For this week’s class session, students were required to watch a movie with a “singlist” or “matrimaniacal” message. I gave them a bunch of romantic comedies from which they could choose, or they could certainly pick their own.
From the list, one student chose Roll Bounce, which isn’t a romantic comedy, but has a romantic subplot that I felt was unnecessary. I was quite happy the student noticed that at the end of the movie, there were THREE hookups: the protagonist, the protagonist’s best friend, and the protagonist’s father.
Another student gave a very nice distinction about the 40-Year-Old Virgin: “I do not specifically think the film favors marriage over singlehood but it certainly favors some type of romantic bond over being single.” Very true; Andy is seen as a broken weirdo until he hooks up with Trish.
Students who analyzed Just Wright and The Ugly Truth also found that the female protagonists in the movie were critiqued for dressing casually (“How are you supposed to find a man?”). I wondered whether they had changed their attire by the movie’s end (many movies have their characters doing just that).
A couple of students found that in their movies (Just Wright and He’s Just Not That Into You), the protagonists found romance just by being themselves. It’s a better message than, say, Crossing Delancey or Just One of the Guys, but still, can’t one be oneself and be single? Mary pointed out that one of the plot threads in He’s Just Not That Into You had a woman discovering she was better off single.
Sandy pointed out that in Hitch, the titular character’s true occupation (date doctor) was revealed, which led to the “Dark Night of the Soul” moment (Will Smith and Eva Mendes’s characters break up). Of course, true to romantic comedy convention, they get back together (not much of a spoiler alert either). Sandy noticed that “the film is more realistic if the character’s relationships would have ended with them going their separate ways.” Yeah, but that’d be too realistic for Hollywood.
All of this came out in our discussion, and I provided them with a handout, “Seven Story Beats to Help Outline Your Romantic Comedy.” We discussed about how it’s the law for Hollywood screenwriters to follow those beats because romantic comedies are essentially a form of escapism. We also talked about Amy Gahran’s concept of the “relationship escalator” as related to the thread of He’s Just Not That Into You, in which everybody’s pressuring one of the couples to transcend from domestic partnership to wedded bliss. In the “romantic subplot” discussion, I brought up the “beat sheet” from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, which advises aspiring screenwriters to place the “B-story” at thirty minutes. Usually, this B-story is the romantic subplot. I also offered a reading, “Contradictory Messages: A Content Analysis,” by Kimberly Johnson and Bjarne Holmes, in which they analyze scenes forty different romantic comedies and discuss the possibility of impact on real-life romantic relationships. They found there was no significant impact for adults, but I mention a concern in my upcoming book that adolescents who make decisions based on the narratives they receive from romantic comedies (i.e., marrying or giving birth at a young age) could be destructive for some. It’s a theory, but a valid one, I think.
As of this upcoming week, classes at my university are being taught remotely, so it’ll be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out.
My name is Craig. I'm an educator, writer, and unapologetic singleton. When not reading, writing, or teaching, I enjoy hiking, running, watching movies, going to concerts, spending time with friends, and playing with my cat/son, Chester.