Review of Romantic Comedy (2019)

IMDb

Seen in 2020.

Loving criticism of the romcom genre with a particular focus on big-name US and UK productions. Instead of talking heads, commentators are only heard, not seen or named, over clips from genre movies.

The flow is good, and the decision to use almost nothing but clips is a good one and well executed. Bonus points for not returning to the conclusion of Made of Honor (2008) freeze-framed at the start. The analysis is not bad either, just shallow. For example, the main character’s behaviour in While You Were Sleeping (1995) would indeed be crazy in reality and is arguably a symptom of various ills in contemporary culture production, but the fact that it would be crazy is both obvious and intended as a selling point unto itself; it’s no mistake.

Elizabeth Sankey does not start with a structural analysis of what actually constitutes a romcom, nor does she explain why the genre exists, beyond noting continuity from screwball. She tacitly assumes its purpose is something like her own: To prepare girls for real-world romance, which is false. By the same token, Sankey offers no explanatory model with her strongest complaint, that gay men were generally stereotyped in ’90s/’00s Hollywood productions while other LBTQ characters as well as people of colour and the working class were typically relegated to indies she herself knew nothing about at the time.

With an understanding that the genre was a tool for making money (for investors) by selling intuitive, glamorous fantasies and familiarity, the sexism, racism and classism of the classic romcom are easily explained and deeper, more interesting problems open up. This is outside Sankey’s scope; she credits only two books as sources, beyond the wealth of primary sources (the movies themselves). For an easily accessible, non-academic criticism, it’s fine.

moving picture non-fiction