How Indie Films are Reinventing the Romantic Comedy
Romantic comedies are a strange cinematic genre. Cinema can be a platform in which we learn about pivotal things that will affect our lives, and if you’re lucky, romance will be one of them. Yet mainstream romantic comedies teach us some truly terrible lessons. This isn’t a big surprise considering that most mainstream rom coms take place, like much of cinema, in a heightened version of our reality.
Take a classic example of a studio made romantic comedy: Howard Hawks’ seminal His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel. His Girl Friday had no qualms about how horrible its characters were. The film opens with a crawl about how sociopathic the journalism industry its characters inhabited was. Even at the end when Grant and Russel’s characters get back together, they haven’t learned anything other than that they can only be monstrous together, with every “good” character getting either dumped, or in one case throwing herself out of a window only to be forgotten about. Hawks made it clear to his audience that they were in on the joke.
Somewhere along th way Hollywood lost this disconnect. It started rooting for its awful characters, and manipulated the audience into doing the same. Think of any of John Cusack’s most iconic characters: Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything is a waste of space, a boy in a man’s body that follows his impulses without thinking of the consequences of his reactions. Sure, the boombox scene is romantic, but only out of context. Stars such as Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Katherine Heigl, and Ashton Kutcher, have all made successful careers through these types of movies.
Except romantic comedies are not nearly as profitable as they once were. With the current trend of holiday movies: New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc, clogging up the silver screen any spark of originality the genre had has been snuffed out. The mainstream has become a wasteland for these films, with comic book movies, shared universes, and horror (because horror never dies), in trend, there is only one place to go for good quality romantic movies: go independent.
Here are just a few indie rom coms that are reinventing the genre for a modern audience.
The Big Sick
The Big Sick is a film that gleefully goes against most rom com conventions. Adapting the events of their own relationship screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars) and Emily V. Gordon have crafted the most original romantic film of 2017, and that includes La La Land. What is set up to be a classic plot of culture shock as Nanjiani meets his future partner, here played by Zoe Kazan, is turned on its head when Emily falls into a coma. This leads to a subversion of rom com staples like meeting the parents, as the context is so dramatically different.
Zoe Kazan appears again in Ruby Sparks, in which she also wrote the screenplay for, starring alongside her real-life partner Paul Dano. Dano plays writer who must deal with the impossible situation of having his perfect fictional woman come to life. Kazan’s script expertly satirises the role of women in rom coms, especially the idea of the manic pixie dream girl.
Safety Not Guaranteed
While Colin Trevorrow is currently being raked over the critical coals for the misfire that is The Book of Henry, the Jurassic World director made a name for himself with this charming sci-fi romantic comedy. Starring Aubrey Plaza as a magazine intern investigating a man (Mark Duplass) that place a classified ad looking for someone to travel in time with him. With its charming leads, and lo-fi effects, Safety Not Guaranteed works best with the very human drama at its core. It also boasts a great sub-plot in which Jake Johnson reaches out to an old flame, which leads to some hypothetical time travel.
Obvious Child is a romantic comedy about abortion. That’s right, abortion. Starring Jenny Slate and written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child is one of the funniest films of the decade. It does this through a fantastic performance from Slate, while providing an unashamedly serious discussion about the central issue.
If you’re tired of having the same tropes spoon fed to you, the same actors phoning in a performance for an easy pay cheque, then these films, and others like them, will reaffirm you faith in the romantic comedy.
Contributor: Kevin Michael Boyle