June 29th, 2012

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Cynical Comedies

I finished entering my copy edits yesterday. Now I need to do a good proofreading pass, but today I'm mostly going to focus on other things, like research. I did my grocery shopping this morning and may have allowed myself to get a little self-indulgent, but then it struck me that I sold a book this week. Yes, it was to Japan and not the US, and it wasn't the kind of money I get in the US, but it was more than I got for writing category romances, and it was a sale based almost entirely on my past performance rather than the proposed plot of the book, so that should be celebrated. One of my indulgences was a bouquet of flowers from the quick clearance rack in the floral department. There was some yuck, but I was able to take out the good flowers and put them in various size vases (depending on how the stems looked) that are now scattered around my house. I've aspired to being the kind of person who keeps fresh flowers around the house, and although they're not at all practical, they make me happy. And they're better for my thighs than chocolate (though I got some of that, too).

There's going to be one challenge in my project to research the cheesy, bad romantic comedies that fit all the stereotypes: I tend not to have them in my collection. I do have some movies that I consider flawed but that still have something about them that intrigues me, but the kinds of movies I need to watch are the dull, forgettable ones that don't give me a reason to want to watch them again. I guess I'm going to have to rely on cable TV and the library.

What I'm going for are what I call the "cynical" romantic comedies -- not the ones where the movie itself is about being cynical about romance, but the ones where I get the feeling that the people making the movie are cynical about what they're making. They don't like these kinds of movies, they don't understand why people like them and they don't have a lot of respect for the people who like them, but hey, they're relatively cheap to produce, with few special effects or stunts, they don't require a huge cast and you can generally just focus on getting names for the leads and fill out the rest of the cast with B-listers, and all you have to do is follow the formula and the fans will eat it up. It's the movie equivalent of the people who read one Harlequin romance (or just think they know what a Harlequin romance is) and decide that it should be easy enough to crank one of those out in a weekend because all you have to do is follow the formula, and then they'll be rich. Of course, those people generally don't get books published because either they start writing and realize that it's not that easy or their books are immediately rejected because they don't understand or have respect for what they're writing and it shows. But somehow, people who don't seem to get romantic comedy still keep getting romantic comedies made, perhaps because the people who make the money decisions in Hollywood are also cynical about such things, while the editors and publishers at Harlequin truly do love romance novels.

But what we end up with in movies is films that follow the formula but that lack heart (and often logic). We get a couple of attractive people who bicker a lot but who, for some reason, are forced to be around each other. Then we get a montage of scenes of them together set against a romantic pop song to tell us they're falling in love. Some secret comes out or some betrayal happens to drive them apart, then one of them will run frantically across town to reach the other one so they can get back together again. Sometimes they think they're being edgy and throw in what they think are twists, like moving the sex to the beginning of the relationship, relying on gross-out humor, letting the woman act more like the man, etc., but it's still the same old thing at the core. Now to find enough of these movies to pick up on enough cliches I can use in my spoof. I can probably just search IMDB for Katherine Heigl. These kinds of films have been the bulk of her career lately. HBO is obliging me by having Life as We Know It in their rotation right now. Sometimes I can count on Lifetime showing some of these kinds of things, but they're more in "my Internet lover is trying to kill me" mode right now. They mostly seem to show romantic comedies at Valentine's Day or Christmas.

It did occur to me that my wacky dream the other night about having to go back to high school sounds like the premise for a high-concept comedy, though I suspect Hollywood would make my character male because there would need to be a romance, and 40-something man with 20-something woman is standard operating procedure in Hollywood, while a 40-something woman with a 20-something man would become about the enormous age difference and how weird and creepy it is rather than about the idea of the student knowing a lot more than the teacher. I also can't think of any contrived reason for a successful author to have to take a high school English class, so maybe it would have to be college, with the young teacher being a graduate student teaching assistant leading the study/discussion group, and maybe the successful writer is self-educated but now wants the degree. Even there, I would think a successful author would be able to test out of freshman English, and universities are often willing to grant credit for relevant life experience. Being a bestselling author would probably meet a lot of English course requirements. There was a movie called Teacher's Pet that did sort of go along these lines, where Doris Day was a journalism professor and Clark Gable was a self-taught, experienced newsman who scoffed at the idea of teaching journalism in school instead of in the newsroom (reporters should start as copy boys, like he did), with a lot of ivory tower vs. the real world bickering, but as I recall, he wasn't actually enrolled in her class. He just sat in on it to mess with her.

And now I am going to force myself to enjoy a summer day. I may hit the swimming pool, and I bought a packet of Slush Puppies at Target (the ones with the juice in plastic tubes that you freeze). Other than when I taught Vacation Bible School a couple of years ago, I don't think I've had those since I was a kid, and they say "summer" to me. I will try not to think about how much better a crisp, cool autumn day would be.
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Romantic Comedies -- a List

In response to a reader question, here's a starting point list of romantic comedy films. I'm mostly going by memory and what's in my collection. This list is likely to grow or change because I imagine titles will be popping into my head for days. (And it's already happening)

Classic films (films that came out before I was born)
The Philadelphia Story (love, love, love -- fabulous dialogue)
Bringing Up Baby
The Awful Truth
It Happened One Night
My Favorite Wife (there's a later version called Move Over Darling, with Doris Day and James Garner, but I like the B&W Irene Dunne/Cary Grant version better)
The Shop Around the Corner (far superior to the remake, You've Got Mail)
Charade

Historical (set in a time period different from when they were made -- costume romantic comedies)
Pride and Prejudice -- the miniseries with Colin Firth (I wasn't crazy about the film version with Keira Knightley)
Sense and Sensibility (the Emma Thompson version)
Emma (just about any version -- I think I've liked all the recent ones. There was an A&E version with a young Kate Beckinsale, then there was the Gwyneth Paltrow big-screen version and then a more recent PBS miniseries)
A Room with a View
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Much Ado About Nothing (the Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh version)
Down With Love (a spoof of the early 60s Doris Day films)
Shakespeare in Love
I Capture the Castle
Cold Comfort Farm
(the bottom three might not technically be romances as two of them don't have the happy romantic ending and one hardly deals with the romantic relationship, but they still scratch the romantic comedy itch for me)

Contemporary (meaning I saw them first-run or could have seen them first-run)
Not all of these are brilliant movies. I may have some issues with some of them, but for the most part, I don't think any of them are truly bad movies that I would consider "cynical."
Bridget Jones's Diary (but not the sequel)
While You Were Sleeping
When Harry Met Sally …
Love Actually
The Holiday
Letters to Juliet (I've only watched it once and liked it then, but I haven't had a chance to revisit and be more analytical about it)
You've Got Mail (but not as good as the original)
The Very Thought of You (had a different title for British release -- kind of obscure, but very interesting because it plays a lot with perception and viewpoint)
I'm With Lucy (another obscure one, but interesting because of the story structure because it's non-linear -- the heroine is getting ready for her wedding and telling the story of how she met her husband, and then the stories of several men she dated in the past year are woven together, but we don't know which one she's marrying)
Clueless
Four Weddings and a Funeral (except for the ending)
Mrs. Winterbourne
Notting Hill (except for the ending)
Office Space
The Fabulous Baker Boys
Working Girl
Hope Floats
Sleepless in Seattle (though I really don't think of this one as that romantic, since they don't even meet until the end)
Romancing the Stone

Paranormal/Fantasy
Tangled (yes, the cartoon, the one Disney fairy tale movie that is structurally a romantic comedy)
Kate and Leopold (trivia note: this screenwriter wrote the Enchanted, Inc. screenplay that didn't get produced. I'd love to see what he did with it to see if I like it or to see why Universal didn't like it)
Just Like Heaven
Sliding Doors (I'm not sure how comedic this one really is, but it works when I'm moody and need to both laugh and cry)
The Princess Bride (not really focused on the romance, but still, it has to be on all lists of movies to watch)
Enchanted (duh, can't believe I forgot this one)

The Bad Ones
To be honest, I've enjoyed some of these, but mostly, they irk me and I wish they could have been done better
Leap Year (just a few tweaks to the script and it could have been decent)
Raising Helen
Something Borrowed
28 Dresses
Knocked Up (I know this was very successful, but I hated it, mostly because I loathe that overgrown frat boy man child thing)
Must Love Dogs (I read the book, but somehow the movie was bland)
The Wedding Date (an abomination -- they completely missed the point of the book it was based on)
New in Town -- I couldn't get past the first 20 minutes on HBO, so it has to go on a "bad" list
Because I Said So -- I think I have a rant written somewhere about this one. The problem isn't so much the cynicism behind it as it is the fact that it doesn't seem to realize it's about pathological behavior. It had potential, though
Addicted to Love -- something Meg Ryan would probably want off her resume. She tried to act edgy. It didn't work.
French Kiss -- I saw it on a date and still barely remember it