Breaking Down a Genre: Romantic Comedies
Romantic comedies are notorious for portraying a picture-perfect romance, where any obstacles will ultimately be resolved through the power of love. Which is why this genre often have a fairy-tale like essence about them. As it’s often marketed towards a female audience, the genre earned the moniker “chick flick”.
In the 20th century, Hollywood romcoms became the purveyors of true love romances as they produce films that explore the various codes of behaviours and rituals of different cultures and time periods when its comes to courtship. Thereby, viewing the romcoms of various decades can enlighten the changes in discourse about romantic relationships.
The Rom-Com Formula
The plot of romantic comedies are fairly basic and straightforward. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they fight and separate momentarily, then either boy or girl wins the other, usually with a grand gesture. The simplest way to lay out a rom-com screenplay is as follows:
- Introducing the Boy and the Girl: we get a glimpse of the protagonist and his or her love interest in their own private lives.
- The “Meet-Cute”: Here is when Boy finally meets Girl in a serendipitous and memorable manner.
- Love Grows: The couple falls deeper in love with each other. Usually the part were a montage plays.
- The Turn: A conflict or obstacle arises that threatens to break up the couple.
- The (Temporary) Break-up: their differences successfully separate the couple but only for awhile
- Happily ever after: Couple overcomes their differences, resolve their issues, realise that their true love lies within one another, a sort of grand gesture is performed. Film concludes with a fairytale ending.
The Genre Timeline
While some cinematic genres eventually go extinct over time, most, cinematic genres often go through a cyclical pattern of decline and renewal. Romcoms are one of those genres that falls into the latter. Here’s an overview of the evolution of romantic comedies.
Common Characteristics of a Rom-Com
Characters — The Usually Polar Opposite Protagonists
When two characters seem to never get along, it usually means something fishy is going on. They possess opposite personalities, and before getting together, the pair often get into unreasonable arguments.
Characters — The Best Friend(s)
There’s always a (few) best friend(s) helping the relationship work out, acting as the “wise old man” of the plot. They advise and provide moral support to make up the protagonists’ relationship, and take up the role of inducing comic relief at times of tension.
Plot — The Contrived Encounter(s) (the “meet cute”)
The protagonists often get together in the most random, unusual and overly comical occasions in the first 10–20 minutes of the film.
Plot — The Reencounter
The lovers first meet in the film and realize they knew one another from a long time ago, be it during high school or when they were children.
Plot — Leading One Another On
The protagonists fall in love for a long time but deny it.
Plot — The Exit and Chase
One of the lovers will leave for somewhere faraway. The other will find out and chase him/her and make it just in time to say goodbye.
Plot — The Happily Ever After
Of course, the couple overcomes the conflicts and gets together by the end of the film.
A rom-com is often a Chick Flick, which is put together by formulaic characteristics in terms of plots and characters in order to appeal to (younger) women, for instance having a sassy female protagonist being in distress. Here are some quick examples:
- Buddy films: Such as Thelma and Louise (1991) or Ghost World (2001)
- Musicals: Dirty Dancing (1987), Mamma Mia! (2008)
- Period films: Pride and Prejudice (2005), Marie Antoinette
- Weepies: The notorious tear-jerkers Beaches (1988), The Notebook (2004)
Note that the term chick flick is the cause a lot of controversies in regards to feminism, as some see it as a patronising term that devalues female audiences and the pleasures they derive from cinema.
Most modern rom-coms still follow some variation of the Marriage plot, in which oftentimes, the protagonists enter a monogamous relationship blissfully in love, even if they don’t enter into matrimony per se.
At the same time, they introduce novel concepts about loves and morals, such staying single and the advantages that comes with it and the value of love among friends. Moreover, modern rom-coms films tend to embrace diversity by portraying queer romances and featuring characters of various ethnicities.
In the recent decade, rom-coms tend to deconstruct archetypes and stereotypes of the genre. Isn’t It Romantic? is an example of a satire to the genre, wherein The heroine gets stuck in the world of rom-com clichés and discovers that she doesn’t need a man, but to love herself.
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