Monday, March 11, 2019

SXSW with Abe: Romantic Comedy

I’m excited to be attending the film festival at South by Southwest for the second time, and I’ll be posting reviews throughout the week as I see as many movies as possible!

Romantic Comedy
Directed by Elizabeth Sankey

The romantic comedy is one of the most established and recognizable genres, and it’s also sometimes considered less sophisticated than others. Its roots go back many decades almost to the beginning of cinema, and what most people can probably agree on is that the level of enjoyment audiences derive from watching such films pales in comparison to the monumentally unrealistic expectations conjured up with representations of love, romance, and sex, as well as what both partners in a relationship will actually get from each other.

This documentary examines the history of the romantic comedy through the many problematic tropes that have presented themselves within the genre almost since its inception. The evolution of the woman’s role and the way it shifted following the end of World War II is covered but takes a backseat to the way that women have been portrayed since, nearly always submissive to their male partners and needing to change themselves in order to fit the mold demanded of them both societally and cinematically. The rare instances of diversity and counterprogramming that do exist are briefly addressed towards the end of the film, but it’s clear that there’s far too little in the way of affirming evidence to suggest that the romantic comedy is more positive than negative.

Every moment in this film features a clip from a previously-released romantic comedy. Commentary is provided by a number of people, though they are never seen on screen or identified beyond a mention in the opening credits. In the case of certain recognizable voices, like that of Jessica Barden, who often laughs at her own observations, it seems strange to have the narration disembodied when the films in question are allowed to speak for themselves. This feels a lot more like a video essay than a documentary film, sharply edited together to support a particular narrative but hardly a groundbreaking or new approach to the concept of cinema analysis.

This film posits that, while romantic comedies are rarely taken as seriously as other cinematic fare, the all-too-familiar tendencies that are displayed do the public a disservice. It does succeed at making a strong case that not only are the roles that women are often forced to assume and the disproportionally acceptable behavior men can practice inaccurate to real life, they’re also dangerous because they transmit those sensibilities to impressionable audiences. While it’s hardly as optimistic as a romantic comedy might be, this documentary has weight, though its lack of a particularly gripping storytelling style and its short seventy-seven-minute lead to a somewhat unfulfilling result.


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