Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Romantic Comedies (of Sorts) That I Unabashedly Adore

It is Valentine's Day, so what better way to celebrate than by revisiting the romcom.

Today the genre 'romantic comedy' carries a bit of a bad rep. It is invariably referred to as the 'chick flick.' Most of the time it's mind-absent entertainment, something to see when you don't want to think. The plot is usually formulaic, the laughter is barely there and usually the set and clothing designs matter more than anything else. So it makes me, who's sort of an obnoxiously exclusive filmbuff of sorts, a bit reluctant to admit I have a fair share of rom-com favourites. Or romantic-drama-com. Here is a post-60s list.

A Touch of Class (1973) ~ I saw this one recently, so how well it holds up on multiple viewings is something I can't comment on. It's not really a classic, and is perhaps more known for its blunders than its positives. In particular there's the maligned Glenda Jackson performance - maligned because she won an Oscar for it. And if you ever get a chance to watch a clip of the 1974 Oscars, you'll see the shocked reactions of Ellen Burstyn and Joanne Woodward when the absent Jackson's name is called. So yeah, people won't happy about it even then. '

Another complaint I've heard is that the film can't make up its mind whether to be a comedy or a drama, so it settles for one half of each [hence the new coined term, romantic-drama-com]. Then there are those who disapprove of the film's lack of morality, since it concerns an affair and sort of brushes over the respective families of either lead. Maybe I'm too easily pleased, but I didn't find any of those factors bothering me.

I think the most essential part of a romantic comedy is how well the leads gel. If the spark isn't there, then there's no way the film can take flight. And it was primarily the interesting dynamic between Glenda Jackson's stiff, feminist Englishwoman and George Segal's mildmannered native New Yorker that made me keep watching. It's a clear 'opposites shouldn't attract but somehow do' dynamic. But another factor I think is primary for this genre is the situations. This film had a nice island-esque backdrop during the second-third which was prime for some funny and revelatory situations. Yes there's a drop in the fire-cracking comedy in the second half, but Jackson and Segal make it work.

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) ~ Segal again, this time with Barbra Streisand. This one's an early 7os film that exploits the most it can out of the liberal decade that was. It's a sex farce comedy that was risque for its time, and yet still somehow came out charming. Again I think it's the leads. Segal and Streisand make a great contrast, with her as the kooky screwball-type and him as the stiff-shirt type that learns to relax a little. It's definitely a bit of a 'updated' throwback to the screwball comedy of the 30s and 40s, similar to another Streisand comedy What's Up, Doc?

Irma La Douce ~ This film is a tad overlong for its genre, but other than that I don't have complaints. As far as Wilder-Lemmon-MacLaine combinations go, it's unfair to compare it to The Apartment. If there were such a thing as bar fights between films, certainly the earlier pairing would win. But I have soft spot for Irma La Douce. Sure, it's during Wilder's risque 'I'm trying to keep up with the times' period of filmmaking, which was sort of an inferior time in the director's career, but it's a sweet film. I think it's MacLaine's film all the way with her hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold-turn, but of course Lemmon matches her well.

Georgy Girl (1966) ~ Lynn Redgrave and the mod British ambience around her makes this film well above predictable territory. You think you've pegged her during the film, that what she wants is to be like her roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling). That she wants to be as thin, as beautfiul as her, and to have her boyfriend Jos (Alan Bates). Only she realises that these things aren't as fulfilling as she thought looking from the outside in. It's an interesting rom-com-drama that works well chiefly because of Redgrave's vivacious, spirited, self-depecrating performance. Alan Bates as her would-be lover is the clowning-around, yet sweet when he's earnest, kind of a guy you could entertain having for a fleeting while, just as Georgy did. One thing that sets Georgy Girl away from other romantic-dramatic-comedies is that it's a bit bittersweet. It's not completely sad nor completely fulfilling, so it hangs there in the middle.

Bridget Jones' Diary ~ I see Bridget Jones as being similar to Georgy, just as free-spirited and unconventional. Only Bridget gets her ideal man in a very Pride and Prejudice wish-fulfillment way (after all, it's a sort of modern adaptation of Austen's novel). I've had a bit of an on-again off-again relationship with this film. I spent a long while avoiding seeing it, then when I finally did I loved it, then the second time around I didn't, and now I like it again. It's a standard well-made romantic comedy heralded by a sublime Renee Zellweger performance. Oh and I love Colin Firth. Especially in this. Avoid the sequel like the plague.

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