[This is an old piece of writing – from 2005 – which was an attempt to write an article for a women’s magazine about why men should like romantic comedies. I never tried to actually send it, but I do like the attempt, which is why I thought I’d post it on my blog.]
“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a guy, asking him to love her.”
That line, from Notting Hill, makes me well up with emotion. Every time I see Julia Roberts in Hugh Grant’s bookshop, encapsulating the essence of a romantic comedy in fourteen words, it causes my eyes to water, a lump in my throat and a smile on my face. I’m a heterosexual man, in a relationship with a woman, who played football until I got too old, has done different martial arts and even if I couldn’t definitively list my favourite films ever, The Godfather, Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs would be high on my list. And yet, I’m not afraid to admit that I love romantic comedies.
My awakening began at the age of 15 when I went to the cinema to see The Sure Thing. It starred John Cusack and was about his journey to the west coast of America to sleep with the ‘sure thing’ of the title, but finds a relationship with a real woman along the way, much to his surprise. As a sensitive teenager myself, with too many hormones and the notion that sexism was offensive, this was a story close to my heart. And the start of my own love affair with the cinematic genre that is romcom.
It is my belief that men enjoy romantic comedies but just don’t want to admit to it. These men will declaim that the films are rubbish, but I think it is due to fear of being seen as ‘gay’ or over-expressing their feminine side, or becoming a New Age Man. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying well-made, funny, emotional entertainment with the added bonus of your girlfriend thinking that you are sensitive and in the mood for love. It’s a win– win situation.
If a man says he doesn’t like When Harry Met Sally…, he’s lying. It’s the best modern romantic comedy, it has some of the best lines in film ever, it’s got a leading man that your girlfriend won’t swoon over, and it has Meg Ryan before the accident with the collagen. What’s not to enjoy? Go ask your man right now if he likes this film. If he gives a funny look or overacts when he says no, then you know he does like it but isn’t ready to admit just yet. If he says yes, probably with a smile on his face, then not only are you with a smart chap who is comfortable with his sexuality and has excellent taste in film, but the two of you are in a good place emotionally, as he feels secure in his relationship with you and believes it’s a keeper.
Also, a man who believes in the magic that romantic comedies attempt to bottle, will believe in that in real life. All good romantic comedies try to capture that feeling of electricity, that special sense of connection, the realisation of something more than biochemical lust, the first never-recaptured sensation of two people realigning their wavelengths to each other’s frequencies. This sensation is so special yet so fleeting, and is not meant to last in a real relationship. However, the sense of it, the memory of it, will always linger and is a touchstone for your love. A top-notch romcom will remind each of you of the manner in which your journey started and why you are still together. It also helps that you get to look at beautiful people being funnier and more poetic than you ever were.
When Harry Met Sally… is both very funny as a comedy and very romantic, which is something that is very hard to do. Ever since the first excellent romcom, It Happened One Night, directed by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable, Hollywood has churned them out, eager to replicate the formula. Boy meets girl, they don’t get along; boy and girl get along but then something gets in the way; boy and girl eventually work things out and live happily ever after. This is why there are always so many to choose from when you both go to the rental shop to pick something for a quiet night in. He would prefer something a bit more actiony, with guns and explosions, while she would like something a little more light and entertaining. Men, don’t be afraid of the romcom; it’s like an aphrodisiac and you can always watch Gun Explosion 3 another time. From You’ve Got Mail, a good choice for the chaps due to its belief that The Godfather is the I Ching of modern male knowledge, to Notting Hill or Four Weddings and a Funeral, the basic tale is the same (which is perhaps why men complain of their routine, a hypocritical complaint when all action films identical), albeit with different people and different jokes, and all enjoyable nonetheless.
There are variations, obviously. Sliding Doors is a little different; you could tell him that the splitting of narrative structure to reflect the duality of relationships is a challenging experiment in cinematic technique if you want him to look at you funny. There’s Sleepless in Seattle, where they don’t meet until the end, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which just throws the formula out the window to create a wonderful film, which is still, essentially, a romantic comedy.
I have to confess that some romcoms go wrong trying to be different in their attempts to play with the formula. You can almost hear the soulless film execs thinking, “What can we do to make this one different? I know, she’ll be a wedding planner!” (Wedding Planner). “I know, he’s from the past!” (Kate & Leopold). “I know, she’s a maid so it’ll be like Cinderella!” (Maid in Manhattan). “I know, she’s scared of commitment, isn’t that wacky?” (Runaway Bride). You get the point. These aren’t the ones to necessarily show your man. Although I personally dislike the term “chick flick”, it can be used to describe romantic comedies that are more woman-centric. Good romcoms should be universal; after all, love is for both sexes, whatever their leaning, although the majority are heterosexual.
If he’s a little resistant, try the disguised romcoms. Disguised romcoms wear a brightly coloured coat from another genre of film so that you don’t think they’re romcoms. There’s Something About Mary may have that scene with the man-made hair gel, but it’s still a sweet love story at heart. Most teen comedies have the gross out elements (and occasional nudity) but they are still romantic at heart, such as American Pie. Then there are the teen comedies that are updates of classic fiction; Clueless reworks Jane Austen’s Emma. She’s All That adapts Pygmalion. Ten Things I Hate About You is a modern take on The Taming of the Shrew, and that Shakespeare chap knew a thing or two about romantic comedy.
Other forms of clever romcoms include The American President, which is The West Wing with jokes (well, more jokes); this isn’t surprising, because they’re both written by the same man, Aaron Sorkin. Or the clever romantic comedies of Woody Allen, such as Annie Hall, or Cameron Crowe’s films, such as Say Anything (and who hasn’t wanted to express their love for a girl by holding a boom box in the air outside her house?), Singles or Jerry Maguire (and what man hasn’t tried to use “You complete me” as a way to a woman’s heart?) Which, I suppose, brings the interest in romantic comedies to a practical purpose: they’re a great place for stealing ideas on how to be romantic.