Much has been written lately about the death of the romantic comedy. The writers of these essays come to varying conclusions (the genre is dead, it isn’t dead but is gravely injured, it’s still alive but changed and/or hidden within other genres) and point their fingers at different culprits (modern audiences, greedy studios, bad writers, actors/actresses who phone it in).
As the writer of romantic comedy, I have, to put it mildly, been following this debate with great interest — not because I want my book made into a movie (though of course I wouldn’t mind!) but because if audiences truly are tired and bored with romantic comedy films, then surely they are tired of romantic comedy novels as well.
The truth is, even after reading numerous articles and essays on this topic, I’m not sure what I believe. On the one hand, I cannot believe the public at large has lost its appetite for rom coms altogether. Maybe I’m an outlier — a total freak of nature — but sometimes, the only story I’m in the mood to see is a smart, breezy romance that will make me laugh. Who doesn’t like to laugh? Who doesn’t want to step out of reality for an hour or two and believe true love is possible? Isn’t that part of what going to the movies is about?
But I do agree modern viewers — and readers, for that matter — are looking for a fresh take on the genre. Sure, all rom coms tend to end up at the same place, but it’s the journey that movie goers and readers enjoy. If that journey feels stale or dated or completely divorced from reality, then why bother?
The above seems obvious, and yet it doesn’t seem to apply to other genres, particularly those involving superheroes and lots of special effects. That’s probably because (a) those movies do really well internationally, and (b) your Average Joe/Jane is more likely to spend $12 to see a spectacle on the big screen rather than a rom com he/she could — and would rather — watch snuggled up on the couch at home.
That said, just as “chick lit” seems to have become a dirty word, so has the phrase “chick flick.” Why? Why is a story about love and relationships less worthy than a story about a guy who puts on a souped-up iron suit and flies around avenging evil? I think NPR’s Linda Holmes (whose writing I love) said it best:
Stop saying “chick flick” like it’s “pile of rotten meat,” and stop saying “chick lit” and “chick book” and “chick movie” and anything else that suggests that love stories are less than war stories, or that stories that end with kissing are inherently inferior to stories that end with people getting shot. Or, if you believe they are and you want to continue believing that they are, stop pretending you’re open to romantic comedies getting better.
Sing it, sister.
The above explains why I bristle at the idea of “hiding” rom coms within other genres, billing movies as broad comedies (with, shhh, some romance) or action-comdies (with, don’t tell anyone, some romance). A romantic comedy doesn’t have to be the same formula over and over. Let it evolve. But at the same time, let it be what it inherently is: a story about love, romance, and relationships that will make people laugh. I will continue — unapologetically — to write stories that fit that description. I only hope people will continue to want to read them.
What do you think? Is the romantic comedy dead? What would YOU like to see done differently on the big screen when it comes to rom coms?
(p.s. I do not profess to be an expert on the film industry. I have many friends who qualify in that department, and I’m sure they could write on this topic far more eloquently and intelligently than I have here!)