With affection and brio, Elizabeth Sankey reclaims the genre of romantic comedy in this watchable documentary; that is, she reclaims it from the gendered snobbery of white, male, middle-aged reviewers who fall over themselves to praise horror movies or thrillers or superhero films but turn their noses up at romcom. (If La La Land had been marketed as a romcom, wonders Sankey, would it have got the same Oscars and saucer-eyed critical praise?)
Now, I’m putting my hands up here, although I still can’t handle Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday (2006), and I still worry that romcom tends to be all rom and no com, a conservative genre that often dislikes the subversion of comedy. I absolutely agreed with Sankey’s masterpiece rating for When Harry Met Sally … (1989) – what person of taste and judgment wouldn’t? – and I enjoyed her praise for While You Were Sleeping (1995), which she discreetly juxtaposes with the comparably themed The Big Sick (2017). But could it be that there is a kind of dual response going on here – straightforward reverence for a small number of romcom greats and a kind of guilty-pleasure celebration for the stratum of standard-issue romcom product below that, which maybe isn’t all that great but nonetheless foregrounds women’s experiences in the way no other genre does?
This film (rather like Charlie Lyne’s recent Beyond Clueless, about high-school movies) is an eloquent mosaic of movie clips, with a voiceover wittily pointing out the rhetorical strategies involved, how they are embedded in politics, and how the romcom has developed (or maybe not developed) since Hollywood’s golden age. She also points out the alternative traditions of romcom, movies that foreground gay characters and people of colour: films such as Kissing Jessica Stein (2001) and The Broken Hearts Club (2000).
I would have liked to hear Sankey talk about David Wain’s rather amazing and eerie full-length romcom spoof They Came Together (2014) and a bit more about Nicole Holofcener’s wonderful Enough Said (2013). But there is wisdom in her suggestion that romcom, for all its schmaltz, is the genre that nobly celebrates the idealism of love.
• Romantic Comedy is available on Mubi.
Source: The Guardian