American Romantic Comedy

Leger Grindon

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online July 2012 | | DOI:
American Romantic Comedy


Romantic comedies, from classics such as Trouble in Paradise (1932) to 21st-century hits like Knocked Up (2007), have been a cornerstone of Hollywood entertainment since the coming of sound. Success in romantic comedy has created stars from Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant to Julia Roberts and Ben Stiller. In spite of being popular movies with a long and continuous history of production, romantic comedies have won only a few Oscars for Best Picture: It Happened One Night (1934), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), The Apartment (1960), Annie Hall (1977) and Shakespeare in Love (1998). Romantic comedies are often dismissed as formulaic stories promoting fantasies about love. But these comedies have a pedigree that includes William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde. Moreover, these films reward study because they deal with dramatic conflicts central to human experience. From those conflicts arise the familiar conventions that form the foundation for the romantic comedy and portray our social manners surrounding courtship, sexuality, and gender relations. Romantic comedy films create a comic climate through a series of cues to the audience: subject matter is treated as trivial, jokes and physical humor make fun of events, and characters are protected from harm. Even though the story poses serious problems, such as finding a life partner, the process appears lighthearted, anticipating a positive resolution. The plot of most romantic comedies could be presented with the earnestness of melodrama, but the humorous tone transforms the experience. The movie assumes a self-deprecating stance that signals the audience to relax and have fun, for nothing serious will disturb their pleasure. However, this sly pose allows comic artists to influence their audience while the viewers take little notice of the work’s persuasive power. If humor establishes the tone, courtship provides the plot. In a broad sense the subject of romantic comedy is the values, attitudes, and practices that shape the play of human desire. The transforming power of love is an overarching theme. More than sexuality, these films portray a drive toward marriage or long-term partnership. Indeed, romantic comedy portrays the stories that allow men and women to reflect upon romance as a personal experience and a social phenomenon. As a result, scholars such as Celestino Deleyto speak of romantic comedy engaging in the discourse of love, representing the shifting practice of, and the evolving ideas about, romance in our culture.

Article.  13249 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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