Where Did The Romcom Go?
I have a question.
Where did the romcom go, please? Has anyone seen it of late because I seek and ye does not find?
Let’s be honest, the sh*t has hit the fan worldwide recently and it’s not a fan of the kind of cinematic experiences I used to dream of writing as a kid.
I entered this business with the entire goal of being Nora Ephron, a brilliantly smart and funny journalist who wrote herself out of any hole she found herself in with alarmingly proficient flare.
Our Nora moved from journalism (The New York Post), to article collections (Wallflower at the Orgy), to novels (Heartburn), to screenplays (When Harry Met Sally) until she ended up helming her own movies (Sleepless In Seattle).
But, full disclosure, it was her romcoms that I was obsessed with from little girldom. I was definitely quite the grown-up when I believed I was the person to have uncovered Silkwood. Yes, I uncovered it. Not discovered.
I am Karen Silkwood.
When I was a young student of filmmaking, I used to call romcoms my ‘guilty pleasures’ as I wept with unadulterated felicity at the mastery that was The Battleship Potemkin meanwhile secretly dreaming of going home and poring over You’ve Got Mail (1998) in order to compare it with its predecessor, The Shop Around the Corner (1940).
But, let me get this straight, there is nothing to feel guilty about here.
A good smart rom-com is about as guilty as Richard Kimble.
I tell you what a guilty pleasure is :
- Accidentally laughing at Two Broke Girls.
- Tripping an annoying kid up as if it was an accident.
- Wearing jelly shoes in the sea and finding them so comfy that you keep them on to go shopping in later too.
Those pleasures should come with an appetiser of guilt.
Watching and loving Four Weddings and a Funeral is not a guilty pleasure. FFAAF is a bloody masterpiece of innovative storytelling and a masterclass in cutting, witty, and engaging dialogue. It is great entertainment, it’s genuinely romantic, and it’s incredibly satisfying.
It’s just a brilliant piece of screenwriting.
Alright, alright, I’m not pretending I discovered Richard Curtis now like I single-handedly discovered Nora Ephron, I’m just saying that mastering the delicate art of the romcom is as tricky and intricate as learning to write any other genre but is treated as if it’s the creepy uncle inherited with the second marriage.
I went to journalism college as well as a youth – seems I would do anything other than pay tax when I was young. Writing clever, pithy British-trashy-newspaper Sun headlines was far harder than topping a sensible but more informative Guardian story in five words, I tell thee. (Just look no further than the headline on last week’s Scottish Sun – Floppy Johnson Can’t Get An Election. Tell me that’s not great).
What surprises me about its seeming retirement is that the romcom is something we can and have done well in the UK, my country of origin.
Our version of the movie star sits well in this form, the British sense of self-deprecating humour fits the awkward comedy of getting together with your probable soul mate, sublimely.
Bad communication, Chinese whispers (can we still say this?) and misunderstandings, the stalwart of the genre, are in our DNA.
They’ve been around since Shakespeare. Jane Austen loved a miscommunication.
Couldn’t wait for a kerfuffle over a misguided message, her.
Checking off the qualities necessary for the star-crossed lovers to derail their love train, we are hopelessly adept at all of them. Repression, tick, not letting emotions get in the way of progress, tick, speaking only in subtext, tick, stumbling over your words in order to force out something that really needs saying, tick, tick, er….t…t..tick.
Not the right terrain for the genre? Wrong.
The landscape of our country provides everything you require too. Wild, trendy, aspirational, or rambling, cities, countryside, beach, more checkmarks here, please. You do not have to spend too pretty a penny to get to any single one of these locations on our fair isle.
So basically, given a bit of hot casting (throwing in an American for the Brits or a Brit for the Americans seems to directly correlate with the success of the piece, I have noticed. You can have that tip on me and a decent bit of writing, and we should all be quids in here).
WHY ARE WE NOT JUST CHURNING THESE OUT BY THE DOZEN?
There is money to be made right here on our shores from these jocular lovefests.
I can dazzle you with some thoroughly researched facts here to back this up if you don’t believe me:
The most successful romcom ever made is My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).
It cost a mere $5 million and it made…$368 million worldwide.
Now, Notting Hill (1999) the UK’s top grossing romcom, cost a little more upfront (did you not see Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant?) but still managed to take almost $364 million in its lifetime.
You do the math.
No, I’ve done it for you.
It’s still a brilliant return.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018) only came out last year and has already accrued $238 million and I largely went to see that to witness Mr Chow from The Hangover d*cking around in another movie and came out wholly satisfied with the entire peculiar farrago on display.
Your honour, I admit I am guilty of finding great pleasure in the genre whatever you throw at it.
As the crummy weather draws in, I know for a fact that most of my friends – particularly those with teenage daughters – will be trawling the channels on a Sunday afternoon for these types of movies.
So will I.
My cats love them and with a lack of new content, we will watch and re-watch everything from Pillow Talk to The Proposal to sate our cravings.
Now that Netflix has relit the fires by financing I Feel Pretty and Isn’t It Romantic? an ember of hope has ignited in me.
I feel the appetite heating up.
My drawer full of unrequited loves is burning with promise.
It may even fuel a run to the airport with a fistful of scripts and a well-meaningly fumbled proclamation of my intent in my very near future.
With a bit of luck, the humble but deeply necessary romcom will start to be respected again.
I hope we can start to find them in multiplexes and on multi-channels.
And by God, I will find a soulmate in this damn industry if it kills me because I’m just a girl, standing in front of a producer, asking her to fill my world with loves and laughs.
Is that too much to ask?
Nora would want me to.
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2 thoughts on “Where Did The Romcom Go? by Tamzin Rafn”
As a fellow Nora Ephron films (I’m a dude, why do I like these things?), I would argue what we really need today is a romantic comedy where the leads really don’t like each other through most of the movie. Much like “When Harry Met Sally” or the original romcom, “It Happened One Night”, we need a romantic comedy where the main characters don’t figure out that they love each other until the third act when it seems too late. Cue the airport chase…
Perhaps it’s my depressive nature, perhaps it’s the times we live in, but comedy appears to be dead. So let’s cut the comedy and just write the romance. Forget the laughs and go for the tears. Can’t beat a good love story which brings tears to your eyes. The inspiration is out there, from Gone With the Wind and Brief Encounter and The Wind Cannot Read to A Town Like Alice and Love Story and Downton Abbey (there are plenty more I forget). Don’t forget your box of tissues.