SUSPECT NO. 3: STARS
In 2007 the industry thought it had found a new romantic-comedy heroine: Knocked Up's Katherine Heigl, a TV actress who, it was hoped, would appeal to women and men. Quickly, Hollywood cast her in everything — with 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth and Killers, Heigl did a romantic comedy every year for three years. They were terrible, and Heigl has since been accused of single-handedly killing off the genre.

"I doubt most writers are sitting down for six months to a year to write something they know they probably can't sell." —Nancy Meyers

Heigl was hounded out of the big leagues (just this month, she launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $150,000 to finish her current film, a low-budget lesbian romantic comedy co-starring Alexis Bledel). But it was a witch hunt: Heigl's romantic comedies actually earned money.

Just look at the numbers: 27 Dresses cost $30 million and made $160.2 million worldwide; The Ugly Truth cost $38 million and made $205.3 million. Only Killers was a flop, and after three hits in a row, most actors deserve a pass. Not that Heigl got one.

Director Paul Feig with Kristen Wiig on the set of Bridesmaids: "I've been lectured so many times by producers and people in power, 'You don't want to get pigeonholed in the whole woman thing.'"
Suzanne Hanover, Universal Studios
Director Paul Feig with Kristen Wiig on the set of Bridesmaids: "I've been lectured so many times by producers and people in power, 'You don't want to get pigeonholed in the whole woman thing.'"
"Knocked Up was the last great romantic comedy, and that was seven years ago," says Evan Mirzai, co-author of Doppelgangers, an unproduced rom-com script on the Black List.
"Knocked Up was the last great romantic comedy, and that was seven years ago," says Evan Mirzai, co-author of Doppelgangers, an unproduced rom-com script on the Black List.

A massive romantic-comedy smash was once a sure-fire way for a starlet to become America's sweetheart. Yet today's young ingenues have avoided the genre, choosing instead to play the girlfriend to an inexhaustible supply of men in tights.

An equally big problem is that the kind of star who can open a movie — any movie, not just one based on a comic book or board game — is expensive. That's another reason that romantic comedies, which should be among the cheapest of genre films, are perceived as a risk.

Take How Do You Know, the 2010 James L. Brooks romantic comedy that banked its fortune on big names. Brooks spent $15 million to secure star Reese Witherspoon, $12 million on Jack Nicholson, another $10 million on Owen Wilson and a comparatively paltry $3 million on Paul Rudd. That's $40 million in salaries, and then somehow Brooks spent another $89 million shooting the thing.

How Do You Know proceeded to make just $30 million — $48.7 million if you tack on the total global gross. It's the poster child for how the modern romantic comedy went wrong: It was lazy and expensive, assuming its audience would show up for the names and forgive the clichéd script. But audiences aren't dumb.

That the major studios haven't funded another splashy romantic comedy since implies that they've once again drawn the wrong conclusion: If Reese and Jack can't make bank, why bother with the genre?

But that attitude, again, ignores Hollywood's own history.

When Julia Roberts was cast in 1990's Pretty Woman, she was so unknown that the studio got her for the bargain price of $300,000. Ditto Meg Ryan, who was a low-budget choice in 1989's When Harry Met Sally..., her first romantic comedy. The studios took a risk on unknown leads, and not only did they make huge profits, they also launched careers that would go on to reap major dividends.

Further evidence: The biggest romantic comedy ever is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a $5 million fluke with no-name stars. It raked in $241.4 million at the domestic box office and another $127.3 million globally.

So what if the adage that stars sell romantic comedies is wrong? Or, more specifically, what if it has been exaggerated and misapplied? What if, instead of two stars or four stars — or, in the case of Valentine's Day, fourteen stars — you need only one: the Richard Gere to your raw, red-haired beauty, the Billy Crystal to your untested blonde soap actress?

What if the key to a successful romantic comedy is simply getting the right leading man?

"Men are more interested in [romantic comedies] if the male characters have real roles and not just supporting parts," Meyers notes. "I've been lucky to work with guys men respond to, like Mel Gibson, Jack Nicholson, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. I think those actors help men feel more comfortable with the genre."

Perhaps, instead of an actress shortage, romantic comedies are experiencing an actor crisis. We can name ingenues who should be making romantic comedies: Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Jennifer Lawrence. But who would they act against? As counterintuitive as it is to suggest, what if the key to a successful romantic comedy isn't the actress but the actor?

SUSPECT NO. 4: CHANGING MORES
With four romantic comedies that have topped $100 million — The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates, Mr. Deeds and Just Go With ItAdam Sandler has proven that men will buy tickets to romantic comedies that offer a male perspective. The Farrelly brothers hammered home the point with There's Something About Mary, and Judd Apatow scored two more touchdowns with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up.

In fact, the last decade has seen as many male-driven hit romantic comedies as traditional female ones. The definition of a romantic comedy has stretched so much that the line where it stops and the R-rated sex comedy begins has become blurred: For every escapist stiletto flick, there's a raunchy Zack and Miri Make a Porno; for every wedding-centric Made of Honor, there's a free-wheeling No Strings Attached.

"In our opinion, Knocked Up was the last great romantic comedy, and that was seven years ago," says Evan Mirzai, who with his brother, Shea, co-authored the second unproduced rom-com script on the Black List, Doppelgangers, a naughty romp about identical twins (like them) competing for the same woman. "Every guy goes through the same things that women do in these movies. We all try to have relationships and keep things together. So why not do it in such a way where you can say 'fuck' 50 times and have a guy realize that he's falling in love?"

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
7 comments
 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Around The Web

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Loading...