The Shortcomings of Romantic Comedies

Like porn films, they’re satisfying and disappointing at the same time.

Chekhov’s gun is a principle that requires every element in a narrative to be relevant to the story. If a scene shows a shotgun, for example, in the second or third act it has to go off. The concept can sometimes help viewers guess the next scenes in a certain narrative. Did the scene blatantly show a knife, a rifle — some kind of weapon? At some point in the film, novel, or episode, there’s a good chance it’s going to be used to kill someone, as a defense weapon, etc.

In Filipino romantic comedies, the movie poster and the title usually gives it all away — the “Chekhov’s gun” that goes off is the pictured man and woman, who (gasp!) unite in the end. A wedding scene, after all, is the best fan service for those love team followers. Sadly, there is too little diversity in these popcorn films.

2 out of 12 of the latest Pinoy films are love stories with terrible titles

There exists a formula in most of these films, local or otherwise: Girl meets guy. One of them hates each other at first. They start growing into liking each other. They fall in love, and when you think everything is going right, they have a great misunderstanding. They resolve it and learn that love conquers all, they get married, have kids, and credits roll. Romantic comedies typically show just the ups and downs, and failing to show the complexities and sometimes tedium of day-to-day lives and human relationships.

But as someone who grew up watching romantic comedies, and whose mom watched endless reruns of Serendipity, Love Actually, and Notting Hill, I do understand that those moments before the kiss can be appealing. There’s nothing that satisfies our adolescent fantasies like the build-up of tension between two characters that eventually leads them to come together. That anticipated “kiss” or “happily ever after” however, isn’t the cure-all end — the decisions and responsibilities that come with a partnership are what rom-coms typically don’t portray.

Blue Valentine defies the conventional depictions of “perfect” relationships, powered by unconditional love in mainstream rom-coms. As Roger Ebert in his review writes, “Dean thinks marriage is the station. Cindy thought it was the train.”

When done well, love stories enable us to witness two people with good chemistry interacting — the gift of cinema to its romantic viewers. When done poorly, you know what to expect. You’ll get the cute lovey-dovey scenes, the teasing scenes, the argument, then the making up — forgive, apologize, rinse, repeat. No two relationships are alike, and it can be used to tell a great story, and predictable rom coms use unrealistic tropes to deliver a film with predictable rhythms.

There’s nothing sweet with Frank’s promise to Claire in House of Cards: “Claire if all you want is happiness, say no. I’m not going to give you a couple of kids and count the days until retirement. I promise you freedom from that. I promise you you’ll never be bored.” The Underwoods scheme, lie, and manipulate to help each other further their goals.

As someone who has realised the absurdity of my past affinity for rom-coms, (As a teenager, I watched Valentine’s Day and He’s Just Not That Into You on repeat.) I am learning that appreciating romantic comedies comes with buying into contrivances and knowing that couples can disagree on things and still like each other, and that there will be things about our partners we don’t like — and that’s okay. But the beauty of it all is about engaging in a coexistence that changes one another, where is always room for individuality, debate, and dialogue.

I think that watching romantic comedies requires us to suspend our beliefs for a while. Like watching Harry Potter or Star Wars, they must be appreciated under specific mental constraints.

Of course, there’s plenty of good love stories out there, none of which feature Jennifer Aniston:

Weekend

Zero rom-com tropes — just a smart and sincere portrayal of love.

Amour

themoviefiend

Hands down to Pixar’s Up for featuring a grandpa as a protagonist, but this one is the real deal.

Broken Circle Breakdown

Beautiful drama about love, music, parenting (and tattoos.)

In the Mood For Love

Shot in 1960s Hong Kong, this dream-like film offers an experience unlike any other ‘romance drama.’

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