Romantic Comedy Rundown

There is no better form of romantic escapism for the single woman than the classic romantic comedy. However cheesy, however redundant, however fairy tale, it always offers some kind of fabricated hope that lasts until the next time a member of the opposite sex inevitably disappoints you. But even the fabricated hope is slipping away, for I’m afraid for we’re losing our favorite therapeutic movie genre. Is it me, or are all romantic comedies released post-millennium far inferior to those released in the 1990s?

Perhaps my taste is becoming more refined as I enter the golden years of my mid-20s, but even looking back in hindsight, those ‘90s romantic comedies were entertaining, original, with the romance and comedy expertly mixed into the script. Nowadays, it seems the genre has become a mass-produced product, the amount of care going into each screenplay dwindling in favor of concentrating more time and resources on the marketing campaign. Witty dialogue, quirky side characters, intriguing chemistry, all gone. In place we’ve got redundant, tired formulas that have been tried before and will undoubtedly be tried again, because if one thing’s for certain, romantic comedies always bring box office returns, no matter how horrendously awful the script.

You may not agree with me. You may even LIKE some of these movies, and if you do, go ahead and write glowingly about them on your blog. Regardless of what you think (and you’re always more than welcome to post a comment here!), I’m interested in finding a way for this dire situation to be improved. The romantic comedy needs to be saved from the suffocating clutches of profit-hungry studio executives who think they have the creative juice to critique a script (WRONG). Love may be a consistently eluding force in my life, but I SAY we should be able to continue enjoying romantic comedies with heart. The ‘90s romantic comedy, although sometimes cheesy, melodramatic, and overly coincidental, never fails to invite empathy and invoke a feeling of comfort. The ‘00s romantic comedies are contrived for marketing purposes. They’re not romantic. They’re not funny. Enough said.

I make fun of my roommate wistfully saying, “It’s magical,” while referring to the love story in Titanic, but in truth, I am just as bad. Really. 90s romantic comedies can reach inside and get me right where it hurts.

Please take this rundown of my favorite 90s and not-so-favorite post-millennium romantic comedies as my feeble effort to channel the enduring spirit of the genre, so that I can write one of my own in hopes that it will be greenlit in time to save a dying breed.

** THE 90s **

The Bachelor – the always loveable Chris O’Donnell, far away from his nerd persona in that Al Pacino blind man Oscar attempt, Scent of a Woman, plays a commitment-phobe who so botches his marriage proposal to Anne (Renee Zellweger in the middle of a long string of successful comedic roles), that she’s not there when he needs her the most, when he must get married by his 30th birthday, or her forfeits his right to his family’s immense fortune. Memorable cameos: Brooke Shields and Mariah Carey.

Sleepless in Seattle – Yeah, I know, you could smell the coffee, the rain, the Hanks-Ryan combo, and the trusty best friend Rosie O’Donnell, from across the country, but that’s what made this one so good. A pathetic, lonely engaged NY woman (Ryan) falls in love with a lonely widower from Seattle(Hanks), who pours his soul out to a radio program. Find out what happens…when she travels all the way across the country to meet him!

Beautiful Girls – The all-time greatest small town homecoming guy movie. Don’t think this is a romantic comedy? Think again. There’s a high school reunion no one goes to. There’s a grown man (Timothy Hutton) exploring the possibility of someday marrying a 13-year-old girl (Natalie Portman). Throw in the neighborhood bar, the snow, and everybody wanting to (and trying to) sleep with Uma Thuman, and you’ve got a timeless reliable presence in the romantic comedy canon. Solid actor parade includes Matt Dillon, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rappaport, and Martha Plimpton. And who could forget that solid pre-out Rosie O’Donnell romp and rant through the convenience store?

While You Were Sleeping – Doesn’t this one make you feel cozy? Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a lonely subway token clerk who has never had a family. On Christmas she saves the man of her dreams (The OC’s Peter Gallagher) from impending death, and when his supportive family arrives at the hospital, she pretends to be his fiancé while his coma protects the safety of her lies. His family embraces her, especially Jack (Bill Pullman), who falls in love with her. Surprisingly funny…just as much comedy as romance. It’s about time Bill Pullman is utilized as a leading man. Bill, what happened after Independence Day? Oh, well. You’ll always have Spaceballs.

Someone Like You – another excellent one that slipped under the radar. Ashley Judd is always winsome, she’s got that Audrey Hepburn thing that doesn’t works so well in those Kiss the Girls murder mystery movies. Hugh Jackman – highly desirable leading man, why he keeps hiding in sci-fi and Meg Ryan time travel movies, I’ll never know. Greg Kinnear is stellar as the not-so-perfect boyfriend. Bonus: this one has a unique, original storyline, a spin on feminist-serial monogamy theory. “Women are like cows…”

Boomerang – Eddie Murphy back when he was EDDIE MUPRHY and Halle Berry before she was HALLE BERRY. They meet at the right time – when she’s on her way up and he’s on his way down, both onscreen and offscreen. Hot soundtrack takes you back to the hot early ‘90s R&B / rap complete with Boyz II Men, P.M. Dawn, Johnny Gill, and a Tribe Called Quest.

Forces of Nature - Sandra Bullock, in a departure from her trusty quirky loser, all of a sudden turns into a wild, irresistible sex goddess who woos Ben Affleck away from his wedding. Who would have thought this would work? It really did, no thanks to Ben.

Walking and Talking – the perfect aimless piece of singlehood analysis. This movie has no point, no plot, and in keeping with predictability, Anne Heche ends up marrying her perfect fiancé, and Catherine Keener ends up with her loser ex-boyfriend. But…before that, Keener gets rightfully dissed and dismissed by the video store store clerk after Heche leaves a message on her machine (after Keener sleeps with him), referring to him as the “ugly video store guy.” Ouch.

Singles – disheveled patchwork time capsule from the post-grunge Seattle era that ended up being less about grunge than relationships. What did it mean to wear holey jeans and a flannel? Who cares as long as the soundtrack sounds good? The love matches of Bridget Fonda-Matt Dillon and Kyra Sedgwick –Campbell Scott were puzzlingly spot-on, and I loved Bill Pullman’s loser plastic surgeon who tries to hit on Fonda when decides not to go through with the boob job.

28 Days – another quality Bullock vehicle. Sandy stars as an alcoholic who gets put in rehab and bonds with the other inmates, particularly a pro baseball player (pre-Aragorn Viggo Mortenson). More comedy than romance, but this one’s a goldmine for mindlessness, especially when you feel like you might be drinking alcohol a little too often.

As Good As It Gets – As good as it gets, indeed. I just love, love, love the part where Jack is trying to write, and Greg Kinnear’s character knocks on his door and tries to tell him off but fails miserably, and then Cuba Gooding tries and Jack backs away like a scared little racist man.

It Could Happen to You – does it get more sweet and simple than this? A cop. A waitress. A lottery ticket. Nic Cage in an endearing performance as the good guy simpleton cop, and my favorite romantic comedy underdog (other than Sandra Bullock), Bridget Fonda as the waitress. Bonus: Rosie Perez reprising her role in White Men Can’t Jump…with a little more greed and faster talking.

Picture Perfect – Jennifer Aniston teamed with a toned down, good guy, completely unfunny Jay Mohr. In a fabled effort to present to herself to her bosses as the “complete package,” professionally successful AND married with family, advertising guru Aniston flies country bumpkin Mohr down to NYC to be her pretend fiancé at a company dinner. Bonus: Kevin Bacon as skeevy co-worker who only finds Aniston attractive when she has a boyfriend.

Honeymoon in Vegas – Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicholas Cage…in comedy. What a team! She’s a brilliant whiner. He’s an even more brilliant loser. Together they’re golden. Add James Caan. This big winner definitely bucks the odds.

Swingers – Ah, I almost forget this one. I live dangerously close to the Dresden Room, the Los Feliz Golf Course, and the Derby…and Vegas. How could I almost forget Swingers? Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Heather Graham, and Vince Vaughn. This movie has been so grossly overplayed, over-quoted, and over-referenced that I won’t go there, but…how could I almost forget Swingers?

Me, Myself, and Irene – the comedic team of Renee Zellweger and Jim Carrey was sorely underrated. She could actually dish it back to him…and nobody did that except for Courtney Love in Man in the Moon. Those fat genius triplets. And the greatest Farrelly Brothers gross-out edit ever = the Jim Carrey “Hank” character squats down to take a shit on his neighbor’s lawn, and CUT! to chocolate soft serve ice cream oozing out of the machine. Pure, unadulterated raunch.

There’s Something About Mary – The romance is low, and the comedy is high, but there’s definitely something about the chemistry between Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz. Not even Farve can compare. All Farrelly gross-outs aside, the quirky side characters in this film are priceless, especially Magda, Warren, and his baseball.

French Kiss – I’m sure everyone was surprised by the fact that Kevin Kline’s fake French accent derelict could make jilted Meg Ryan fall in love with him while she searched France for her long lost fiancé (Timothy Hutton). But the buildup to romance was so engaging and their bond was so strong by the climax that you couldn’t help but believe in it. Hot moment: when they’re staying on the Riviera and they have to share a hotel room. Ryan gets in bed, watches Kline as he comes really close to her, grabs her other pillow, and proceeds to undress and lie down on the couch across from her. Another good part: Ryan is spying on her fiancé and his new girlfriend, and suddenly she knocks the dessert try over on herself, then scurries away on all fours before he discovers her, leaving a trail of whipped cream in her tracks.

Notting Hill – Ah, the male Cinderella story, pulled off magically with the expert acting chops of two pros. Bumbling travel bookseller (can there be a better job for his character??) Hugh Grant meets and falls for a beautiful, insanely famous American movie star (Julia Roberts, in an accurate portrayal of herself). Although the chemistry is a bit awkward after the first (and only) sex scene, you’ve got to give it to the screenwriters for just going for this story, because no matter how preposterous, it makes perfectly good sense given the two lead actors (who can play these types in their sleep) and the mad London paparazzi.

The Wedding Singer – Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler) is a nice guy, small town 80s wannabe rock star-turned wedding singer who gets stilted at his own wedding. As engaged sweetie Julia (Drew Barrymore) helps him get over it, they form a special bond and fall in love. Special props to the Bar Mitzvah scene, the 80s soundtrack, and a host of quirky, offbeat characters…Robbie’s limo driver best friend (“Do you think the glove is too much?”), Jon Lovitz as the rival wedding singer, Julia’s Madonna wannabe sister, and old guy at the bar, and Robbie’s Boy George-loving keyboardist.

Four Weddings and a Funeral – the pinnacle of British romantic comedy before it started on its downward trajectory towards Love Actually. Put Hugh Grant on the map. Amusing, bemusing, hilarious, and above all else, totally and completely honest in its intentions. Never before has marriage been so unattractive in a romantic comedy; here we take it for what it’s worth. The best part of the movie: the second wedding. Hugh Grant’s character is unfortunately seated at a table with all of his ex-girlfriends. He escapes, only to get himself locked in a room with the married couple jumping the gun on the wedding night. The romance is confined to one-night stands, but there’s enough comedy to call this one golden.

Sliding Doors – Gwenyth Paltrow in double roles in this fine British comedy about what our life could look like with one small altercation. Thought provoking, puzzling, but the ending will have you scratching your head and really worrying about every single decision you make for about thirty minutes until you just say fuck it and live.

The Family Man – You probably didn’t see this. Join the club. No one did. It’s a warm and fuzzy Christmas movie that was tragically overlooked when it was quietly released among the gargantuan Oscar arsenal for that year. Nicholas Cage stars as a busy executive who wakes up on Christmas morning to find that he made a different decision about whether to stay with his college sweetheart (Tea Leoni) years ago…and now he finds that he’s a tire salesman with a family living in New Jersey. Great modern romantic comedy with a real character arc that might stay with you after the holidays.

You’ve Got Mail – This is not a movie. It’s a business transaction. First, Meg Ryan + Tom Hanks = $$. But it doesn’t stop there. Ryan plays a small indie bookshop owner threatened by Hanks’ big book chain, which is moving in around the corner. Add in product placement galore. The title, “You’ve Got Mail,” affectionately refers to America Online, which is how Ryan and Hanks’ characters meet and fall in love. Other corporations banking off this movie are Starbucks and Barnes and Noble (since Hanks’ chain is a replica). When Ryan and Hanks merge at the end, you can’t help but fear it’s the beginning of a long goodbye to small independent businesses.

Hope Floats – Former beauty queen Sandy Bullock returns home to live with her taxidermist mother in Small Town, USA after being gypped by her high school sweetheart husband on daytime TV. She works in the photo processing shop, her daughter thinks she’s pathetic, but never fear…along comes my favorite dreamboat, Harry Chronic Jr., who is totally hot and despite Sandy’s attempts to cool him off, keeps up the persistence and gets her to come around in the end. Now that’s my kind of leading man. Not as good as Pullman, but sure close.

Never Been Kissed – Former high school drip Drew Barrymore goes undercover reporter at her old high school, falls in love with her teacher (Alias’ Michael Vartan), and finds out what it really means to be cool. David Arquette steals every scene because he actually IS cool, especially when he dresses up like Tom Cruise in Risky Business for the Prom. Best scene: Drew goes to a reggae show to hang with the popular clique but ends up in the Rastafarian circle, gets ridiculously high, makes a fool out of herself, and wakes up with the word LOSER inked on her forehead from falling asleep on the back of her hand, only she doesn’t realize it until she’s already walked down the hall of shame. “Oh my God. Loser!”

**INTERMISSION**

Special Teen Movie Section – it must be noted that, beginning in the late ‘90s, there was a movement within the genre to skew romantic comedies younger to bank off tween and teen viewers and get back to the genres 80s heyday, which generated classics like Sixteen Candles, Better Off Dead, Just One of the Guys, and Can’t Buy Me Love. This current trend, which shows no signs of abating, has spawned such films as Can’t Hardly Wait, 10 Things I Hate About You, Drive Me Crazy, Clueless, The Cinderella Story, Chasing Liberty, She’s All That, Girl Next Door, and a host of others. Although I enjoy the high brow high school romantic comedy as much as the next adult (which isn’t saying much, although there is a special place in my heart for Can’t Hardly Wait, which came out the same year I graduated from high school), I feel that a rundown of this subgenre is better left to someone with a little more knowledge and appreciation.

** POST-MILLENNIUM**

Alex and Emma – snore…snore…I saw like 10 minutes and I just had to turn it off. I think this was a remake of a much better older movie. Snore. Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson. The pairing stinks of CAA carelessly throwing their top rising star clients in a hack job remake.

Jersey Girl – I don’t care how many times you’ve seen Clerks. Think Mallrats is the best movie ever (really)? Chasing Amy your idea of a witty, thought-provoking, groundbreaking lesbian cinema? Could you even stomach Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back? Really? Okay. Great. Don’t see this movie. I’m warning you. There is one good part, it lasts two minutes, and George Carlin is not even in it. That’s how bad this movie is.

The Wedding Planner – let’s not go here. Actually, never mind, let’s go. This was the first romantic comedy that made me seriously re-think the genre. And it wasn’t Jennifer Lopez. It was the atrocious writing of this movie. Sadly, this kind of writing has progressed from exception to rule.

Maid in Manhattan – after The Wedding Planner, I just couldn’t do it. Especially since…Ralph Fiennes + Jennifer Lopez = I don’t want to know.

Serendipity (This might have been pre-millennium) – Okay, so John Cusack hasn’t worked in awhile. He doesn’t really need the money…he just needs something to keep from going crazy until Runaway Jury starts filming. Why not stick him in a tired, over-coincidental romantic comedy and watch it sell, even if you can tell he’s not even trying anymore? Sigh. Where is Lloyd Dobler when we need him?

Runaway Bride (This also might have been pre-millennium) – I didn’t see this. But it was supposed to bank off the success of Pretty Woman. Guess what? It did. Did it have to be good? Not really. Maybe it was. I didn’t see it.

Brown Sugar - Dre (music producer) and Sydney (music journalist) have accumulated an intricate lifelong friendship rooted in hip hop music, and even when they're lead astray by a bad marriage (Dre) and a rich, tall handsome professional basketball player (Sidney), will they lose sight of what really matters? Supporting play from Queen Latifah and Mos Def, who actually generate some suprisingly hot onscreen chemistry.

Sweet Home Alabama – To think I thought this movie would be as bad as The Wedding Planner. How wrong of me to assume? After all, Patrick Dempsey (Can’t Buy Me Love) is in it, as well as Josh Lucas, hands down the best looking leading man to grace a post-millennium romantic comedy. Rounding out the bunch playing a gay hick on a plantation is Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait) and Murphy “Bergen” Brown. Oh, yeah. And Reese Witherspoon rounds out the cast, playing a fashion designer who goes home to Sweet Home Alabama to divorce her loser husband (Lucas) in order to marry her politician fiancé (Dempsey).

Love Actually – Actually, the worst, most overdone, overzealous British attempt to remake seven of the worst romantic comedies…all at one busy, mismanaged intersection…all at Christmas. By the end of the film, you want to slap Liam Neeson’s kid, and you want to seriously rethink the respect you had for the careers of Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, that hilarious guy on The Office (now what was HE thinking?), Hugh Grant, etc. (The Only) Best part: Billy Bob Thorton’s deadpan portrayal of the President of the United States, a combination of Clinton and W. Bush, if that’s possible.

Bridget Jones’ Diary – Was anyone else thoroughly entertained by the fight scene between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth? And Bridget getting totally wasted by herself?

What Women Want – Helen Hunt + Mel Gibson = 30 below zero, icy, chilly. The lack of chemistry is definitely redeemed by the sight of Mel Gibson waxing himself. Now THAT’S Passion.

Kate and Leopold – Romantic comedies don’t really work when there is time travel involved. Even Meg Ryan can’t save it when it gets that bad.

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days – I did not see it. Although this is one of the post-millennium romantic comedies I would like to see, if for no other reason, to find out if Matthew McConaughey can redeem himself after appearing in The Wedding Planner.

Gilgi – I did not see it. I think that’s supposed to be some kind of a statement. Apparently, you’re not supposed to admit you’ve seen this movie or you’ll be shrouded and suffocated with shame. But no, sorry, I really have not seen it.

Legally Blonde – Did anybody else think the idea for this movie, and the way it was carried out, was very boring, trite, and stupid? Even when I try to “laugh with” the movie, I can’t pretend that I don’t really care about girls like Elle in the first place because they think the world revolves around them. Election is a much better selection for loving to hate Reese Witherspoon, and crashing Rush Week at Syracuse University is a much better way to mock spoiled sorority bimbos.

Legally Blonde: Red, White, & Blonde – did not see it.

The Prince and Me- Double ugh. Come on, I can feel like I’m being targeting and bought. You can do better than that, Hollywood. You’ve really gotta sell me on crap like this. The Princess Diaries meets College TV. I feel like I’m watching back-to-back episodes of the sorely disappointing Dawson’s Creek: the College Years, the one where Katie Holmes’ Joey meets a real Prince from Finland and is whisked away, only to realize her lifelong dream of not doing movies that Julia Stiles would do.

Uptown Girls, Little Black Book – Somehow, I haven’t tried the Brittany Murphy flavor in a romantic comedy. Are these movies any good?

Along Came Polly – I heard there was a ferret in this movie. Ferrets give me the chills. And honestly, I didn’t buy the Aniston-Stiller combo…felt like I was being set up to walk away or turn it off halfway through.

13 Going on 30 – I read the pre-shooting script knowing exactly what it was going to say. I knew it wasn’t going to try too hard. I knew it was going to try to bank off the 80s. I knew it was a Jennifer Garner vehicle. Knowing all that, it’s hard to blown away by a product that fulfills all your expectations.

Raising Helen – I think I saw the first 30 minutes, up until the part when Wild, City Girl Sister Helen (Kate Hudson) gets stuck with the dead sister’s kids instead of Professional Mom Sister (Joan Cusack). Then I rejoined the fun, like, you know, an hour later. Sure enough, she had the kids under control and had learned a lesson about her own life. As I watched everybody all happy at the end walking along the river, I thought to myself, I really didn’t miss anything, did I?

Mona Lisa Smile – I know this is technically not a romantic comedy, but it has the markings of a bad post-millennium bomb all over it. Julia Roberts inspires a 50s college full of all the hot young actresses of tomorrow about art and how, if it’s mixed with way too much marketing, can move smart women to go see an absolutely atrocious film in the theater. Yes, I saw it in the theater. That marketing! It totally ate fools like my mom and me for breakfast.

Something’s Gotta Give – Alright, I get it. There’s a trend. Older men like Jack Nicholson date younger women. Older men = horny. Younger women = money/power. But when Diane Keaton is naked and vulnerable, she can reverse the trend by getting with Keanu Reeves. Take THAT, Jack. Well, you’ll see what happens. Predictability. And the only heat between Jack and Diane = the sheer proximity of their ages.

Amelie – the ultimate modern romantic comedy. Whimsical, quirky, innovative, overly stylized, coincidental. This winsome but unlucky heroine takes you on a sad yet hilarious, lighthearted yet touching, cynical yet romantic journey that ends right where you want her to be. If the romantic comedy genre miraculously survives this decade, it will be films like this that will ensure its survival. So we’d better be nice to the French!

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