All this talk about the Girls finale makes me want to talk about the romantic comedies that really work for me. I recently read a really good piece for NPR in defense of the rom-com written by Linda Holmes.* One of the points she made is that most rom-coms (even the classics) have a fairly silly plot. These days there just aren’t that many external causes that keep lovers apart. Yes, fathers can disapprove, but they can’t actually arrange your marriage to someone else. And certainly marrying “up” or “down” can be messy, but it’s not an actual barrier. So we all agree to overlook the “pretending to be engaged to the guy in a coma” or “I’m a CEO and she’s a hooker” or “I’m really a newspaper reporter pretending to be a high school student” because what we care about is the relationship.
Holmes says, ”greatness in romantic comedy has always been about what happens when the leads (and sometimes the supporting characters) interact with each other within that story.
I think she’s right because when I think about my favorites, it’s always the supporting cast and the best dialogue that come to mind, not the love scenes.
I love While You Were Sleeping because of Sandra Bullock’s relationship with Bill Pullman’s family. All of the scenes where she is seamlessly woven into their family dinners and disputes are what make me desperate for it all to work out. It’s not so much her romance with him as her romance with them.
I love Notting Hill for the birthday party where Hugh Grant’s sister follows Julia Roberts into the bathroom, for the gathering of the whole group for the last supper at their friend’s failed restaurant, and for the bookstore employee’s “not classic anecdote” about seeing Ringo Starr…maybe…not.
I love When Harry Met Sally for all of the dialogue, same with You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. It’s not the grand romance that draws us in, it’s the loss and the longing and the loneliness and hopes deferred and faith restored.
If the human connection resonates, the plot can be as ridiculous as Hugh Grant and Colin Firth having a sorta fistfight in a London restaurant (although politely stopping to sing along when a birthday cake is brought out to a patron) because they’re both in love with Bridget Jones, the best, most lovable flibbertygibbet since Maria.
(WARNING: swears in this)
I don’t defend all rom-coms (I too can do without Gerard Butler and Matthew McConaughey), but I won’t be embarrassed for loving the ones that warmed my heart and made me a little sad and a little happy with just the right song.
(*thanks to Gregory for sending me the article)