SXSW 2019: Romantic Comedy

Romantic Comedy breaks down this particular comedy genre beat by beat while showing clips of many rom-com films in the process.

Elizabeth Sankey narrates and directs this well-made documentary.  Through her narration and interviews, Sankey breaks down everything we know about the genre.  This isn’t only limited to present-day rom-coms but Sankey goes back to the classics.  She grew up as any teenage girl does:  learning about romance through the romantic comedy genre.

The 1930s were a very different time for women in film and Sankey points this out.  The on-screen gender dynamics are nothing like they would be after World War 2.  Women were being seen as strong intelligent women.  They were not quite the bumbling klutzes that would appear on screen in leater films.  Aside from the clumsiness, many of the beats in this films would not change.  No matter what film or year, there’s always that declaration of love.  While there are films that stray from these beats, everyone almost always has the happy ending.

Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s gave way to Doris Day in the 1960s.  While both may be blonde women, they bring a very different personality to the screen.  The 1990s would bring us the likes of Cameron Diaz.  Major points go to this film for showing the following clip from The Sweetest Thing.  What a joy it was to see Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair again!

This is just one of many films being dissected in the short documentary.  There’s a lot more where this came from.  But for as much joy as we find in these films, there are things that are quite problematic.  There are a number of rom-coms featured and to be honest, I haven’t thought of the characters in this way before.  After watching the documentary, I can now see how many men in these films are certainly problematic.  Obviously, there’s Matt Dillon in There’s Something About Mary.  Another clip features Zach Braff’s Michael waiting on the porch for Jacinda Barrett’s Jenna in The Last Kiss.  To be fair, Jenna’s own father, Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), is the one who tells Michael to do so!

Think about the gay best friend in rom-coms.  Let’s take My Best Friend’s Wedding, for example.  Are we to believe that George Downes (Rupert Everett) lives for Julianne Potter’s (Julia Roberts) every demand?  I would think that this would not be the case.  Again, Sankey and company break down this film for us.

The film isn’t shy of pointing out that many people reviewing the films are men.  This is certainly still a problem today.  All of that said, it’s very much a work in progress.  This is a story for another day.

I do give credit to Sankey for pointing out that the industry has some work to do.  Most of these romantic comedies display white heterosexual middle class couples.  Where are the people of color?  How many LGBTQ couples do we see in studio comedies?  Let alone a rom-com with a transgender actor in a leading role!  To her credit, Sankey runs through a number of films that go against the tide.  This is not to say that they don’t exist but they’re out there!

Romantic Comedy certainly is a joy to watch but brings a new perspective to many of our favorite films.

DIRECTOR:  Elizabeth Sankey
FEATURING:  Jessica Barden, Charlie Lyne, Anne T. Donahue, Laura Snapes, Cameron Cook, Eleanor McDowall, Simran Hans, Brodie Lancaster

Romantic Comedy holds its North American premiere during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in the Visions program. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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