Thank goodness Valentine’s Day is finally over! Besides the social pressures to get matched up by the predestined date, there’s the needless gift-giving that only shows monetary value instead of pure passion. Another symptom of this whimsical holiday is the bevy of romantic dramas and comedies that get a much needed rewatch. Everyone loves love, at least to an extent, and films featuring it are often feel-good or at least enrapturing with their depictions of woebegone lovers, star-crossed or not. In the spirit of love, and not the holiday that concerns it, I want to dissect the reasons why romantic films work and why they don’t.
Lately, large casts of big name stars have been making films about love but also about certain holidays. The first to really capitalize on this trend was “Love Actually,” which was about Christmas but also the interwoven lives of many couples, all played by British actors. Some of the stories were sweet, others hard to swallow. People have argued whether or not it’s a good movie, whether the stories are interesting and whether it’s sappy, melodramatic tripe. Whatever side you’re on, we can all agree that recent movies that have fallen into this trend have been anything but revolutionary. Gary Marshall’s “Valentine’s Day,” though awful, at least made sense, given the context of the holiday. His follow up “New Year’s Eve” was obviously trying to assign the meaning of love to a holiday that is much more about new beginnings, and it showed throughout its measly running time.
Holiday movies are also bad because they simply throw in a large ensemble of famous people and don’t think rationally about the chemistry between two leads. Even a really bad romantic film can be saved by good chemistry between two leads. Take “Say Anything,” a classic 1980s romantic drama about two teenagers. While the film is a bit overdramatic and angst-driven, with its teenaged protagonists, it works well because of the chemistry between John Cusack and Ione Skye. Any film that doesn’t show an attraction between two people is like a revealed magic trick, and no one wants to see the magic evaporate before their eyes.
Twenty years ago, women were gung ho to watch films about finding “the one” and living happily ever after, but tastes have changed, and today’s dating world is nothing like it used to be. To engage women and try to reach a new market of moviegoers, executives have concluded that women want the same gross-out humor that men do and that men may see more of these films if this kind of humor is included. Sometimes films do a decent job of making us laugh uncontrollably while being heartfelt and sweet. Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” both shows the juvenile humor of young adults and the complexity of love and family. Likewise “I Give It a Year” is a film about a splintering marriage under duress after a short time; while explicit and hilarious, it’s also heartfelt. “The Big Wedding,” on the other hand, is a disgusting, putrid film that employs sexism and gross-out humor to gain laughs, but blunders irrevocably, much like others of its kind.
Nicolas Sparks adaptations
Not to belittle an author’s entire body of work, but these films have been cranked out since “The Notebook” came out, and I think many of us are a little tired of them. They’re all predictable, box-office destroying monstrosities that feature lifeless performances and serious drama. Either someone dies overseas or loses their memory in their old age or there’s a bitter betrayal. Every poster looks the same and every story mirrors the next. In short, they’re pointless.
Big names can’t hold romantic comedies anymore because we’ve seen them play the same role a thousand times. Sandra Bullock, the absolute queen of the romantic comedy market, has done so because her performances have been of frazzled, awkward women with a lot of heart. Others haven’t been so lucky in playing the same role. Sarah Jessica Parker has made a string of bad films as of late that make me cringe. Katherine Heigl has also, including “One for the Money” and “Life as We Know It.” No one wants to see the same story with the same bland characters, and that goes for romantic films too.
Indie romantic films are still a good bet, and many funny, heartfelt films are coming out this year that I am excited for, including “The Pretty One” and the recently released “About Last Night.” Even for the cynical, there’s always a love story worth watching.