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And They Lived Questionably Ever After…

I desperately want the perfect romantic comedy movie to be made. Knowing how weird that sentence might be read, let me explain.

A couple of months ago, I was watching Notting Hill for the 2nd time. I can preemptively feel the judgment of people reading that sentence, so let me explain even further.

Spoiler alert: I don’t have a girlfriend and often like to live through movies vicariously.

Even as that is the case, Notting Hill didn’t hold up like when I had first watched it as a kid, but more than it not living up to the first viewing experience, it felt “paint-by-numbers” as far as romantic comedies go. If anything, William Thacker (Hugh Grant) deserves better than preening diva Anna Scott (Julia Roberts).

All that aside, as a romantic comedy, Notting Hill is structurally and tonally flawed. In fact, it’s flawed in that it’s too perfect. Everything plot-wise as well as the characters and the dynamic between them worked out a little too easy. Yes, movies seek to entertain and bring us to another reality, however what’s another reality to escape to if it’s a bunch of beautiful cardboard cutouts following a path as visible as the floating arrows in Donnie Darko?

If “perfect” isn’t perfect when it comes to romantic comedy, what actually constitutes a perfect romantic comedy?

Many cinephiles might point to Annie Hall as what romantic comedies should strive to be while several others not so cinematically inclined might question how Annie Hall is even a romantic comedy. Actual spoiler alert: Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) doesn’t get Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) in the end. In fact, he gets “the girl” and loses her in the end.

Despite that ending going against the convention set by more than probably 90% of other romantic comedies, Annie Hall is more realistic, inspires more visceral emotion, despite its surreal imagery and tongue-in-cheek tone. It’s the predominating notion now with most other romantic comedies rely on the structure of physical slapstick comedy set pieces in extreme situations without much regard to the arc and depth of the characters and their subsequent relationships. You don’t even have to visit your local multiplex to know that.

Intrinsically, there’s something more powerful, truthful, and ultimately hilarious in examining a relationship that didn’t work out than one that inexplicably does. That’s why one of the closest thing to a perfect romantic in recent memory comedy isn’t even a movie. In fact, it’s not even completely strung together in one episode.

The closest conception to what romantic comedies should strive for is in the vignettes of the relationship between Louie and Pamela on Louis CK’s TV series Louie. Throughout two seasons, Louie futilely makes repeated attempts at flipping a friendship into a full-on relationship with Pamela. Yet, Louie pushing forward in the face of absolute failure is not what makes the dynamic between him and Pamela stand-out from the ridiculously good looking Hollywood stars at odds with each other. At each moment between Louie and Pamela, Louie says to Pamela what anyone realistically wants to say to someone that they’re desperately in love with, but won’t get. When asked by Pamela, “Why would I want to have sex with you?” Louie arrives at the answer, “I’d like to and I was hoping you’d let me.”

That line isn’t from some fairy tale romance where both characters overcome their main flaws in order to be with each other. Because of the proximity to what would happen if that situation was to play out in real-life circumstances, it’s a moment that is not only funny, but the kind of moment that sticks with you. The arc of Louie and Pamela in the series thus far is filled with those types of moments that are unforgettable, heartbreaking, and hysterical; all adjectives that should describe the perfect romantic comedy.

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31 comments

  • It’s actually because of Hollywood’s romance comedies that many people struggle with actual real-life romance. They go and try to find that perfect ending. When in realty those endings rarely exist. What we get instead is the real bickering, the nights of sleeping on the couch, and in the end heartache. 

  • I love a good happy ending. I’ve had to bail on “Louie” a fair amount, because it can be just too depressing. Movies are escapism, not reminders of how terrible real life is.

    My perfect romantic comedy is, “While You Were Sleeping.” There’s nothing extraneous. Nothing in it that doesn’t support character actions. And Sandra Bullock doesn’t fall down a well, trip into a door, or get smacked in the face. Not once.

  • While I’m kinda still in love with Love Actually, I have to agree with Stuart.

    Yes, I am a girl. No, you didn’t read the above sentence wrong. Shaun of the Dead is a bloody brilliant romantic comedy. ‘Nuf said.

  • I love You’ve Got Mail. It doesn’t end in a marriage or pregnancy which seems to be how most RomComs end these days. it’s just two people eventually falling in love with some funniness along the way. It also doesn’t have too many hijinks or pratfalls which I despise. That nonsense is just a big cover for getting a leading actor/actress that really doesn’t have comedic timing.”Just make her fall and then fall in love! Look, a romcom!” Blegh.

    I also like The Waitress, High Fidelity. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are great too although not technically romcoms. They are romantic and have funny moments though.

  • Love When Harry Met Sally and Defending Your Life. If you’re gonna bring up Louie though, you have to love 500 Days of Summer. Great film, realistic and yet some hope at the end.

  • I LOVE 50 First Dates!!! Unique, brilliantly acted, touching, hilarious. See it if you haven’t. I almost passed on it, but it definitely surprised me and I’m so glad I took a chance on it.

  • Agree with Galadriel. 50 First Dates is surprisingly enjoyable. But I don’t think you can beat When Harry Met Sally in the modern era and The Philadelphia Story (Cary Grant – yum) for the golden era. As for Annie Hall, it is enjoyable but lacks that “awww” factor.

  • real life can have its ridiculously romantic moments. 3months after my last chemo treatment, my now husband, took me to the shore at sunset and got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. but thats where the movies would end. real life obviously goes on and the challenges therein. once the honeymoon period is over, then its all real. the good thing about all those movies listed is the variety. real life can have all those options, notting hill to louie. and its great that all options are represented and we can view our choice according to our mood at the time. its all good. all those movies listed are great romantic comedies. but one of my favs, “fifth element”, is not an obvious choice.

  • No love for 500 days of summer? I thought that was a brilliant take on the whole romcom since he doesn’t get the girl either but shows the ups and downs and the outs of a pretty close real world type relationship.

  • Juno? Really? We must have watched 2 different versions of it. The one I saw had 2 of the most over-rated and semi-talented actors of the last decade.

    Shawn of the Dead as a rom-com? Heh. I agree. I never thought of it in that way before, but you’re right.

  • I’ll have to ponder the Shaun of the Dead thing a bit but it is a great film. I kind of believe that Love Actually is one of the best of the genre out there and a perennial favorite. You know, when Bridget Jones’ Diary (the book) came out, I thought “Oooh, here’s something. She weighs too much, she drinks too much, she effs up her life and she still gets the guy in the end…this I can identify with…” because you want the guy or gal in the end, it’s the point. It made it easier that the guy was Colin Firth in the movie.

    Defending your Life is awesome. And I do not like Albert Brooks but I adore that movie, a lot. I also like the idea that I get to eat anything and not gain weight. Oh Weight Watchers…hear my cry!

    I like a happy ending. Life is stressful enough. What I don’t like is how only the pretty people get the happy ending now. In my own rom com, I would be relegated to being the sarcastic best friend or neighbor to the the female lead, of whom I am jealous because of course she would be Jennifer Aniston and who doesn’t want to be her?! (I don’t, by the way). Or, I’d be the guy’s pal and I would be hopelessly in love with him and still help him get Jen Aniston. If this was “About Last Night” I would be Elizabeth Perkins to someone else’s Demi Moore. But I take solace in the fact that I would have the better lines.

    So now I get to watch the Pretty have all the fun and get the guy. And that would be ok if the writing was up to par. But let’s face it, it’s not. It helps when British people deliver the lines but you know, sucky writing is sucky writing.

    But Hollywood does have a habit of casting the Pretty in roles they don’t need to or shouldn’t. The original story for Frankie and Johnny was about two older down on their luck people, not pretty. I think maybe Kathy Bates played Frankie on stage. In the movie, she was Michelle Pfeiffer because why would you NOT do that. And I like Michelle.

    I keep watching rom coms because I am still a hopeful (go watch Romancing the Stone, good movie) romantic and I kind of want to be swept away but when I don’t see myself…I begin to think the happy ending isn’t for me.

    So, if you need me…I’m smirking in the corner being the best friend. With the better lines.

  • The best romantic comedy is Once. (though it too might be stretching the definition a tad) It defies conventions, feels authentic, and treats its caracters with respect, instead of disdain as most current RomComs do.

  • I’m really fond of the relationship in Me and You and Everyone We Know. It addresses how people project their expectations on others and then get upset when someone isn’t who was in their head and learning to get past that. It’s also a nice realistic view of two very optimistic people.

    And my favorite queer rom com is Adam & Steve. It’s rather conventional but a nice change of pace.

  • While I like When Harry Met Sally, it really annoyed me once I realized it was this weird visual mashup of Annie Hall. It is jarring if you watch the two movies back to back.

    For my money, Say Anything is still the best romantic comedy. Hugh Grant and Joseph Gordon Levitt owes their career to John Cussack’s Lloyd Dobler character (the stumbling, awkward Woody-Allen-As-Generation-Xer with a chivirous heart). The idea that the story doesn’t end with anything certain, but a ding that just says you can unfasten your seatbelts, really hits home the uncertainty of love.

  • My favorite romantic comedy is “About a Boy.” I was totally caught off-guard by it. My wife said we should watch it, and I resisted as much as I could (figuring it was the usual romantic comedy BS). But alas, resistence is useless. Now, it does follow the formula somewhat, but it’s very well written and is hilarious.

  • really surprised about the love for “love actually”– and i have a soft spot for romantic comedies usually, but that one– by the time liam is running through the airport and those kids are singing– i just wanted my money back.

    “about a boy” is one of my favorite movies of all time, one that my husband can actually stomach as well so i can get my hugh grant fix without harassment.

  • I’d like to agree with commenter Sawyer. I think Chasing Amy (imho) is the perfect Romantic Comedy. It is a very funny movie and there are moments played out that really seem they could happen in a relationship. Like Annie Hall, Chasing Amy ends without the guy getting the girl and it is absolutely the right way to end things in that flick. The only thing that holds back Chasing Amy is that Joey Adams is very whiney and not a very convincing cryer (her post hockey game crying rant is grating, rather than emotional).

  • @Lori-Anne :

    Hit the nail right on its PRETTY little head on that one. The best friend with the better lines in a romcom…like Hassan from John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (which I hope will be turned into a movie. But if they don’t choose Prettys to lead this, it’ll end up in the Independent circuit…which I don’t mind a bit.)