More than any other film genre romantic comedy suffers from a bad case of predictability. How many times have we seen two unlikely people beat the odds to become a happy couple by the time the credits roll? Dorky Harry meets beautiful Sally. Pretty Woman of the Night seduced by suave rich guy.
It’s déjà vu all over again.
The trick to making a good rom-com is to make the journey — how the characters wind up locking lips at the film’s end — interesting.
New In Town, the latest from Renée Zellweger does this by moving the action out of New York, where all great romantic comedies are set, to Minnesota.
This location twist is often used in the most common type of romantic comedy, the trademarked Drew Barrymore rom-com. On film Drew has fallen in love in Hawaii (50 First Dates), Boston (Fever Pitch) and everywhere in between.
The breakdown for a Barrymore romance is simple. Act One sees the quirky couple meet. Sparks fly. Act Two has the pair falling in love under unlikely circumstances. Things go great until a confrontation leads to separation. Act Three contains the Grand Gesture. He or she, depending on the movie, moves heaven and earth to win the other back. Insert happy ending.
Barrymore, of course, isn’t to blame for the state of rom-coms. Neither is Kate or Reese. They’re just mimicking an age old formula.
Trouble in Paradise, an Ernst Lubitsch classic from 1932, follows the structure and it could be argued that Shakespeare was the architect of the rom-com.
So why, after half a millennium, do romantic comedies still thrill audiences? I think it’s primal. Deep down we all love a happy ending and while real life relationships might not always work, it’s assured that when Harry meets Sally, it will be forever. That kind of certainty, no matter how unreal, keeps us coming back for more.
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