Pop culture often behaves as if it were playing the caddish boyfriend in a bad rom-com: After relentlessly doling out disappointments and betrayals, it keeps the spunky romantic heroine on the hook by every so often offering up a gesture so supremely inspired, he’s impossible to dismiss. So it felt today when the Entertainment Media Industrial Complex was all atwitter at the news that a third installment in the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” franchise was in the works. As much as we were fleetingly amused by Hugh Grant‘s showboating smarminess and Renee Zelwegger‘s self-loathing ordinariness, the prospect of watching montages of an above average-looking woman hate on herself as if she looked like the Elephant Man has lost its novelty. In the third installment, according to this piece by EW’s Lynette Rice, Bridget will replace her marriage anxiety with — what else? – baby-making angst. Hilarity and snot-drenching sob sessions ensue.
Won’t this kind of why-can’t-I-do-anything-right? female-driven narrative seem a little dusty (not to mention regressive) to moviegoers in the Summer of 2012, presumably when Bridget 3 will be released? By then we’ll have watched Lisbeth Salander exact gruesome revenge on all manner of Swedish misogynists, perverts, and deviants in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss Everdeen, will have survived attempts on her life by at least twenty-four of her murderous competitors in “The Hunger Games.” And on a more intimate, human level, we’ll have been enchanted and moved by the recognizably nuanced connections forged between the characters in such beautifully told (and sometimes funny) love stories as “One Day,” an adaptation of David Nicholls‘ bestselling novel starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, and “Like Crazy,” the breakout hit of Sundance 2011 about the trials of a long-distance romance, starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones. Heck, we’ll even take Emma Stone’s self-possessed self-deprecation in “Crazy Stupid Love” over Bridget Jones’ unhinged betises any day.
The real challenge to Bridget Jones’ relevance will likely arrive in the form of Charlize Theron’s character in Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult” about a divorced fiction writer so deluded by her own panic over a manless future, she returns to her hometown and attempts to win over her now-married high school flame. This film offers a sad, tragic, and realistic take on what happens in the real world when a woman behaves as if she were a character in a rom-com and tries to reclaim the one that got away. Let’s just say this is not the version of the story where the lost love is unhappily married to a shrew and all it takes are a couple of walks in the park where they used to make out and drink Peppermint Schnapps for him to abandon his wife and live happily ever after with his first love.
This is not some grinchly dismissal of the tropes upon which all romantic comedies turn. We know they’re fairy tales. Not only do we enjoy a good rom-com, we worship the artists who have elevated the genre by creating original setups populated by believable characters who share a genuine connection and often a knack for verbal jousting. As far as we’re concerned, these are the gold standard of the genre: “The Lady Eve,” “Sabrina,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and “It Happened One Night.” Some more recent examples include “Annie Hall,” “Sideways,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Before Sunset,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and we’d even include “The Kids Are All Right.”
All we’re saying here is that we’ve evolved as a species since the late ’90s. We deserve better than reheated rom-coms from another era with jokes about bad hair days and belly bulges. We live in a complicated world and it shouldn’t be too much to ask to have our mainstream entertainment reflect that with more nuanced movies about love. Comic book filmmakers seem to have caught on: Is there any Marvel movie that isn’t about a character’s struggle with his inner demons? So all we’re asking is that Hollywood step up its game and spare us any more trite and trifling romantic comedies.
Do you support our crusade to raise the bar in terms of believability (not to mention quality) in contemporary screwball comedies? What are some of your favorite rom-coms, either classic or unsung?