Romantic Comedy was always one of those genres I avoided through my teens and early twenties. Being a Goth, I was way too cool for boy-meets-girl and besides which, by 18 I was a total cynic: I had after all been the girl who’d met the boy, then got knocked up and ripped off by him! I’d been left with a broken heart, a wailing baby and a man-hating attitude problem for approximately five years, plus the suspicion post-FOUR WEDDINGS in the late 90’s/early noughties that all Rom-Coms had Hugh Grant in.
Then something strange happened.
Rom Coms started to get good and I actually started to fancy Hugh Grant. My mother (who’s always fancied Hugh Grant to my memory) tells me this is nothing to do with the actual Rom Coms, but the fact I am now OVER TWENTY FIVE (ugh).
Those of us OVER TWENTY FIVE (which apparently should always be in caps) have a number of afflictions apparently; these include the Hugh Grant fixation, but also reminiscing DR WHO was better when its antagonists were made of cardboard instead of CGI, knowing all the words to R Whites’ “I’m a secret lemonade drinker” and thinking RIDE OF THE VALYKRIES is actually the theme tune to “Kill The Rabbit”.
But I digress …
Rom Com has always been one of those genres that has never gone away. Horror might have been big for the last couple of years, but already I’ve seen postings on various sites from producers saying “we are NOT looking for slashers or werewolves or vampires” etc etc. Thrillers can be seen as very expensive and not everyone likes depressing dramas Ken Loach-style.
In contrast then, Rom Com is one of those genres that not only for the most part can attract a large audience, it can be made to fit a low budget too – after all, there are relatively few explosions or vampires in your average Rom Com (though Just Friends does admittedly have a great pyrotechnic moment when Ryan Reynolds’ weirdo Rock Star Companion drives away with the Xmas lights attached to the back of her car).
But that’s the beauty of Rom Com I’ve come to realise over the years – literally anything can go into it. I avoided The 40 Year Old Virgin because I thought it would be like American Pie (hated that film!). When I eventually did watch it (because of Billy Mernit’s site’s praise), I thought it was hilarious, salacious and poignant, quite a combination. Equally, Just Friends I thought was amusing and sharp, with some great slapstick and farcical moments.
Rom Com’s inevitability is its strength.
What I ridiculed before I now admire: after all, we KNOW boy will meet girl, lose girl, have to impress girl and eventually get girl, but how many different ways can it be done?
Looking on any video store shelf, the answer is LOTS OF WAYS! Some of them not so good, some of them okay, some of them fantastic. Those in that latter category have one thing in common: they share that inevitability, but present it in such a fashion the audience a) have never seen before and b) are kept guessing as to how that common framework is going to pan out.
Billy Mernit is of the opinion there is that “something extra” that keeps the good Rom Coms going in addition to boy-meets-girl and I agree. Now he’s the expert on the good ones as far as I’m concerned, but as a reader I’ve seen some royally bad Rom Coms over the years. So, in my humble opinion, what makes a bad Rom Com? Since a lot of you are writing ’em, I thought another of my lists was in order, just in case you recognise any of these…
1. The “Mistaken Identity” Rom Com
When the plot hinges on, guess what, a case of mistaken identity. This usually means the story revolves entirely around the protagonist pretending to be a different colour or race and painting themselves (which no one else in the movie notices), only to have a bucket of water splashed over them at the end. OMFG.
2. The “World’s A Tragic Place” Rom Com
This is when cynics (like I was!) try and write Rom Coms. Boy might meet girl but no one gets together at the end, or if they do it’s to someone supposedly unexpected or someone who suddenly appears out of nowhere. Ultimately dissatisfying.
3. The “I’ve Forgotten What Genre I’m In” Rom Com
I’ve read several of these where the action starts off well in terms of Rom Com, but it becomes a melodrama halfway through usually because someone dies – I can only imagine the writers were attempting to mirror Simon Callow’s exit in Four Weddings.
4. The “Everyone Is Doing It” Rom Com
This is the Rom Com where everyone is having sex. All the time. Fun, but plotless for the most part. Rom Coms are not porno, remember!
5. The “Coming of Age/ Rom Com Hybrid”
Hate, hate, HATE these. This is when the heroine is approximately 18-22 years old, inexperienced and beautiful and catches the eye of a wealthy businessman/doctor/rock star. Also known as THE MILLS AND BOON Rom Com, principally ‘cos of its lack of humour and obsession with clothes and how the heroine looks.
6. The “I’m Trying To Re-Write When Harry Met Sally* Rom Com
Nuff said. Also Sleepless In Seattle, Four Weddings, Notting Hill, etc.
7. The “I’m Trying To Break The Mould” Rom Com
Yes, anything can go into a Rom Com, but you gotta do it in a plausible, less try-hard way. Rom Coms in the future with little frog aliens that live up somebody’s nose don’t usually float readers’ boats. We like that sense of inevitability with humans to relate to.
And finally, my ultimate fave (not):
8. The Rom Com Where Nothing Much Happens
Does boy meet girl? Yes, sort of – usually in an office or lift. What do they do?He phones her, asks her out – she says no. Then what? They go to work and she goes out with somebody else. Why? No idea. Hilarious consequences ensue (not really), then girl changes her mind and goes out with boy. Phew. What a ride.
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