Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Romantic Comedy: Analyzing the Whole Genre

Is it the genre that is too limited or is it the viewer, whose frame of reference is too narrow? Anyone with screening habits that range beyond the latest multiplex release is probably not a big fan of the so-called “rom-com” in the first place. However, a lot of us still have maybe seen our share of Asian, Bollywood, or even Nollywood rom-coms. There is something universal about the genre, but Elizabeth Sankey chooses to view them through a very Hollywood prism that is obsessed with issues of representation in her documentary-essay Romantic Comedy, which releases today on DVD.

According to her introduction, Sankey had always been a huge fan of the romantic comedy genre, but she found it harder to relate to these films after her marriage. As we know so well, they mostly end with a walk down the aisle or a drive off into the sunset, rather than showing the real work it takes to make marriages and relationships work. That is a fair point, as is the skewering of the creepily obsessive behavior that is passed off as cute and quirky in films like While You Were Sleeping.

However, Sankey and her disembodied chorus of commentators (who speak over the constant montage of clips like the weirdos dissecting The Shining in Room 237) veer bit off base when they complain about the genre’s alleged lack of inclusion. Frankly, they are largely revealing the lack of diversity of their own Netflix queues. There have been plenty of rom-coms featuring predominantly African American casts that were legitimate box office hits, including the Best Man movies, Jumping the Broom, Think Like a Man, Love Jones, and About Last Night (the Kevin Hart remake).

Sankey merely shows a clip from Crazy Rich Asians in passing, while never discussing the media phenomenon it spawned. Admittedly, that was a Hollywood milestone for a film starring and directed by Asian Americans, but plenty of Chinese-language rom-coms have had specialty distribution, like Women Who Flirt and A Wedding Invitation, a pseudo remake of My Best Friend’s Wedding that goes off on its own tragically weepy direction during the third act. Plus, there isn’t even enough room on the internet to scratch the surface of the Bollywood rom-com tradition, which were getting wider distribution throughout the country (at least before the virus hit).

Probably the biggest problem of Sankey’s film is that it devotes very little time to analyze why films like Sleepless in Seattle work so well in the first place. It also makes the mistake of equating the entire film industry with the Hollywood studio system. Any survey film invites “what about this film” responses, but that is especially so in the case of Romantic Comedy. Yet, somehow it is always entertaining to partake of a That’s Entertainment-style buffet of familiar film clips (and kudos for including His Girl Friday, the greatest romantic comedy ever). Earning a decidedly mixed review, Romantic Comedy is now available on DVD and VOD.