Last Friday, Lisa Schwarzbaum of “Entertainment Weekly”, unleashed onto the world a brilliant thesis noting that romantic comedies are back, men are getting more sensitive, and asking the question: Are movie guys the new girls?
Today, we here at FSR offer an answer: No.
In all fairness, you should read her entire piece here, because taking our vilified version of it at face value isn’t advised. For the most part, though, she argues that:
1) Men are showing off their feminine sides in more movies.
2) Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Made of Honor, Juno, Knocked Up, Enchanted, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Sweet Home Alabama, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, There’s Something About Mary, and No Reservations are all romantic comedies.
3) Men and Women have completely different, mutually exclusive tastes in movies.
Insulted yet? Then stop showing your emotional side.
First of all, since when have romantic comedies needed to be revived? It’s not like the Western, which is truly a lost genre (with the exception of the occasional fine film like 3:10 to Yuma or Open Range). The rom-com has been and will continue to be one of the most bankable genres in movie history. True, they don’t usually top $100 mil as Schwarzbaum points out, but that’s because their budgets are small enough to make bank by pulling in $50 mil or less. Tack on solid DVD sales, and you have a winner on your hands.
Second, A-list men appearing in rom-coms is hardly unheard of. Everyone from Richard Gere to Luke Wilson has pitched a little woo for a buck. Let’s not forget, of course, the titan of the rom-com, Academy Award winning, legitimate actor, Tom Hanks who starred in no fewer than 123* romantic comedies in the 1990s – one of which was a remake of Jimmy Stewart’s The Shop Around the Corner. By that count, men have been “the new girls” since 1940.
Of course, the most glaring error in the piece is the broad generalization and haphazard stamping of a dozen movies with the rom-com label like a drunken stock boy marking everything in your 99 Cent Store as $15.99.
By Schwarzbaum’s account, Clerks II might as well be a rom-com because the doughy male lead and the snarky female lead get together in the end. And there’s a donkey show. So, because calling Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Juno romantic comedies sounds wrong, and because we love making lists, we thought we’d clear up what comedies have to have to be considered, you know, romantic:
1. Love is the central theme, and it must be funny. Groundbreaking, we know, but apparently it wasn’t obvious that the relationship has to be the main focus of the story.
2. Fits the Pretty Woman template of external conflict or the When Harry Met Sally template of internal conflict. We’re borrowing (or blatantly stealing) this from a thesis statement that Norah Ephron once made about rom-coms – that they are either from the Christian world view in which the factor keeping the characters apart is the outside world or the Jewish world view in which the factors keeping the characters apart are their own internal issues.
3. Generally (but not always) a female is the primary lead character.
4. There has to be a male lead (or a female lead if #3 is changed) that is no less than the secondary lead. Third-tier or supporting roles don’t count.
5. Must have a quirky best friend, usually on each side.
6. There must be a break-up moment before they get back together in the very end.
7. Is usually rated PG-13.
8. Has a significant boy-meets-girl moment.
9. Anything I’d take my wife to.
10. There must be a donkey show at the end.
Our list may not be comprehensive or exact, but it still seems criminal to compare You’ve Got Mail to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. We’re assuming there’s no deleted scene where Tom Hanks flashes his third leg to Meg Ryan, although we heard a rumor that there was supposed to be a donkey show waiting for both of them at the top of the Empire State Building in Sleepless In Seattle.
Tijuana bestiality jokes aside, just because there’s a romantic angle to a story, or in some cases a wispy-thin subplot, does not make the film a rom-com. Knocked Up is a raunch-com (a newly minted phrase from Kevin Carr), Juno is an indie comedy, and Enchanted is a kid’s movie. Additionally, Chuck and Larry is about as much a romantic comedy as Little Nicky or The Waterboy are. Adam Sandler does rom-coms, and he does so quite well with The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. Even more obvious, There’s Something About Mary is nowhere near being a rom-com, let alone a “sweet-spot” romantic comedy. At the time it was released, and even now, it’s identified as a gross-out comedy, and heralded the return of the R-rated laugher.
Also, for those of you keeping score at home, Jason Segel’s character wailing in his hotel room in Hawaii was not a show of his emotional side as a means to appeal to female viewers. It was a joke, showing what an absolute douche he was – not trumpeting his femininity. Making fun of a guy acting like a woman does not mean a new age of emotional males has dawned.
On the other side of mislabeling movies, Schwarzbaum tauts Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End and Transformers as guy-only movies. By our count, though, both should be considered rom-coms because there’s a kiss at the end of World’s End and Shia Lebouf ends up with the girl after braving the many awesome explosions of Transformers.
Honestly, though, Kiera Knightly made Pirates female-centric, and Transformers was not simply driven by fanboys. Girls can like fun action movies, too, and you can’t make $300 million at the box office with only one gender buying tickets.
There’s also nothing new about the average guy getting the girl. In fact, chiseled guys rarely make great rom-com leads. They have to be vulnerable and sensitive to a degree. They also have to be flawed in some way because women, by nature, like to fix things and improve their men. The Hollywood hottie in a rom-com is usually the antagonistic, vacuous jerk. How’s that for gender stereotyping?
The bottom line? Men and women both like good stories – whether they are about a hero striving for the gold medal, two people finding love despite their differences or alien robots finding love despite their differences before blowing up the planet. It’s no secret that the target markets are necessarily different, but it seems foolish to parse everything with a love story into the rom-com category. Trust us, you won’t need to bring a box of tissues to Forgetting Sarah Marshall unless you’re a guy and enjoy Kristen Bell begging to perform fellatio a bit too much.
So, no, the sensitive male in movies as a new cultural meme is neither new nor an actual cultural meme. Oddly enough, Schwarzbaum’s piece is a little bit behind the times, as the sensitive male was more a creature of the 90s. It’s only when a ton of different films are thrown incorrectly into the rom-com bin that this cultural trend emerges.