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 »

“The Motion Picture Academy, at considerable expense and with great efficiency, runs all the nominated pictures at its own theater, showing each picture twice, once in the afternoon, once in the evening. A nominated picture is one in connection with which any kind of work is nominated for an award, not necessarily acting, directing, or writing; it may be a purely technical matter such as set-dressing or sound work. This running of pictures has the object of permitting the voters to look at films which they may happen to have missed or to have partly forgotten. It is an attempt to make them realize that pictures released early in the year, and since overlaid with several thicknesses of battered celluloid, are still in the running and that consideration of only those released a short time before the end of the year is not quite just.

“The effort is largely a waste. The people with votes don’t go to these showings. They send their relatives, friends, or servants. They have had enough of looking at pictures, and the voices of destiny are by no means inaudible in the Hollywood air. They have a brassy tone, but they are more than distinct.”All this is good democracy of a sort. We elect Congressmen and Presidents in much the same way, so why not actors, cameramen, writers, and all rest of the people who have to do with the making of pictures? If we permit noise, ballyhoo, and theater to influence us in the selection of the people who are to run the country, why should we object to the same methods in the selection of meritorious achievements in the film business? If we can huckster a President into the White House, why cannot we huckster the agonized Miss Joan Crawford or the hard and beautiful Miss Olivia de Havilland into possession of one of those golden statuettes which express the motion picture industry’s frantic desire to kiss itself on the back of its neck? The only answer I can think of is that the motion picture is an art. I say this with a very small voice. It is an inconsiderable statement and has a hard time not sounding a little ludicrous. Nevertheless it is a fact, not in the least diminished by the further facts that its ethos is so far pretty low and that its techniques are dominated by some pretty awful people.

“If you think most motion pictures are bad, which they are (including the foreign), find out from some initiate how they are made, and you will be astonished that any of them could be good. Making a fine motion picture is like painting “The Laughing Cavalier” in Macy’s basement, with a floorwalker to mix your colors for you. Of course most motion pictures are bad. Why wouldn’t they be?”
~ Raymond Chandler, “Oscar Night In Hollywood,” 1948

“Film festivals, for those who don’t know, are not exactly the glitzy red carpet affairs you see on TV. Those do happen, but they’re a tiny part of the festival. The main part of any film festival are the thousands of people with festival passes hanging on lanyards beneath their anoraks, carrying brochures for movies you have never and will never hear of, desperately scrabbling to sell whatever movie it is to buyers from all over the world. Every hotel bar, every cafe, every restaurant is filled to the brim with these people, talking loudly about non-existent deals. The Brits are the worst because most of the British film industry, with a few honourable exceptions, are scam artists and chancers who move around from company to company failing to get anything good made and trying to cast Danny Dyer in anything that moves. I’m seeing guys here who I first met twenty years ago and who are still wearing the same clothes, doing the same job (albeit for a different company) and spinning the same line of bullshit about how THIS movie has Al Pacino or Meryl Streep or George Clooney attached and, whilst that last one didn’t work out, THIS ONE is going to be HUGE. As the day goes on, they start drinking and it all gets ugly and, well, that’s why I’m the guy walking through the Tiergarten with a camera taking pictures of frozen lakes and pretending this isn’t happening.

“Berlin is cool, though and I’ve been lucky to be doing meetings with some people who want to actually get things done. We’ll see what comes of it.”
~ Julian Simpson