Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Editorial: Are romantic comedies ruining local cinema?

First written 6th September 2009

Me and the Romantic Comedy genre, or “Rom-Com” have always had a straightforward relationship. To put it bluntly it’s the only genre I’m not too keen on... scratch that, out right hate. But my recent issue with this flamboyant sub-genre has not manifested itself from it’s predictable plot-lines, bland characterization and half-baked attempts at both romance and comedy, no. I respect other people’s opinions and these films cater to the young women of this world and their clearly reluctant boyfriends, however in recent times my patience has to be running thin. These films not only appear to be churned out as if the genre was on a money powered iron lung, but has even begun to shaft films that are in many instances more critically AND commercially successful. This could be the case with any genre of film but in a landmark case of “Sod’s Law”, it’s the Rom-Com on trial.

Those of you who are fortunate to live in the big cities might usually be treated to a variety of local cinemas with up to three in any district alone not counting independent film groups. Those on the other hand who are unfortunate to live in the quiet town cliche have had to settle with just the one, thus only what it shows. Despite the film industry like any other creative media being full of artistic talents prepared to create something worthwhile, at the end of the day it is still an industry, run by studio executives and high roller producers whose goal is make money and these times of bloated action flicks and half-baked comedies what’s the best route to take? Something unconventional like Natural Born Killers made $60 million, something complex like The Shawshank Redemption made $30 million, heck even something with Johnny Depp like Ed Wood made just $6 million (and you know what fangirls are like)... a Romantic Comedy on the other hand, Four Weddings and a Funeral made $250 million! All these films were released in the same year and this is just one example. Great, looks like I’m stuck with the latter in this months local release schedule.

While Four Weddings and a Funeral was a hit with apparent originality for it’s time, all those involved must now carry the stigma of trend that followed. Without pointing the finger at any particular chain of cinemas (you know who you are), the Romantic Comedy genre is a chronically fattened up cash cow that seems to be milked on a regular basis with up to three of this genre currently in the UK top ten alone at the time of this article, withdrawing those that settle with just the romantic half (that would raise it to four films). A cliche ridden summer blockbuster like Transformers 2 or GI Joe might appear to be the worst offenders when it comes to cash consuming trash since they’re big, loud and have unusually attractive women as the innocent bystanders. While these films’ marketing campaigns are on par with a Mongol conquest, the sheer volume of Rom-Coms is somewhat more surprising than previously thought if not actually scary. Using US box office referencing, If you were to collect every American film since 1980, categorize each into a genre then further sub categorizing each again, the average number of films for each kind of film is between 30 and 80... for Romantic Comedies there are over 300. And if you bother including films that run in the same format such as teen comedies and youth-orientated musicals, it would go beyond the thresh hold making it the largest scripted genre. With that prospect in your head you’d happily line up days before the release of Transformers 3: Rise of the CGI. At least then they’d be variety.

From personal experience, in 2008 alone, there were two films I was prepared to dish out my last few coppers for the unreasonably high entrance fee, yet in an ironic twist none of which were released at my local cinema. The first film to fall foul was the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men, instead I got “P.S. I Love You”, that all I got from was an overly warm pin up flaunting a cringeworthy pair of young lovers embracing. The second was Cloverfield, a film upon reflection was severely hyped, particularly on the net. Nope, instead I got “Over Her Dead Body” starring some... thing from Desperate Housewives (on a side note No Country was eventually shown at an independent venue and for the first time sold out the hall). But here’s the thing, unlike the impressive revenue of Four Weddings and a Funeral, these other examples of the genre didn’t crush their own studio under it’s vast gross profit, so why were they inflicted upon a small town that already had it’s fill with the likes of them in previous years and is now starving for something original and mind blowing?

Perhaps I’m looking to much into it and there’s only so long a subject can milked for the big screen with this genre being something of a recent incarnation. But here’s the thrust of my concerns, they’ve only tapped a small percentage of possible romantic comedy scenarios. With the recent trend of remakes and sequels, it’s not far-fetched to see this pattern merging with the already bloated genre. And here’s the scary part, they haven’t even begun utilizing queer culture, Bollywood, science fiction and horror hybrids and historical backdrops. For this film goer, queer culture has the potential to become the worst offender. Films like Brokeback Mountain and Milk took a sensitive approach to the subject matter yet it’s camp, or “metrosexual” thats all the rage and with the success of the Sex in the City movie, it’s just a matter of time before the Will and Grace or Queer Eye factor begins showing it’s well-styled face on the cinema scene.

But I digress... Whether or not you’re a fan of Romantic Comedies, no one could possibility stomach the vast quantities of this genre. Even if in a blissful state of mind you are some how an avid Rom-Com fan, you’d be broke if you wanted to see everything plastered on the cinema walls, plain and simple. Since this article is in such negative spirits, the question I can only ask is who’s to blame? Can it be the public despite some box office figures still indicating the craving for other genres? Maybe the cinemas themselves despite thinking they’d learn their lesson from showing films that didn’t break records? Technically there is no right or wrong culprit here, in fact it’s most likely a mixture of both parties... but for this film goer it’s neither. Instead it’s our good old friend *cue dramatic music* the Advertisers... and why isn’t even difficult to think about. While not trying to show bias against a genre I’ve denounced from the beginning, many of them don’t have the originality to survive on their own merits, so instead they’re branded on every TV break, poster space and website. I dare you to look into any three of these and not tell me you’re found at least a couple of these films or even teen comedies or feel-good films that are typically the same thing. If you took someone unfamiliar with the film industry and marched them down the street to the local cinema, they might just think it was the only genre.

Yes, I know many blame big budget action films for the dumbing down of cinema, but in an unfair comparison: Harold Shipman killed more people than Jack the Ripper, but who is more famous?

Statistics from Box Office Mojo.

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