To Woo HOO the September 1 release of my romantic comedy, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia — I am running this 75 Days of Phobia series. It takes Maxwell, the claustrophobic hero in Driving in Neutral a little while to figure this out, but sometimes you have to embrace your fear. Hollywood has Adamocomoediaphobia, fear of the romantic comedy. I am trying to figure out a way to systematically desensitise Hollywood of its fear so it will embrace the mighty romcom.
Maybe you’ve seen the news stories announcing that THE ROMANTIC COMEDY IS DEAD! There’s the one from Jezebel Television is Resurrecting the Romantic Comedy From Its Deathbed http://jezebel.com/television-is-resurrecting-the-romantic-comedy-from-its-1623238746, another one R.I.P. Romantic Comedies: Why Harry Wouldn’t Meet Sally in 2013 from The Hollywood Reporter http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/rip-romantic-comedies-why-harry-634776 and Who Killed the Romantic Comedy from The LA Times http://www.laweekly.com/2014-02-27/news/who-killed-the-romantic-comedy/.
All of these stories discuss how the feature film romantic comedy has declined. The films are cookie cutter, the films don’t appeal to teens, the films don’t appeal to dudes…The films didn’t make any money—which is the key to all of this. I have a vested interest in the humble rom com. First, I LOVE romantic comedies. Second I write romantic comedies. Finally, I believe there is some confusion over movies that are comedies and movies that are targeted at women. My, ahem, theory suggests that this confusion and targeting is perhaps why the rom com has declined.
Typically, anything that has strong female stars with a comedic edge as well as a love interest for one character is touted as a romantic comedy – Bridesmaids, for example. Bridesmaids has strong female leads and an element of a romantic relationship for a lead character, but essentially the story is about the changing bond shared by two female friends and the personal and emotional growth of Kristin Whig’s character. Her romance was a subplot.
In the world of fiction, Bridesmaids would be classified as Chick Lit, which of course is female-focused and has an element of romance. However, the main thrust of most Chick Lit stories is the personal growth of the lead character, rather than the actual romance included in the tale. The thing is, in romance fiction the romance is everything, not the subplot. In romantic comedy, the comedy may be an essential element, but it is the romance that leads the story. This confusion between Chick Lit and rom com is paired with Hollywood’s idea that any film with female leads and a touch of humour, or any comedy with a touch of romance, is automatically a rom com. The confusion is what led to the box office decline of the rom com. The confusion is why they ‘don’t make rom coms like we used to.’
So how to combat this and bring back respect for the rom com? How can Hollywood get over its Adamocomoediaphobia? Noah Millman’s 2012 essay Social Change Didn’t Kill the Romantic Comedy makes a hell of a lot of sense http://www.theamericanconservative.com/millman/social-change-didnt-kill-the-romantic-comedy/. Millman thinks Hollywood should look back at what made the rom com film great — and do that again, plus make characters interesting, not simply, as Millman notes, “relatable.”
I’d add to his recommendation. I’d tell Hollywood to get rid of the ‘Chick Lit is romance’ mentality, because dudes don’t respond to Chick Lit. Get rid of the two funny women together make it a rom com mentality too. The Heat was a comedy not a rom com. Two funny women together are what make The Heat a comedy, so pitch it as a comedy, not a rom com because dudes like to laugh. Instead of trying for the standard formula of copying whatever previous film made money at the box office, try something new —or something OLD. Go back and look at the classic rom com feature films (like Millman advises).
Better still, the romance fiction world has PLENTY of rom coms ripe for adaptation to film. Want some help choosing? Try anything by Julie James, or Jennifer Crusie, or me. I had to plug myself because, you know I’m a smartass rom com-er and I have a book coming out in 12 days. You can pre-order it here.
Or, until 31 Aug, you can get For Your Eyes Only for $0.99 here use the promo code RWA14 at the checkout!