They’re not really my thing per se, but circumstances have contrived themselves to mean that I am currently trying to write a romance…potentially with some comedy as well.
They say that when you write a film, you should try and watch every relevant film in your chosen genre before you start, but in trying to find out what makes them tick, I remembered that some of the greatest romantic comedies of all time have completely slipped under my radar. Very embarrassing!
Tthis needed changing, so for my writing week at home in Herefordshire, I decided to spend my time: 80% writing, 20% watching. I dutifully looked up the top ten rom-coms of all time and picked a handful, which I will now try to think about (in brief). I’m not saying these are the best, nor that these are my exhaustive thoughts - they’re just the ones I happened to watch and the most I could be bothered to write:
Annie Hall (1977)
Interesting: Woody Allen’s seemingly pioneering use of the medium. Especially watching the birth of the the now-ubiquitous non-linearity found in a lot of modern romances. Where once a romance story arc consisted of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’, we now get something along the lines of ‘boy and girl break up, boy recounts long and self-flagellating story about how we got to this scenario, we flit backwards and forwards in time for a bit, boy gets/loses girl in the end…in the present’. Here’s looking at you (500) Days of Summer.
Not interesting: Despite the name…it’s mostly about him. A shame considering Diane Keaton’s endless charm and brilliance, she seems to serve mostly as a device for his (albeit excellent) jokes.
City Lights (1931)
Interesting: Widely touted as being among the greatest films of all time, and certainly in many great directors’ top ten favourite films (Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick to name two) it is certainly among the top ten films of all time. It’s not hard to see why audiences loved it. The hilarity of the jokes and the simplicity of the plot is almost the perfect combination for a popular romantic comedy. The final scene is DEFINITELY worth every penny spent, which I gather was quite a lot.
Not interesting: Call me a modern day Philistine but, while the music is wonderful and some of the jokes were amusing, I’m glad the era of silent pantomimes and slapstick had its day when it did.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (2004)
Interesting: Definitely one of the most ‘concept’ rom-coms out there. In fact, scratch that, it’s not a rom-com at all - just a classically weird, mind-bending Charlie Kaufman romance. A blend of intrigue, psychology, love, hate, intelligence. confusion, surrealism all tied together by a host of incredible performances.
A unique and brilliant take on a simple hypothetical question - if you could completely forget a terrible relationship, would you?
Not Interesting: Definitely needed for the ultimate end game, but definitely a weaker B-plot concerning the super-unprofessional staff administering the procedure.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Interesting: Leapfrogging straight into my top 3 rom-coms of all time, this film has got everything going for it. It’s got a fabulous debut from the perfectly-cast Audrey Hepburn as the glamorous, fictional Princess Ann. This film has definitely inspired many of the rom-com tropes we see today. In fact, Notting Hill, is basically an shameless
Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s black and white - this film has more vibrancy and life than many made today. Definitely my favourite on this list.
Not interesting: Gregory Peck’s character is a little sleazy at times, but definitely easy to overlook.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Interesting: There was a time when Adam Sandler was Public Enemy #1 in any rational movie-goer’s mind. He was annoying, brash, silly and his films seemed purposefully rubbish. This film completely and utterly wipes the slate clean - Sandler excels himself by displaying some woefully underused depths.
Paul Thomas Anderson performs an incredible trick with this film. Through extreme psychological intimacy and truly multi sensory mastery of the medium, he manages to make the audience empathise with a volatile, violent and socially maladjusted man. It is a film that cannot be described other than as one you just have to watch.
Not interesting: I was misled again. This is definitely not a rom-com.
The Big Sick (2017)
Interesting: Perhaps I am not alone in finding a special affinity with this film given my own recent experiences with families and hospitals, but I found this film hilarious, poignant and wonderfully insightful. The jokes are funny (mostly), the pacing is about right and it maintains a constant feel-good undercurrent throughout - an essential trait in a modern rom-com.
Blake Snyder says that there is no such things a romance, simply a ‘buddy love’ movie. It can happen between two guys, two girls, two animals, or two institutions, whatever - in Big Sick, the girl’s in a coma for most of the film - unorthodox for a rom-com perhaps. instead it’s the relationship between a boyfriend and his girlfriend’s family that is the overarching conflict and resolution thread, and it works excellently. This is not cinematically ground-breaking or trend-setting but gentle, charming, bittersweet and funny.
Not interesting: Yet another reminder of the catastrophe that is the American healthcare system. Also, some of the jokes are a bit weak, but hey, I’ll let them slide.
Philadelphia Story (1940)
Interesting: Katherine' Hepburn’s fearsome snarl and James Stewart’s drunkenness.
Not interesting: This film is a bit of a predictable snore-fest. I’m not quite sure why it is on the top ten list, perhaps because it’s a little funny at times, but realistically it’s not that interesting. The characters are weak, Carey Grant can’t act, the plot isn’t interesting and the journalistic skulduggery backstory is pointless. It’s vaguely entertaining, and has some interesting things to say about the idle rich, but perhaps give it a miss.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Interesting: Finally…I’ve watched the movie that surrounds ‘that’ scene - and it doesn’t even make sense in context. Either way, the film is a classic that has clearly inspired numerous others (here’s looking at you Four Weddings). It’s also very nice to see Carrie Fisher when not dressed in robes spouting nonsense. She potentially runs the risk of stealing the show, but that would be impossible next to Meg Ryan (and her four relentlessly 80s hairstyles). She definitely makes this film. Perhaps a petition to rename it when Sally met Harry…?
Not interesting: The whole film centres on the question of can a man and women really be ‘just friends’. The answer, it seems, is no. That doesn’t bode well for IRL human friendships…does it?