooned at the Adam Scott’s unbearably adorable speech at the end, but after building up so much promise for a modern and realistic take on relationships, Friends With Kids just turned out to be another run-of-the-mill rom-com.
Hollywood needs to break away from this formula once and for all. Or, at least, it should be reserved for movies with Reese Witherspoon or, of course, Katherine Heigl. Friends With Kids was a step in a direction away from the happy ending pattern, but only until the filmmakers decided to go the conventional route for reasons unknown.
The king of promising contemporary takes on romance only to turn around and sneak attack us with adorable endings is Judd Apatow. I was crazy about The 40-Year-Old Virgin for its glorious raunchiness and vulgarity until Steve Carrell professed his love for Catherine Keener in the middle of a highway. Call me cynical, but that stuff just doesn’t happen, although lots of the stuff that comes before probably does. Guilty pleasures like The Proposal or 13 Going on 30 can get away with this sappy predictability because they’re aware of their complete ridiculousness and aren’t trying to be accurate portrayals of real life. But for movies like Friends With Kids, which were conceived as progressive depictions of relationships and parenting, the sentimental, prescribed conclusion is just disappointing.
It’s not like movies in which the romantic leads don’t get together in the end don’t exist. Take one of my favorite movies, Annie Hall, for instance. Alvy and Annie’s relationship is the heart of the film, but in the end, they realize that they just weren’t meant for each other and don’t end up together. But even though the movie doesn’t conclude with a big speech or kiss or revelation, their chance meeting on the Upper West Side under Woody Allen’s insightful closing voice-over leaves us with a glimmer of hope.
See, Hollywood? It can be done! But Annie Hall was released all the way back in 1977, and unfortunately there are very few, if any, of its kind being released today. Romantic comedies have been and continue to be formulaic tear-jerkers, no matter how hard they try not to be. In the case of Annie Hall, all it takes is a little neurosis; but all filmmakers really need is a dose of reality, even if just a little one. As evidenced by Friends With Kids and Apatow’s films, Hollywood is almost there; it just needs a little push when it comes to thinking outside the box, or at least realistically.