November 17, 2013

MOSER | Chick Flicks? In Defense of RomComs

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A couple weeks ago, a heterosexual male friend of mine confided in me one of his deepest darkest secrets. He looked around to make sure no one else was listening before leaning forward and, in a hushed tone, telling me that he enjoyed watching romantic comedies.

I have a wealth of anecdotal evidence that, although many men balk at the idea of seeing a film starring Emily Blunt, they secretly find a great deal of pleasure in the witty banter, the beautifully decorated homes and the happy endings. Just last weekend I dragged a different heterosexual male friend of mine to go see About Time at the mall — only convincing him to go because I said we’d stop at Target and he needed shampoo. He begrudgingly confessed to having enjoyed the experience, and last night asked me to recommend a movie he could watch in a similar vein. I suggested Love Actually, which I was appalled to discover he has never seen.

For too long, romantic comedies have been dismissed as “chick flicks.” They are scoffed at by film aficionados who believe that anyone watching them who isn’t a 14 year-old girl with Mrs. Channing Tatum doodled all over her diary or a stay-at-home mom wearing an ugly Christmas sweater non-ironically has something wrong with them.

I won’t impugn my reputation by claiming that all romcoms are great films, but that doesn’t mean that the entire genre is devoid of merit. Silver Linings Playbook, which last year was nominated for seven Oscars and for which Jennifer Lawrence won for Best Actress, is basically a romantic comedy. Let me amend that statement: it is a romantic comedy. The only reason it received so much critical attention was because it happened to be a particularly well-done romantic comedy and it featured a plotline about mental illnesses, which allowed people to tell themselves it was more than just a romcom. At its core, though, it came right back down to the same idea: “boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.”

Yes, most romantic comedies are formulaic. Yes, we all know how they are going to end.  But the same can be said of action films or superhero movies. No matter how artsy Dark Knight is, there was never any doubt that Batman would face challenges, overcome them and then save a lot of people from dying. Dark Knight also falls into the same genre as Transformers. Yet, for some reason, we don’t roll our eyes when someone says they like superhero movies. I say, “some reason,” knowing full well the reason that the reason is each genre’s target demographic. This is an annoying fact relating to the place of women in our society, which I don’t feel I have to elaborate on.

Anyway, I’ve gotten sidetracked. Many men are ashamed to watch romantic comedies because they feel it isn’t masculine and because romcoms are theoretically made for women. As I’ve already mentioned, many romantic comedies are just good films. And, though romcoms may be made for women, the majority of romcoms are, like most films, made by men. Love Actually and About Time were written by the same man, who also wrote Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary: Richard Curtis.

As an experiment, I asked my friend who I’m sitting next to as I write this column to name a romantic comedy off the top of her head. She picked Definitely Maybe. I checked, and sure enough, written and directed by a man named Adam Brooks, who also wrote the sequel to Bridget Jones’ Diary and French Kiss (my favorite ’90s Meg Ryan movie.) The more you IMDb romantic comedies and click on movies in the “More Like This” category, the more you begin to realize that almost no romantic comedies are written or directed by women.

So if anything, it should be women who are ashamed to enjoy romantic comedies, as they tend to be men’s ideas of what women and relationships should be like. Basically what I’m saying is that it’s silly for a man, or anyone, to act like enjoying Legally Blonde is akin to storing corpses under your bed or having an affair with a married person. You should, on the other hand, be ashamed if you like Transformers. That is something you should never admit, no matter how hushed your tones.