Cinema is constantly evolving, with the popularity of genres rising and falling with every new release. One source of cinematic entertainment which has remained a solid presence in our movie theatres, however, is the romantic comedy. Somewhat ironically, the genre is amongst the most criticized type of film, with professional ‘critics’ and the ordinary viewer alike often commenting on their predictability and lack of originality. The fact of the matter, however, is that these films have an enduring popularity. Here, we take a look at some of the formats of the romantic comedy, and explore what it is about them that has such a lasting appeal.
The Hate at First Sight Rom-com (H.A.F.S):
One of the most common formats of a romantic comedy is the ‘hate at first sight’ story. Films from as early on in cinema as Bringing Up Baby to the recent Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds movie The Proposal involve a couple who, despite taking an instant dislike to one another find themselves inadvertently stuck together for the majority of the film. Under normal H.A.F.S circumstances, the pair set out on a journey of sorts together, snipe at one another constantly and imagine that there is no one else in the world they would less happily spend time with, while their friends / co-workers / family members observe them and note that they are gradually falling for one another. Just look at animated films like Anastasia – this format appears here too. The end of the film normally sees the pair realising their feelings for one another and ending up together.
The Bad Timing Rom-com:
Another popular option is the ‘it’s not the right time’ format. Look at a film like Serendipity, a classic example of this type of movie. In this type of film, a perfectly matched couple find each other at a completely inopportune time in one or other of their lives, and (usually) spend the rest of the film struggling with their emotions, fighting the desire to drop whatever relationship, job or family situation has resulted in their separation. Once again, the film (normally) ends with the pair throwing caution to the wind to, we assume, live happily ever after together.
The Best Friend Rom-com:
A third example, and one which appears on our screens time and time again is the ‘I’ve just realised I’ve always been in love with my best friend (usually of the opposite sex)’ rom-com. From the obvious My Best Friend’s Wedding to more recent films like Made of Honour or The Switch, this realisation can happen at various points during the movie, but normally occurs just before the half way point, and usually when the aforementioned best friend is either proposed to, gets a job offer in a foreign country or, for some reason or another, creates a distance between them. My Best Friend’s Wedding is unusual in that the pair actually don’t run off into the sunset together, but more generally the same format applies – best friend confesses love, couple kiss and the film often ends with a shot of their engagement party or wedding, cementing the idea that they are meant for each other.
So there are three of the many rom-com formulas which make up one of the most loved and simultaneously hated genres of film. The question, however, is what is it about these films that keeps audiences coming back for more? There is no one solid answer, but one of the most obvious reasons is probably that while some may say predictable is boring, many others would argue that predictable is comforting. There is something inexplicably heart-warming about watching a film that, from the very first second it starts, you know exactly how it will end – the lack of surprises in this type of genre (I’m generalising here since there are of course rom-coms out there which include unexpected twists) is what makes it so easy and enjoyable to watch.
Yes, there are some truly terrible rom-coms out there, but that is true of absolutely every genre of film. While we might not be on the edge of our seats the way we are when watching a horror or thriller film, or intellectually stimulated like we could be by an avant-garde masterpiece, rom-coms, whether we like to admit it or not, are the films that we turn to when we’re looking for reassurance that the world isn’t such a bad place. Financial worries, relationship issues and global problems, just for a second, are all forgotten, as we watch the magic of two people fall in love before our eyes. When two actors have real chemistry, there surely can’t be anything more enjoyable than that? And with laughs to boot, the rom-com, while formulaic, knows its audience, and aims to ensure that, for the hour and a half or so that it lasts, the viewer regains a faith that happy endings really do exist.