Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Romantic Comedy List

First, a little housekeeping. I forgot to mention that I made a few updates to my web site over the weekend. I've added the German cover and release info for Enchanted, Inc. and the Dutch cover and release info for Once Upon Stilettos, as well as the film and book three info that y'all already know from reading this. I made a few tweaks to the FAQ to reflect recent developments. I also just learned that the Japanese publisher has made an offer to buy Once Upon Stilettos because they seem to be getting good responses from their sales reps for Enchanted, Inc. I'm feeling very international.

Now for the topic of the day. I think I developed my recent romantic comedy craving thanks to a seminar I went to at the RWA conference. It was given by screenwriting guru Michael Hauge, and he managed to nail some of the reasons I like and don't like various romantic comedies. The thing that really stuck with me was when he said that the main problem he sees in most romantic comedies is that there's no reason for the hero and heroine to be together, other than that they're both reasonably attractive people and happen to be in the same movie. That's one of my biggest problems with both movies and books. You see the big scene near the end when one of the characters has go to through all kinds of hell and humiliation in order to win back the other person, and I find myself wondering why he/she is bothering because I don't feel like it would be a huge tragedy if they didn't work things out.

As if to illustrate this problem, someone immediately piped up with a question, asking if he didn't perhaps mean that the problem was that there was no reason for the couple NOT to get together. In writing for both book and screen, we tend to focus on the conflict because that's where much of the story comes from. But I think sometimes we get so focused on coming up with a conflict that will keep the characters apart until the happy ending that we forget to think about why they should be together, why this conflict is a bad thing for the characters, no matter how good it is for the audience.

This workshop then got me in the mood to watch some romantic comedies and test the theories in my head. What I want in a romantic comedy is a hero and heroine I actually like -- preferably where I can fall in love with him but still not mind him being with her. I want to feel like it would be a tragedy if these two people don't get together instead of wanting to tell one of them to run while he/she (usually he because too often they make the woman a raging bitch) still can. I want a few moments that make me laugh out loud, some witty dialogue worth quoting, and maybe a tear or two at the end. Above all, I want that little sigh at the end, that moment where I find myself wishing that something like this could happen for me. I'm not a big fan of more dramatic, non-funny romantic movies. It's probably because I tend to use humor as my own defense mechanism, but still, straight-out love stories usually leave me cold. The only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are Shadowlands, which I actually loved more because of the theological implications than because of the love story (and it does have its funny moments. We were dealing with CS Lewis there), and Casablanca, and you'll get some of my views on that movie (filtered through Owen's perspective) in Damsel Under Stress (unless that part gets edited out -- and if it does, it will go on the web site eventually).

So, here's my list of favorite romantic comedies, the movies I've probably seen too many times. That's why I want to find new ones, because I don't want to risk wearing these out:
When Harry Met Sally -- I was always "one of the guys" with lots of male friends, so my favorite romantic fantasy was having one of those friends (one I had a crush on) finally notice me. It's no longer such a fun fantasy because the reality is a lot more difficult, but I still LOVE the movie.
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Sliding Doors -- my favorite movie for when I'm really low because the parallel storylines mean I don't get depressed about my life not being like the romance in the movie.
While You Were Sleeping -- one of my standard Christmas/New Years movies
Bridget Jones's Diary (but not so much the sequel)
Love Actually -- a must-watch around Christmas
It Happened One Night
Office Space
Bringing Up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
The Princess Bride
Before Sunrise (but the sequel kind of ruined this for me, as I liked the ambiguity of this ending and finding out what really happened was depressing)
Pride and Prejudice (the miniseries)
Sense and Sensibility
Shakespeare in Love
A Room With a View
Cold Comfort Farm
I Capture the Castle
Much Ado About Nothing
Ever After

Movies I do like, but have issues with. Some of these are generally beloved, but aren't necessarily my favorites for various reasons:
Four Weddings and a Funeral -- I love most of this movie. I love almost all of the cast/characters. It just suffers (for me) from that problem of why the main couple should be together. Maybe it's because Andie McDowell was so blah that she sucked the life out of every scene she was in. Maybe a different actress in that part would have made a difference, but I felt like that character had to be someone you could understand him getting hung up over to the extent that he was, in spite of the way she generally used him and strung him along. Plus, maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I find the "will you not marry me for the rest of our lives" ending to be very unsatisfying. I keep wanting him to hook up with Fiona and realize that this girl he was chasing was only an excuse for his fears of intimacy that he then had to face.
Notting Hill -- again, almost the exact same problem (possibly aggravated by my aversion to Julia Roberts). I could see why she'd want to be with him, but I never understood what he got out of it, other than her being a movie star. She treats him like dirt, and then he's the one who has to go to extremes to get her back? But I love the rest of the ensemble and the London setting. I just have that "run while you still can!" reaction to the ending.
The Truth About Cats and Dogs -- my issue with this one is motivation. All we needed was to see Abby being rejected because of her appearance before she forces her neighbor to pose as her. That's a pretty extreme thing to do, to make someone else go on a date with the guy you like, and extreme actions require extreme motivations. If he'd reject you on sight after connecting on the phone, would you really want him? Just one bad rejection scene, maybe during the opening credits, might have shown why she really expected men to react that way. I still own this one, and I like a lot about it. I just want to rewrite it.
You've Got Mail -- on one level, this one works for me, but then Meg Ryan gets into a snit and it bugs me. They also get to the happy ending by switching her goal without laying the groundwork for it.
Kate and Leopold -- again, Meg Ryan just bugs, and they change her goal without laying the groundwork. But Hugh Jackman overcomes all other ills. I love the dating advice he gives the brother.

Quirkier favorites that I'm afraid I might not like as much if I saw them more often. It was their novelty that got me in the first place. For the most part, I stumbled over them on independent stations or cable on weekend afternoons, and was pleasantly surprised:
The Very Thought of You -- does fascinating things with point of view.
I'm With Lucy -- interesting structure that lends suspense to the standard romantic comedy story.
A Life Less Ordinary -- Ewan McGregor in a karaoke bar. Need I say more? Weird little movie I saw once on TV, but I'm curious as to how the whole thing holds together without editing or commercial breaks.
Mrs. Winterbourne -- has its problems, but the tango in the kitchen is fabulous, and Brendan Fraser should do more romantic comedies.
Down With Love -- silly, but tons of fun, especially if you know how publishing really works in the real world.
Little Voice -- the romance is more of a subplot, but it's such a sweet subplot.

Hmm, Ewan McGregor is on this list a lot. I'd love to see what he could do in a more straightforward, but still well-written, romantic comedy that didn't rely on weird quirks or gimmicks to set it apart. Well, a musical number or two, maybe, would be okay, of course. :-)

Recent movies I don't necessarily have sorted into categories yet:
Must Love Dogs -- okay, I guess. Kind of meh. The book was much better, and in the book, the main romantic relationship was just a subplot while the movie's standard-issue gay best friend character was a married woman in the book.
Just Like Heaven -- I liked this one because I could really see how the characters connected, and yet there was a valid reason for them not being together. I plan to buy the DVD.
The Wedding Date -- No, just no. Totally trashed a good book by changing who the hero was (in the book, he wasn't actually a real gigolo) and changing the heroine's motivation to make her insecure and needy. Ugh. Plus, Debra Messing bugs me.
Elizabethtown -- suffers the same kind of pacing and "I don't know where to end this" problems as other Cameron Crowe movies, but I really liked the relationship. I found myself wanting to be the Kirsten Dunst character. Not because she got with Orlando Bloom (he does very little for me) but because I'd love to be that kind of person, so warm and vivacious that the life just oozes out of every pore and can't help but affect everyone around you. Another one I plan to get on DVD.

There are other movies often classed as romantic comedies that don't work that way for me. For instance, Sleepless in Seattle strikes me as more the story of the little boy and his father than as anything romantic. Likewise, About a Boy seems to be more about the "coming of age" of the main character than about the romance (though I loved both book and movie). My Best Friend's Wedding also isn't really a romance, since it's about Julia Roberts trying to break up the wedding and isn't about falling in love.

And I know that the moment I post this, I'll think of more.


Karin said...

Since you put some of my absolute favorite movies on your favorites list, I'm going to have to add the ones I've not seen to my Netflix queue! Thanks for the recommendations. :)

Reel Fanatic said...

Great list .. I hadn't thought of "Office Space" as a romantic comedy, but I guess in a way it is .. and it certainly is one I've seen way too many times ... With "Elizabethtown," however, I didn't like that one at all, mostly for the reasons you mentioned but also because I simply didn't like either of the lead characters