MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20 Weeks To Oscar: Year of the Reconstructed Rom-Com

Award seasons have a theme that emerges as the season progresses. With the arrival of Phantom Thread and The Post, this year is loaded with rom-coms that don’t want to be rom-coms.

The form has been torn down in recent years and barely exists now in Hollywood movies, indies, or even TV. But take the idea of a romantic comedy about, say, the black guy being brought home to meet the over-exuberant white suburban parents and give it a twist… and BAM!… Get Out.

Lady Bird is a romantic comedy about a young woman who has two intense relationships, one with her mother and another with her best female friend, both of which are strained to the edge by the moment it’s time to leave home.

Call Me By Your Name is a super-charming coming-of-age comedy between a young man and a hot older man who do the dance of romance. It even includes sex with a piece of fruit-not-yet-made-into-pie.

The Big Sick is the closest to a traditional romantic comedy… except the primary romance is between the wannabe boyfriend and the parents of the comatose girlfriend he’s no longer dating.

Downsizing is a romantic comedy, though you don’t really know that until late in the second act. Alexander Payne is working on many layers, so it doesn’t stink of rom-com… but that, ultimately, is what it is.

The Shape of Water is the most traditional romantic drama on the board… a classic romance between a gilled creature with supernatural powers and a mute cleaning woman who communicate without words (mostly) and touch on high drama while avoiding high comedy (mostly).

Victoria & Abdul is the classic girl meets boy from the wrong side of the tracks while-family-objects comedy, in royal garb.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri has a comic romance, as one character tries to couple with another and fails… but the movie, a story about a single renegade up against the system, keeps sliding into intimate dyads between different men and this woman.

The Post is a romantic comedy between two people not having a romantic relationship, Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee. He’s just one more entrance from doing a Kramer when coming into her house. I got confirmation of this notion from the film’s writers just a couple days ago… they used the term non-romantic romance about the leads.

Phantom Thread is the least obvious rom-com in the group… but perhaps the closest to being the traditional form, in spite of Paul Thomas Anderson’s remarkable detail work and a very serious performance by Daniel Day Lewis. When you look closely, aside from getting sucked into its lush, gorgeous period earnestness, it is a coming-of-age movie for a man in his 50s and a tale of how a young woman figures out how to land the man she wants. The most surprising thing about the film is how funny it is… If you allow yourself to laugh for fear of being on the wrong page. (Go ahead… laugh… it’s the driest funny in years.)

There are, of course, variations on this notion. Darkest Hour is surprisingly light at times, but not a rom-com in any way. Dunkirk is neither light nor a rom-com. Ditto Mudbound. The Florida Project is a comedy, but Sean Baker smartly avoids  romance.

All in all, a romantic year as we suffer through a distinctly non-romantic political period. And a lot of humor, although earned in ways other than the traditional hooks of rom-coms.

It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of these films are in a period other than now. Only Get Out, The Big Sick and The Florida Project are of this moment… and none of them are tied to this very moment… they all could just as easily be set five years ago.

4 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: Year of the Reconstructed Rom-Com”

  1. lockedcut says:

    Hmm there are a lot of strong female films this year how can I tear them all down with a negative stereotype while pretending to not be denigrating them so I have plausible deniability?

    I know I’ll use the romantic comedy death stamp! Whee!

    This is a good way to remind people that there is only one kind of film women are allowed to be in, and awards films ain’t it, simply by having strong women in them they are all romantic comedies! And you can safely ignore all of them while pretending to have given them a chance.

    Subconscious sexism at its finest. 😉

    And Dunkirk is totes a rom com between the ladies at the train and the he-men so desperate to get back to England and into their pants! Hilarious!

  2. YancySkancy says:

    lockedcut: Where does Dave suggest ignoring these films, most of which he likes, all of which he figures to get major awards play? He explicitly notes when the story doesn’t involve an actual romance. Clearly, his point is that the traditional rom-com barely exists in Hollywood anymore, but some of its tropes and themes can still be found in other genres. I think he stretches the point in some of his examples, but I don’t see how he’s being sexist.

  3. Daniella Isaccs says:

    RomCom, like film noir, is basically identifiable as a tone. Most of these films really don’t have the tone of a RomCom.

  4. Michael Paulionis says:

    I hope you didn’t get paid for this. I hate to be mean but this article should only be published by The Onion…ironically. You should take some advice from James Franco’s “Quote/Unquote”. You’ve only got one life. Is this the best you can do?

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch