Thursday, April 21, 2011

Romantic Comedies: Categories

I love romantic comedies and I wanted to figure out what makes a good one.  What makes a great romantic comedy?  What makes a bad one?  Are there different types of rom-coms that can be put into categories based on their story?  I found that yes, there are a few different things that are staples of rom-coms.  And a few things that define a bad rom-com.  I took the 150 top-grossing rom-coms and the bottom 100 rom-coms (no, I haven't seen them all, there are a few dozen I couldn't put into a category because I knew too little about it and the description didn't give me enough).  So here's a basic breakdown of the 9 main categories I found and some examples.   I know I've missed a ton of movies that are thought of as rom-coms.  Please let me know any I missed and what category you'd put them in.

After the 9 categories of rom-coms that usually works, I start figuring out why other reasons brought down some rom-coms - I came up with 5 big ones.

According to Wikipedia the definition of a romantic comedy is a film with light-hearted, humorous plotlines, centered on romantic ideals such as a true love able to surmount most obstacles.   This is what I'm using to describe the movies I used.  

1. Family stands between them - This is a pretty standard category and generally creates mediocre to good rom-coms.  The family of the couple provide enough of a problem that our main couple cannot be together, and the obstacle they must overcome is their family.  
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Father of the Bride
Meet the Parents
Say Anything
Mickey Blue Eyes
Because I said so
Hannah and her Sisters
Fools Rush In
Date Night

2. He Lies - This is a fairly typical problem.  The man of the couple lies about something and when the woman finds out it throws their relationship out the window - often to be saved by a huge gesture of forgiveness or cheesiness.   It doesn't always mean an actual lie takes place, but more that an omission has happened that he continued.
What Women Want
There’s Something About Mary
Coming to America
You’ve Got Mail
America’s Sweetheart
Along Came Polly
Shallow Hal
Fool’s Gold
She’s All That
Doc Hollywood
Music and Lyrics
Made of Honor
Sense and Sensibility
Fever Pitch
About a Boy
10 Things I hate About you
40-Year-Old Virgin
Bird on a Wire
The Secret of my Success
License to Wed
40 Days and 40 Nights
Good Luck Chuck
The Heartbreak Kid
The Pallbearer

3. She Lies - This happens nearly as often as when He Lies.  The same problems ensue, but this is much less frequently the problem that stands in their way.   Julia Roberts is probably the biggest offender in this category.
Runaway Bride
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Notting Hill
Mr. Deeds
50 First Dates
Failure to Launch
While You Were Sleeping
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Working Girl
Easy A
Never Been Kissed
Forces of Nature
Kate and Leopold
Confessions of a Shopaholic
Must Love Dogs
The Truth About Cats and Dogs
Return to Me
Ever After
Simply Irresistible
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Back-Up Plan

4. They Both Lie - These tend to be the ones where they've both kept something from each other in order to make the relationship work.  Only when both lies are revealed and forgiven will the couple end up together.
Sweet Home Alabama
It’s Complicated
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
No Strings Attached
The Mirror Has Two Faces
Bridget Jones the Edge of Reason
Keeping the Faith
Down with Love
Just Married

5. Different Backgrounds - This is one of the most frequent love story plots - comedy or not.  The man and woman come from different places in society or have totally different lifestyles, but somehow come together and need to overcome the problems to be together.  Probably the lease plausible of all the categories, but definitely the most uplifting - since we don't see what happens next.
Pretty Woman
Knocked Up
As Good as it Gets
Shakespeare in Love
Maid in Manhattan
Pride and Prejudice
The Cutting Edge
Pretty in Pink
Maid in Manhattan

6. They Pretend to be in a Relationship and Fall in Love - This is probably my favorite category for no obvious reason, but it gets me every time.  The main couple has to pretend to like each other, or they're forced to stay together and ultimately that's enough to make them fall in love.
The Proposal
When Harry met Sally
Just Go With It
Life as we know it
What Happens in Vegas
The Wedding Date

7. He/She Won’t Commit - I lumped the men and women together in this one.  One of the couple will not commit, and only something astounding must happen to force them to realize they cannot live without the other.  Usually it happens only in the nick of time - if at all.  Hugh Grant rules this category.
Something’s Gotta Give
Nine Months
Two Weeks Notice
(500) Days of Summer
High Fidelity
No Reservations
About Last Night
The Bachelor

8. He/She is with someone else until the last second - This is kind of like the commitment category, but in fact they're committed to someone else.  It usually takes most of the movie for them to realize they are with the wrong person and discover the love of their life has been in the cubicle next to them.
The Wedding Singer
27 Dresses
The Wedding Planner
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Sense and Sensibility
Seems Like Old Times
A Lot like Love
When in Rome
Leap Year

9. One of them is crazy, sick and/or dead - This is the fantastical category.  One part of the couple is actually mentally ill, sick and dying, or actually dead already.  Those are obstacles you can't get over, but the love story is usually one worth watching.
Truly, Madly, Deeply
Just Like Heaven
Punch Drunk Love
Addicted to Love
Mad Love
Benny and Joon
All About Steve
Down to Earth
Heaven Can Wait
Love at First Bite
Blind Date
Joe vs the Volcano
Over Her Dead Body
City of Angels
Love and Other Drugs

Ensemble - This isn't actually a category, but bigger ensemble movies belong in so many I thought I'd list them separately.  
Valentine’s Day – He Lies, She Lies, 
He’s Just Not that Into You – He Lies, She Lies, They Both Lie, He Won’t Commit
Love Actually – He Lies, She Lies, Family Keeps them Apart
The Holiday – One of them is with someone else until the last minute, He/She won't commit

There are usually good reasons why movies don't really click with rom-com lovers.  Here are some of the reasons I found looking at the movies.  These are a mix of good and bad movies (more bad than good though).

1.  It's all about the girlfriends - Pretty self-explanatory.  I would say these belong in the other genre of chick flicks.  The movie isn't really about the love story, but about the female relationships.
Sex and the City
Sex and the City 2

2. Not really a romantic comedy - This is not really a fault of these movies, but they don't belong in the rom-com discussion.  They're much more focused on something else - sports, wine, etc.
The Break Up
Tin Cup
Bull Durham
How Do you Know

3. Main Couple Doesn’t end up together - This is truly the let down of the rom-com genre.  You've invested in these characters and there's no payoff at the end.  (Yes, (500) Days of Summer Should also be here, but they overcome it with the story's delivery)
Rumor Has it
All About Steve
The Object of My Affection
P.S. I love you
Bringing Down the House

4. Main story isn’t about the couple
Alex and Emma
Bride Wars
Morning Glory
Because I said so
The Sweetest Thing (*chick flick)
That Thing you Do
Me Myself & Irene 
I love trouble

5. The raunchiest just doesn’t pay off - These movies are really about just being raunchy and don't really make for a good story.
The Ugly truth
My Best Friend’s Girl

Extra Ones I can’t classify as I haven't seen them recently:
Little Black Book
Just Married
Six Days Seven Nights
Sweet November
Employee of the Month
Down to You
My Boss’s Daughter
Good Luck Chuck
The Beautician and the Beast
Mr. Wrong
From Justin to Kelly
Drive me crazy
The Bounty Hunter
One Fine Day
Dr. T & the Women
Someone Like You
Home Fries
You Me and Dupree


The Mad Hatter said...

Quite the post dude! Is this gonna be the start of a series?

Time Lord said...

Hahaha! This is marvelous! Awesome, awesome post!

Jess said...

Hatter - it's a lead up to the LAMBcast Rom-Com discussion. But it just might be a genre series.

Andy - Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is a very impressive post Jess.
Rom-com has almost become a derogatory label to attach to a film nowadays so it's nice to find someone else who likes them and who is prepared to examine the factors that make a good one.
I'm not suprised you couldn't classify One Fine Day as I've always thought that film and "black rom-com" Addicted To Love were two of the more original films that the genre through up in the 1990's.
Kudos for mentioning Joe Versus The Volcano as well.

Fletch said...

I had to kind of laugh when I saw flicks like Bull Durham and Tin Cup in the "not really a romantic comedy" section, since you'll see lovers of sports movies call them "not really sports movies," but rather rom-coms. I guess no one group wants to claim them all their all, since their sensibilities are screaming about their "opposites" being lumped with them. Oh well...I'll take 'em!

Jerry Maguire is more of a dramedy, but it gets this treatment a lot, too (though, really, it's similar tonally to As Good As It Gets, for example, and that made this list. There's a lot of gray area in the rom-com world, isn't there?

This label made me laugh as well: "One of them is crazy, sick and/or dead" Kinda sad/funny that there are enough films like that to make a list of 'em...

Very interesting deconstruction.

Nick said...

Amazing post! That was fantastic.

Castor said...

Nice work Jess! I don't hate romantic comedies, most usually have some redeeming factors. The lack of creativity lately is certainly a killer though.

Kano said...

You know what's funny? My wife has watched so many of these Romantic Comedies that she has actually begun to like it when something out of the ordinary happens - like the couple not getting together. It's weird, but I sort of understand it. Most of the Rom-Coms are so predictable. It's great when one shakes it up.

Rich said...

I have nothing against rom-coms in general, but IMO many (not all) modern rom-coms don't have anywhere near the amount of wit, sparkle, or charm as the classics: the Hepburn/Tracy films, the Hepburn/Grant films, the Billy Wilder comedies (incluing those he only wrote and didn't direct), the George Cukor comedies, etc. Something was definitely lost along the way.

Dan O. said...

This is an awesome list, and just about 90% of these romantic comedies, all have the same ending, or suck as much as the one before it. Good List!

Clarabela said...

I agree with Rich, directors today miss the whole point of rom-com. The classic Tracy-Hepburn films were perfect.

Red said...

Impressive list(s) Jess! The one category placement that stood out most to me was Juno. Either of their families didn't really so no, but moreso Juno's uncertainty about having the baby.

Jess said...

Thanks all. There area all kinds of ways to classify the rom-coms (definitely used regularly as a derogatory comment Paul). I think rom-coms tend to succeed when they make an effort to be original but focus on a single couple. When they try to do it within a great context (like sports) it tends to split the focus and belongs to neither genre and often fails to please anyone.

I think sticking to what works is a strange thing to recommend after just saying that originality counts, but trying too hard to do something new won't win you many followers (of this genre) either.

Tom Clift said...

Great post! You should definitely do this for other genres