3 years ago I did a youtube video entitled ‘Is the Romantic Comedy Dead?’ and it is still one of the best videos I’ve ever made. It’s basically a video essay where I talk about why the romantic comedy matters and how so many of them get the genre wrong. Well, after 3 years of little else but Hallmark in the genre (which is amazing and I podcast about each week) we finally get a successful romantic comedy in Crazy Rich Asians, and I am thrilled about it! Naturally most people are cheering on the underrepresented Asian community that is featured in the film (and rightfully so!), but I want to take a second and cheer it on for being a great romantic comedy!
Crazy Rich Asians is based on the very funny novel by Kevin Kwan about a girl named Rachel who goes to meet her boyfriend’s family in Singapore. When she arrives she discovers they are super rich and judgmental. This premise doesn’t reinvent the wheel but as I’ve said many times movies don’t need to be original to work. They just need to be executed well and this is. It is funny, romantic and has a nice heart to it. Also the Mother who is the ‘villain’ of the film has motivations that make sense when looked at from her life experience.
A lot of people will tell you romantic comedies like Crazy Rich Asians are too ‘cheesy’ or ‘unrealistic’ and therefore they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I would counter that nearly all film outside of documentaries (and even them sometimes) exist in a heightened reality. Very few films are truly realistic and when they are, with films like Boyhood, they are often decried for their lack of story.
I would contend that romantic comedies in their own unique way can actually be very realistic. Think about the couples in your life? Think about when you’ve heard their love stories? Is it not usually some variation on a meet-cute and then they fall in love and get married? Most human beings fall in love and have their own version of a cheesy love story. At least that is the hope…
And there’s the magic word- hope. Hope is something special romantic comedies (and dramas) can give us. If they are done well, they can give us hope that love is out there. That maybe someday we can find someone who will love us for who we are and despite whatever shenanigans happen he or she will make it work with us. There is a hope that love is real and that good things can happen to good people.
Then why you ask are so many romantic comedies lame? Well, I do think that male critics are often more likely to criticize films with a feminine energy as lacking in value. But the greater problem is when the films themselves loose that sense of positivity and hope. In an attempt to play into opposites attract the bad romantic comedies will often make the characters too mean spirited so we don’t really want them to fall in love or have a happy ending.
The other mistake they make is relying too much on a gimmick and forgetting about writing interesting characters. Going all the way back to The Taming of the Shrew, many romantic comedies have been built around a gimmick such as a bet, contest, or article that must be done etc. This type of premise is very difficult to pull off and requires great writing and engaging characters.
Crazy Rich Asians at its core is a simple movie of a boy introducing his girl to his judgmental family. The reason it works is because it is well written and the characters are likable. It’s not too different from other great romantic comedies like Notting Hill or My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
I hope that Hollywood takes the right lessons from Crazy Rich Asians and in its eventual copycats remembers to give us romantic comedies that are as well done. I’m sure there will be clunkers, but I’m just excited to have a jolt in the romantic comedy genre because I’ve missed it!!
Welcome back romcoms!!! Let’s have some hopeful, romantic, enjoyable movies! Yay!!
(And we won’t have to wait long! I’m so excited for Destination Wedding which comes out in just a few days!)
Also I did this post on my other blog on recent romcoms you might have missed that are worth checking out