Valentine’s Day

When it comes to movies, I have nothing against any particular genre. I like some more than others, as I’m sure you do as well. What I cannot for the life of me understand is when your allegiance to a genre is so absolute that it compels you to see each and every movie within this genre regardless of quality.

The only genres that seem to inspire that kind of loyalty are romantic comedies and . . . well I think that’s it. I have had the following conversation with my wife, Melissa, at least 100 times:

Melissa: I really want to see “French Lace” starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson.

Me: Really? The preview looked awful. Let’s see what it got on Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, wow. It got a 3%. Out of 100%. That means of one hundred critics, only three liked it. Three.

(Here’s what the above statement sounds like to Melissa’s ears: “Meow meow, meow. Meow! Meow, meow meow? Meow.”)

Melissa: Mmmm hmmm. Anyway, I’m seeing it.

This is inevitably followed by this conversation after Melissa has seen the movie:

Me: How was it?

Melissa (with genuine surprise): It was so terrible!!! I can’t believe how bad it was.

Me: (Closes eyes, massages temples with palms.)

Dolphin #1:  “Did you know ‘The Proposal’ made $315 million dollars?”  Dolphin #2:  “Stop it.”  Dolphin #1:  “I’m serious.”  Dolphin #2:  “‘The Proposal?’  The one with the 53 year-old brunette and Ryan Reynolds and Coach?  The really awful one that wasn’t ever funny even once?”  Dolphin #1:  “Yep, that one.”  Dolphin #2:  “Well, I guess it’s time, then.”

Melissa is not alone in her slavish devotion to romantic comedy. If every girl in the theater showing the latest Hugh Grant/Sandra Bullock movie turned to the girl on her left and said, “Hi!” the Manhattan stake of the LDS Church would have 100% visiting teaching that month.

This is the cause of great consternation to me. I just don’t understand why on earth you’d want to see a movie you know is going to be bad just because it’s a certain type of movie. Doesn’t the badness of the movie trump its romantic comedy-ness? Ok, I know the answer to that question is a resounding and high-pitched “No!” so I guess my next question is “Why not?”

And while we’re on the topic, why does it seem to be so difficult to make a good romantic comedy? There’s a very simple formula to be followed for romantic comedy greatnesss. It goes like this:
* 2 attractive leads (which means that if Sara Jessica Parker is one of the leads, you’ve already strayed from the formula), preferably one who can play “uptight and neurotic” and another who can play “live life to its most romantic!”
* 2 quirky, wisecracking best friends (maybe gay, maybe married with a brood of kids and a hectic but happy life, or maybe just Judy Greer).
* 1 cheating, lying, rich boyfriend (he may just be nice and boring and dull, but walking away from him at the altar is a pretty awful thing to do, so we need some villainy from him to feel OK about the female lead doing that to him).
* 4 – 6 amazing – AMAZING – houses or apartments in New York or Chicago or LA or San Francisco that cost many millions of dollars and would be entirely outside the realm of possibility for the people who own them in the movie, given that their occupations are limited to novelist and party planner.
* 1 embarrassing scene where one of the leads ends up naked at a tea party.
* 1 scene of the male lead engaged in some kind of sporting activity with his best friend, usually shooting hoops at an urban playground, where they discuss the male lead’s love life between shots.
* 1 grandma prone to sexual innuendo that is hilarious because she’s so old

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker arrives at The Cinema Society and Mulberry Host THINKFilm's New York Premiere of "Then She Found Me" at the AMC Lincoln Square Theater on April 21, 2008 in New York City.

* 0 black people, although the aforementioned grandma may say some phrases we usually associate with hip hop culture, like, “Grandma be straight trippin’!”
* 1 misunderstanding where the female lead walks in on the male lead saying or doing something that makes it seem like he’s lying or cheating – A misunderstanding that in real life would be cleared up in 30 seconds of conversation between mature adults. “I just heard you say ‘I’m leaving my girlfriend.’” “Oh, you walked in mid-conversation. The entire sentence was, ‘You’re not going to believe this beautiful present that I’m leaving my girlfriend.’” “Oh, ok. Well, that was scary for a second, but I’m glad I clarified that before storming out and changing my phone number.” This scene can be interchanged with a scene in which the female lead somehow discovers that the male lead initially pursued her as a result of some bet with a buddy (made at the abovementioned urban basketball court), at which point the male lead desperately tries to explain that yes, it started with a bet, but after that one moment when she took off her nerd glasses he legitimately fell in love with her, and everything since then has been real. In fact, he’s never felt anything so real in his life. Stephanie! Please, you have to believe him!
* 1 montage of each lead staring at the phone or walking in the rain or staring absently into the distance while being fitted for a gown for a wedding to the cheating, lying, rich and/or dull and lame boyfriend.
* 1 climactic race to a wedding or airport (because if she gets on the plane to London, it’s over. The next flight to London is in 3 years, and they don’t have phones or computers or postal service over there.)
* 1 happy, blissful ending.

It’s not rocket surgery. So why on earth are so many of them so terrible? An example: As a little Valentine’s Day present I took Melissa to see “Valentine’s Day” last Saturday. This was an act of undying love, not because I hate romantic comedies – I actually like them, or at least the good ones – but because I knew in advance that this one was going to be so terrible. I told Melissa it was supposed to be terrible, and then I told our dog, Lyla, not to eat the hot dog on the floor because it’s high in sodium. So we went. And it was terrible. It’s not that it was terrible relative to Citizen Kane. It was terrible relative to good romantic comedies. It was terrible relative to bad romantic comedies.

Producer #1:  “Every time I realize how terrible our movie is, I add another character to the script.”  Producer #2:  “Good idea.”

About an hour into the movie, someone did something that caused the smoke alarm in the theater to go off. I’m guessing it was another husband whose pain threshold is slightly lower than mine. Anyway, in case you’ve ever wondered, there’s a reason you’re not supposed to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. Lots of pushing and running and pandemonium. I, however, was unable to feel any panic at all, given that all of my faculties were occupied with feeling a tremendous rush of relief. Honestly, that fire alarm was the happiest, most blissful ending I could have imagined.

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36 Responses to Valentine’s Day

  1. nichole whiting says:

    Brilliantly written! Yeah, and I’m seeing it tonight, WITH MELISSA.

  2. Natalie says:

    “…or maybe just Judy Greer”

    It’s this kind of spot on observation that makes me pass this URL along to everyone I know.

    I’m still working on my rank ordering of favorite writers… so let the competition continue!

  3. Rebecca says:

    you were right on with the formula for a romantic comedy. SO true. and, the proposal has to be one of the dumbest movies i’ve ever seen. christian tried to get me to go to valentine’s day on v-day, but i told him I refused to pay $10 for that movie. Matter of fact, unless it’s a girls night out, i refuse to pay to see any romantic comedy in the theater. not that i don’t like a few of them here and there, but mostly i just feel dumber after having watched them. no offense to melissa, btw- i used to go to chick flicks more often. then, we had kids and no longer had endless amounts of time and money on our hands.

  4. Ryan says:

    I’m right with you Davis. I am also a person who can enjoy romantic comedies. But I am of the strong belief that the last fifteen years have seen a perversion of the genre so abominable that good ones hardly ever exist anymore. The fact that that other Kate Hudson-McConaghey one from a few years ago now passes for a very good romantic comedy ks just unbelievable to me. And the fact that the Proposal was deemed a success? I honestly don’t know what to do with myself when I think of that.

    If 500 Days of Summer hadn’t happened last year, I fear the movie gods would have just come down and taken romantic comedies from the earth forever.

  5. Rebecca Raddon says:

    Does the Notebook count as a romantic comedy? Because when the lights came up after that, and I was not only the only one in the theater of women not crying, but also the only one that thought it was absolutely terrible, I knew there was something separating me from the rest of my gender. And yet, I too saw Valentine’s Day and found it somewhat entertaining.

    And btw, I can’t believe you didn’t like Avatar. I really am disappointed in you Davis.

  6. Macy Bell says:

    I agree with Ryan. Romantic Comedies have been horrible the last ten years or so. I loved the “You’ve Got Mail”, Sleepless in Seattle, My Best Friends Wedding” genre, but since then things have been pretty bad, and I have been known to like romantic comedies too. The Proposal was horrible, The Notebook painful, and so on. Great post, Davis.

  7. Massey says:

    Davis-I’m sure you said this out loud when you hit the submit button for this post: NAILED IT. It truly is sad or telling when you can watch a trailer for a romantic comedy and know with a substantial certainty that the movie is terrible. Throw in 10 of the cutest, most popular, and most adorable leads hollywood has to offer (sans George Lopez) and you know with an absolute certainty the movie is terrible.

    Macy-I’m glad you brought up The Notebook. The only thing worse than watching the Notebook was watching the Notebook with my dad. Or was it watching Moulin Rouge with my dad. Either way, pretty terrible experience.

  8. Andrea W. says:

    I’ve actually heard good things about Valentine’s Day. Plus, just because critics don’t love it isn’t enough to deter me because it doesn’t have to be a great film to entertain me; however, I agree lately most of them are TERRIBLE and not worthy of the devotion of so many females. Hated Notebook (however, the book is even worse imo), haven’t seen Proposal. I must admit I don’t hate the one Ryan referred to. I also think I would enjoy the Hugh Grant/SJP one, I have a weakness for all things Hugh Grant i.e. Music and Lyrics (love it). Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest.

    Your Judy Greer reference was hllarious, I just watched one of her movies and was marveling to myself of her romantic comedy side-kick domination.

  9. Ryan says:

    Joan Cusack totally gave Judy Greer a run for her romcom-sidekick money back in her day.

  10. Landon says:

    I know I am risking my privilege of commenting on here, but I didn’t really mind the Proposal and might have even laughed a few times.

  11. Davis says:

    You know, I just thought of an analogy that I could have written that would have saved me the trouble of writing that entire post. Let’s say you and I both love brownies. And let’s say our friend comes to us with a plate of delicious brownies, and right before we’re both going to take a bite, our friend says, “Oh, hey, just so you know, those brownies contain about 2 cups of dog poop.” I immediately throw by brownie to the ground, and to my great surprise and horror, you bring yours closer to your mouth. I say, “But . .. there’s poop in there.” You say, “I know. But I love brownies. They’re so delicious.” And I say, “I love them, too, but not ones with poop in them. These ones have poop in them.” And you say, “But I love brownies.” And we do this several times more, followed by you eating the brownie.

    Nicole: Yeah, Melissa wants to see how it ends. I could have told you how it ends from the movie poster.

    Natalie: I’m so glad you picked up on that. She really is pretty dominant, isn’t she? I went to IMDB and found only 5 romcoms she’s been in – Love Happens (Aniston), 27 Dresses (Heigl), Elizabethtown (Dunst), 13 Going on 30 (Garner), and The Wedding Planner (Lopez). Those can’t be it, right? I feel like she’s been in 30.

    Rebecca: Kook tried to get you to go??? Do you promise that’s true?

    Ryan: Yes, it’s a lost art. Is 500 Days of Summer a romcom? I’m on the fence, mainly because of the ending. Oh, and good point about Joan Cusack.

    Rebecca Raddon: I don’t think the Notebook counts as a romcom, but it definitely falls under chick flick. You liked Valentine’s Day AND Avatar??? You’ve changed.

    Macy: Those are all great. Makes me sad to think we may not see their likes again.

    Massey: I totally agree. If they can’t cobble together 3 funny moments for the trailer, you know you’re in trouble. Why is watching these movies with your dad so horrible? Does he cry?

    Andrea: That’s what I’m saying, though. I don’t need something to be a great film. It just has to be good for what it’s trying to be, and I think most critics realize this when evaluating a romcom.

    Landon: I’ve gone ahead and revoked your commenting privileges. You’re still welcome to read, though.

  12. Wade says:

    This is exactly why The Breakup was so epic. As a movie on its own it was, well, ok fine, but as a category “Trojan Horse” it was priceless. Its like they snuck in a dirty bomb into the theatre and it exploded in all the faces of the young ladies expecting our loving couple to get back together. KABOOM!! So satisfying. [Dolphins temporarily standing down]

    (Not to mention Vince Vaughn was batting like 1.000 in that show. Especially that scene when he was playing Madden on the playstation with Anniston’s date.)

  13. Braden says:

    Thank you for confirming my bias against these films! I feel vindicated having read this post. Going back to Kook’s post on old movies a few weeks back, they were soooooooooooo much better then, weird kissing notwithstanding.

  14. Natalie says:

    Davis — you missed “What Women Want;” that hit movie about Mel Gibson being able to peek into the thoughts of women everywhere. Greer plays the friend/coworker of Helen Hunt.

    I guess I was half including her run on Arrested, because that show deserves whatever connections it can.

  15. Erin says:

    Have you been talkng to my husband? We have had this discussion many times and your formula matches Bryan’s comments exactly (meow, meow, meow.) We shouldn’t forget one of the best parts of the romantic comedy, the lip sync/song and dance number to Aretha Frankilin or some other soul sister. I feel sad for Judy Greer, is it disappointing to be comletely typecast as the sort of desperate friend that never gets the guy? I am sure she’d love to kiss Hugh Grant too.

  16. Ryan says:

    You also have to include Hitch, where Eva Mendes’ best friend was clearly cast just because she seems to sort of be like Judy Greer.

  17. Anna says:

    You are spot on. And why they will continue to cast 200 year old Sarah Jessica Parker in movies is beyond me. She was only good in Hocus Pocus.

    A while back I was forced to see the movie “Leap Year” with some friends. The theatre was full of 40 year old women and their friends out for girls night. If I would have known that it is possible to evacuate the theatre by setting off the smoke alarm you bet I would have.

  18. Macy Bell says:

    oh, Erin. The lip sync part is so classic for those movies. It was great and cute the first time around, but is so cliche now.
    I think “500 Days” is definitely a romcom, but a progressive one, which in my opinion they should all be nowadays.

  19. craig says:

    rocket surgery. lol

  20. Christian says:

    So funny and so true. We should start writing scripts using your formula and have a techie create a computer algorithm that lets us enter in whichever stars we want to be in which roles and it will print out the entire script.

    Massey, I’m assuming it was painful to watch those movies with your dad because of the sexy parts, right? You have no idea. I used to get uncomfortable when Bugs Bunny started doing his more risque pranks if my folks were in the room.

    Landon, The Proposal??? You’re dead to me.

    Although I have to disagree with many of you on The Notebook. I think that one was pretty well done. I’ve always wished I could look like Ryan Gosling with a beard.

  21. shannon says:

    Did you happen to catch Maid of Honor? Worst movie EVER and because of it, I swore myself off romcoms completely. That was, until the next “girls night out” was planned and I couldn’t resist a desperate attempt for an enjoyable night away, hoping for a pleasant surprise, which I couldn’t agree more, is so few and far between these days.

    And yes, I could have sworn that Judy Greer’s been in about 47 films in the last few years! And I HATE it when the stupid misunderstanding go unexplained. So lame and frustrating. I’m known to be a pretty tough crowd when it comes to romcoms but I have to say, while most are just downright ridiculous, there are a few diamond-in-the-roughs, namely… 13 going on 30 (anything 80’s pretty much has my vote- are you with me Macy?) and, please don’t revoke my commenting privileges, but 17 Again. Zac Efron. Need I say more?

  22. Joyce Woolf says:

    I am so glad, my daughter suggested I read this blog article. I HATED HATED HATED Valentine’s Day for many many reasons. And you seemed to summarize most of them. I especially hated sitting behind two 13 -year old girls who laughed where they thought it was supposed to be funny and they were supposed to laugh. What trash! I’d checked out Rotten Tomatoes before I went but still had faith. Silly me. Gary Marshall should be ashamed and so should I for paying money to see it.
    I’m sticking with French Kiss. As for these latest romantic “comedies” they make my #@% twitch!

  23. Angie says:

    See, you’re all wrong. Valentine’s Day wasn’t formulaic because there was a SURPRISE GAY PLOT TWIST.

    Progressive romcom? Two can play this game, 500 Days of Summer.

  24. Macy Bell says:

    oh, I love “French Kiss”…such a good one!

  25. Jenna says:

    Here’s the problem with never seeing something just because the critics don’t like it. The critics and I don’t always agree, so sometimes I have to see a movie they don’t like just because it looks good or interesting to me. For instance, I really enjoyed “When in Rome”. It was funny, cute and clean. Some of it was typical of a romantic comedy and a little dumb, but sometimes dumb and funny can really make you laugh out loud, especially when you’re having a particularly bad week. But the critics hated it.

  26. maweesa says:

    What is wrong with you people?? The Notebook, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, Hitch… those are all very entertaining movies. Sure, they’re not going to change any lives, but they’re fun and a nice break from a bad day. Two of my favs are Dirty Dancing and Pretty in Pink… And during high school my girlfriends and I watched all of the classic Julia Roberts and Sandra B movies during our weekly sleepovers after we got back from whatever else we were up to. I agree a lot of the new romcoms aren’t as good as the past ones but I actually enjoy a lot of them despite what Davis says. Although I agree that it shouldn’t be as hard as it appears to be to turn out a simple romcom… you just have to follow the steps Davis outlined so perfectly above. BTW, V Day wasn’t nearly as bad as he making it sound, and now that I’ve seen the ending Davis couldn’t have predicted it as well as he thought 🙂

  27. Daniel says:

    I saw The Proposal because my date had already seen Transformers 2 (it’s probably for the best that I never got to see it), and enjoyed it. The formula holds true.

    And I loved the Notebook, but only because of James Marsden’s character, who had his engaged wife leave him and didn’t do anything bitter. But Nicholas Sparks really showed his masochistic tendencies when he wrote Dear John, with a plot only a Twilight fan could love.

  28. Nici says:

    Loved this post! Yes, most of the stories we see in romantic comedies are absolutely plausible, though I could argue that all genres are formulaic. I also agree that a lot of recent rom-coms (is that the new hot term?) have become nauseatingly shameless in the ways Davis described. With the good ones though, I think that the delight is in watching two imperfect characters, who just so happen to be perfect for each other, figure out that they’re perfect for each other. We get to watch lovers overcome obstacles, work through issues of trust and commitment, see them triumph over class struggles, pride and prejudice, immaturity, distance, insecurity, jealousy, and so forth. The same things that infect our own real-life relationships, no? Like mel said, they’re simply entertaining.

  29. Nici says:

    And for the record, Matthew Mcconaughey makes me want to puke.

  30. maweesa says:

    amen, nici.

    MM makes me want to puke, but back in the days of How to Lose a Guy, I kind of enjoyed him.

  31. tia says:

    Whoa…someone found a hot topic alright. Davis, while I agree with everything you have said, I just have to say that I find it ironic how someone who so clearly hates MOST romcoms has obviously seen just about every single one that there is. And many of the ones you mentioned were long before Melissa’s time, so you can’t really blame her for that. My question is this, if they made a romcom about two dogs who happened to talk, would you be interested in seeing that? Peter would.

    And, as an aside, I just have to say that your previous post about blow pops totally reminded me of the milk duds incident and made me laugh. Sometimes a guys gotta do what a guys gotta do to get through the day, (or weekend if that’s the case.)

  32. Davis says:

    Wade, The Breakup is one of the best. Super funny, and I actually thought it was one of the few which realistically portrayed how relationships can be. The argument about washing the dishes is one of my all time favorites. “I’ll help you wash the dishes.” “I want you to want to wash the dishes.” “WHY WOULD I WANT TO WASH DISHES???”

    Braden, I’m not sure I’m with you on the super old movies being better. A few of them are, but it seems like the fact that we’re seeing them means time has weeded out a bunch of lame ones.

    Natalie, I knew there had to be more. Seems like there should be more still, though.

    Erin, your comment made me laugh. I’m sure Judy does want to kiss Hugh Grant.

    Ryan, I hope Hitch learned the hard way that there’s no substituting Judy Greer when it comes to quirky romcom friends.

    Anna, now you know the smoke alarm trick. Just make sure you’re ready to defend your life.

    Macy, I like your establishment of a new subgenre: the progressive romcom.

    Kook, so funny about Bugs Bunny. I know exactly what you mean. Anytime there was something risque on when mom and dad were in the room it felt like I had written, produced, and directed it.

    Shannon, yes, you do need to say more. I would recommend starting with the words, “I’m sorry.”

    Joyce, I remember liking French Kiss a lot. I’ll have to rent it next time my wife goes to a new, terrible romantic comedy.

    Angie, the smoke alarm saved me before I saw that. That is indeed more progressive than even 500 Days of Summer. Can’t wait for the first Matthew McConagauh/Hugh Grant gay romcom.

    Jenna, I agree, critics aren’t always spot on. But there kind of all you have if you want to get an idea of what you’re getting into before spending the time and money.

    Maweesa, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Or get divorced.

    Daniel, my wife came back from Dear John with “crying eyes.” So it must have been pretty bad.

    Norm, man, that video named about everyone that I did. I feel like I plagiarized my post.

    Nici, do you really feel like in most romcoms we “get to watch lovers overcome obstacles, work through issues of trust and commitment, see them triumph over class struggles, pride and prejudice, immaturity, distance, insecurity, jealousy, and so forth?” I’d be up for a movie like that, but I don’t feel like we ever see that. In fact, I feel like romcoms have cornered the market on movies about love, so that we never see a realistic, more serious take on the topic.

    Tia, well, I’ve been dating for the last 10 or so years, so that explains most of it. And no. I would not be interested in a romcom with 2 talking dogs. Marriage into the Harrison family doesn’t mean you acquire the defective gene responsible for breaking into raucous laughter whenever a talking animal comes on the screen. Oh, and the less said about the Milk Dud incident, the better.

  33. ron says:

    i confess i kinda liked the proposal. however, i would contend that notting hill is the gold standard of romantic comedies.

  34. Ryan says:

    Regarding gold standards, I don’t know how you can beat Sleepless in Seattle.

    My sleeper success is Two Weeks Notice. It’s not life-changing, but much more entertaining than most rom-coms.

  35. Nici says:

    I mostly agree with you, Davis. Haha…you didn’t buy the whole lover bit, huh? I do think there’s a fine line between making a movie too serious and keeping it light. It seems that it would be difficult to portrait the little relationship nuances without making a romcom heavy.

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