This cross-post from Amanda Krauss previously appeared at Risatrix.
Romantic comedies have existed for literally thousands of years; the same historical genre, comoedia, is also responsible for today’s sitcoms.
But romantic comedies, especially, have suffered a great deal in the last few decades. These supposed “chick” flicks (male-authored for millennia, and still mostly male-created) get ridiculously low scores on MetaCritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, most “guy” comedies (e.g. an Apatow joint) or action flicks get decent scores, seemingly without even trying.
This is pure and simple sexism. You sure as hell can’t defend action flicks on aesthetic grounds. And any reviewer who accuses a rom-com of being predictable should have their license revoked — of course it’s predictable. So was that action flick, by the way. Oh, didn’t you see it coming that the hero dude was going to save the world? I did.
Unless you’re watching Memento, you just have to accept that most genres are predictable. It’s about execution, not form, but with screwball comedies and rom-coms there’s a general critical consensus that it’s OK to bash them for being exactly what they are (i.e. a set genre with predictable rules). That really pisses me off. Okay, Mr./Mrs. Critic, maybe you’d rather go see a revival of Metropolis at your local arthouse. But right now you’re being paid to review this movie, so don’t be a whiny beyotch about it.
And “guy” comedies (e.g. Knocked Up, Superbad, I Love You, Man) are exactly the same, predictable genre. I’ll even grant you that they’re technically funnier, mostly because the quantity and transgressiveness of the jokes is greater. There’s a complicated set of reasons for this, involving gender, comedy, and socialization. But suffice to say that gendering rom-coms as “chick” entertainment is a relatively recent phenomena and that we’re all socialized to think women are less funny, so I’d really appreciate it if critics would take a little step back when they did their sexist stuff.
Anyway. The generic point of comoedia is integration, no matter how many jokes are made in the middle. That’s why they’re predictable, and that’s, in fact, why they’re comedies.
So can we please stop all the whining about it?
Amanda Krauss is a former professor and current writer/speaker/humor theorist. From 2005-2010 she taught courses on gender, culture, and the history of comedy at Vanderbilt University, and in 2010 was invited to present a course entitled “Humor, Ancient to Modern” at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. While she is focusing on her current blog (Worst Professor Ever, which satirically chronicles issues of education and lifelong learning) some of her theoretical archives can be found at risatrix.com.