I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies. Seventy five percent of them feel like they were all made by the same person and only reinforce the stereotype that a woman needs to fall in love with a man to have a story worth telling. Despite my personal feelings toward this genre of comedy, it would be a mistake not to include it in Web of Laughs, if only for its popularity and the impact it has had on media audiences over time. Arguably the most accessible of the sub-genres of comedy, romantic comedies typically follow a narrative combining humor with a girl-meets-boy and they fall in love and live happily ever after. There are romantic comedies that stray from this formula, giving the audience a more thoughtful approach to a genre that can be so exhausting at times. Romantic comedies are certainly not a new genre. Rooted in early film, they were born out of the wholesome era of film and offered something for both men and women at the time. In 1940, Howard Hawks made His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which was one of the first films that challenged the typical formula for romantic comedies. In the film, Rosalind Russell’s character, Hildy, is a newspaper journalist with a passion for her job that comes back to work to tell her editor/ex-husband, Walter, played by Cary Grant, that she is quitting to get re-married and domesticate herself. Upon the realization that he may lose her to another man, Walter uses what he knows about Hildy and tries to get her to stick around the newsroom covering a story. This film feels like such a departure from typical romantic comedies, especially of this era, because of Hildy’s role as a strong, smart, career-woman. At this time, it was rare to see a woman in a film working a job in a male-dominated field, and it’s interesting that Walter uses her love for her job to keep her there instead of letting her give up her dream to have what was thought of at the time as the woman’s role/dream of having a family. Hildy shows the audience that she doesn’t have to choose love or her career, that she can have both.
The film showcases Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s captivating chemistry while also spotlighting the screwball comedy. Their quick-witted, speed-talking back-and-forth throughout the film always leaves me in stitches. Screwball comedy hit its peak popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, but is widely seen in most comedy now, as well. This style of comedy is characterized by its combination of quick-witted banter and slapstick, while also typically featuring a woman that dominates the central relationship, challenging the man’s masculinity, resulting in a battle of the sexes. Screwball comedy can really be seen throughout most modern comedies. It’s heavily ingrained in the way we think about comedy as an audience, because we’ve become so used to it over time.
His Girl Friday paved the way for other romantic comedies to stray from the typical story and structure. My personal favorite of the genre, Annie Hall, made in 1977, doesn’t necessarily provide the happiest ending, but is more about the journey between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters throughout the film. 1989 brought When Harry Met Sally, which paired Billy Crystal with Meg Ryan and followed a similar tone as Annie Hall. Recently, there may not be as many smart romantic comedies around, but it kind of seems like romantic comedies may be dwindling in general. Most comedies from the 1990s could be classified as part romantic comedy, and I think filmmakers have started to realize that they don’t have to pack a love-story in for their comedy to be accessible, which can lead to more original content. Although I certainly don’t mind a thoughtful, smart romantic comedy every once in a while.
Jessica Dorrell is a graduate of the DCH improv program, and is currently enrolled in the sketch writing program. Her one wish is that some day she can have a Mogwai as a pet. You can see her perform every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. in the current Ewing show.