“As fascinating and as funny as ‘Knocked Up’ is, it represents what can only be called the disenchantment of romantic comedy, the end point of a progression from Fifth Avenue to the Valley, from tuxedos to tube socks, from a popped champagne cork to a baby crowning.”
So writes David Denby in his worthwhile essay for The New Yorker, about the state of the modern romantic comedy, which is currently receiving some provocative traction in the film blogosphere. It’s a long and interesting read, contextualizing where Judd Apatow and Co. have positioned the romantic comedy, and how it has evolved over decades. For Christmas, my boss Louis Black gave me a Preston Sturges box set which Jarren and I have been making our way through over the last few months. In watching the Sturges screwball comedies (some for the first time), I’m reminded of the cigarette-and-tuxedo era of romance onscreen. And, yes, I must agree with Denby that times are a-changin’ with regard to how we see ourselves, and our relationships, at the movie theater.
There are many reasons why things have changed: some of it political, some of it technological, all of it cultural. But, at the end of the day (as Denby quotes from Shakespeare), “The world must be peopled.” And the same motivations and aspirations for longterm love that my parents and grandparents’ generations saw in the classic Hawks/Capra/Sturges films or golden age Woody Allen, is what me and my friends see in films such as Knocked Up, High Fidelity, and About a Boy. When I first saw all three of those films, I was impacted personally in ways that The Philadelphia Story and Annie Hall never did. Not to say they are better films (they aren’t), but the contemporary boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-argue-over-commitment comedies serve a very real purpose today. Because, for better or worse, that’s the way things have been. Most of the friends I have getting married this year, are having their first marriages well into their 30s. Commitment, on both sides of the altar, takes longer than it used to and our filmmakers reflect that.
Nothing would please me more than to see a film with as much carefree confidence and old-fashioned courtship as one of those Sturges films in my box set. Oh, wait, I have. It’s called Once, and it’s doing very well with audiences at the cinema right now. These films do exist, they’ve just been remodeled a bit for the online generation. Or, you have something as touching and beautiful as Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, which is probably one of the most painfully real love stories I’ve seen all year. Anyway, this recent phenomenon of “the beauty and the slacker” love stories, ain’t leaving filmmaking anytime soon. And, that’s fine by me, because I like most of them. Plus, I always have that Sturges box set when I need it.