[T]he truth is that romantic comedies are, as works of art and pieces of culture, terrible. They are usually some ungodly, unsexy combination of: stale, trite, silly, and formulaic. They are often offensively anti-feminist. The generous reading of all this is that recent films and their creators became victims, essentially, of the innovator’s dilemma: They got too good at obeying their own, once-successful formulas – and failed to see beyond them.
The less generous reading is that film executives and creators failed to see the culture changing around them. The rom-com industrial complex – the cultural institution charged with capturing romance as a kind of ritual – failed to recognize the evolution of romance itself.
Meanwhile, a reader who writes about box-office trends offers some context, while another offers a few recommendations:
Romantic comedies aren’t weak because the male 18-24 audience dominates the box office. Indeed, the headline over the last year has been the collapse of that group among US moviegoers. Moviegoing is skewing older and a bit more female.
The need to capture a worldwide audience is one reason many genres don’t get fuller attention, but romcoms can be made relatively inexpensively, and several female-oriented films over the last few months have been considerable successes. Remember that there’s a lag of around two years between when films are greenlit and when they hit the screen. So romcoms might come back in the US. Yes, many American comedies don’t translate internationally, but a Pretty Woman would likely be just as big today as it was in 1990 (much bigger, with inflation).
Update from a reader:
I adore the movies and go as often as I can (but not to the multiplexes, which seem to be increasingly dumbed down). I prefer smaller indy films, and there are excellent indy rom coms which are neither trite nor anti-feminist. In the last month I’ve seen two excellent indy rom coms…. The Lunchbox and In a World Where…
The Lunchbox refutes the lie that romcoms cannot bridge cultures. It’s is an Indian film about a uniquely Indian system but which spoke beautifully and intelligently to longing in an unfulfilled life. I, a working American mother, related very much to the young Indian housewife at the center of the story, and her neighbor reminded me a great deal of my Puerto Rican mother-in-law. And all without innuendo about sex. The closest this film came to nudity was the heroine removing her jewelry in the evening.
In a World Where…, written, directed, starring and produced by Lake Bell, includes many romcom cliches including mistaken identity, the overlooked love interest, etc., but as a humorous side plot in this tale of a woman fighting to make it in a male-dominated industry.
If the big studios only took the time and effort to make movies that were not so dumbed down in the way they have every movie Kate Hudson and Jennifer Anniston ever starred in, maybe they could draw me back to the multiplex.