Romantic comedy is a sub-genre of comedy and romance. The common story for such genre is a couple of funny and exciting youngsters who are meant to fall in love but get separated for some reasons like social status, parents, friends, principles, or else until finally they could handle all of the obstacles and live happily ever after. Romantic comedies often equip their characters with funny or silly attitudes. Any contradictory characteristics between the couple as the main casts may occur; one is rich while the other is poor, one is the employer and the other is the employee, or maybe one is nice while the other is rude.
The plot is mostly about a man and woman who met accidentally in dispute. Eventually, there is a feeling growing in them. Sometimes, a conflict initiates the story and they have to split because of it. When they are not together, either one or both of them feel a great loss and realize that they actually need each other. It then continues with the efforts of the main character to be as one again and again it ends happily.
The setting of such movies mostly takes advantages of big cities. Musical compositions and songs become the supportive aspects to make the mood for the movie and fill the stories with matching tunes by adjusting the context of the story. In its development, there are thousands titles of romantic comedy films in many variations. Some actors, actress, or directors even make themselves the icons for such genre like Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Woody Allen, and Garry Marshall.
Classical Romantic Comedy
1930s was the golden years when big movies in this theme were produced massively at the moment. Some won Oscar. In 1931, the famous Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill made a silent romantic comedy movie entitled City Light. It made its way as the best from Chaplin although occupying sad theme. More to come were Trouble in Paradise starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall and No Man of Her Own where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were playing for it. All were by Paramount Pictures in 1932.
Later on, screwball comedy genre appeared in 1934. It was very popular in America in the great depression time of the early 1930s until 1940. It is actually another type of romantic comedy combining slapstick comedy and fast dialogue. Here, a pair of man and woman is told as if they hate each other while in fact they love one another. Screwball comedies usually bring about conflicts related to the social class, marriage, or reconciliation after divorcing. One of the first of the kind is It Happened One Night (1934) by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Spending US$ 350.000, this film was the first to get 5 awards all at once from Academy Award in the category of the best film, best director, best actor, best actress, and best scenario.
Other successful screwball comedies are My Man Godfrey (1936) starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, The Awful Truth (1937), and the most popular one Bringing Up Baby (1938) starring by Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Those two artists also played in movies alike afterward. In 1940, there are two more movies in this genre; His Girl Friday directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grand and Rosalind Russell and The Philadelphia Story that reunited Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. The Philadelphia Story was nominated for six Academy Awards and achieved two awards for the best actor in a leading role (James Stewart) and best writing for screenplay. George Cukor as its director produced films like this again in the end of 40s entitled Adam’s Rib (1948) and the beginning of 50s Pat and Mike (1952) where Hepburn again was the star of the movie.
In 1953, Paramount Pictures made another romantic comedy Roman Holiday with William Wyler sitting on the director’s chair. Senior actor Gregory Peck and newcomer Audrey Hepburn starred this US$ 1.5 million cost film. Roman Holiday was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 3 for the best actress (Audrey Hepburn), best costume, and best writing for motion picture story. It was the movie that took Audrey Hepburn into one of the most legendary Hollywood figures. Hepburn also performed in a romantic comedy after that, Sabrina (1954), where she was in one shoe with great actors, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. The title was then remade in 90s. In Breakfast at Tiffany (1961), Hepburn succeeded in making herself a forever classic icon of the world cinematic history.
Talented movie maker Billy Wilder produced numerous romantic comedies in the decade of 50s involving a list of superstars. Following Sabrina, there was The Seven Years Itch taking Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell for the leads. Then, Wilder directed Love in the Afternoon. There, he paired Hepburn and Gary Cooper. Again, Monroe played for Wilder in the company of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot (1953). Five Oscars, one for the best movie, went for Wilder’s 1960’s work of art, The Apartment, featuring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. The collaboration of Wilder, Lemmon, and MacLaine returned once again in Irma La Douce (1963).
70s and 80s
These decades were not a really good era for romantic comedies. Only a dozen of such movies were produced. However, it was a time for the modern romantic comedy to appear. From the aspect of story, not many changes occurred compared to the ones in the previous years. Some elements of modern romantic comedies were influenced by the recent trends such as smarter dialogues and lighter plot.
In the 70s, cineaste and actor Woody Allen was a significant figure for this genre. His comedy manner gave a new distinction for the comedy genre and took it into a new level with his typical speech style, fast and clever dialogues, and verbal jokes. He applied all of his qualities into his most well-known film, Annie Hall (1977), a movie that could set a standard for modern romantic comedy. Its achievement gave Oscars for the movie for the best actress in a leading role (Diane Keaton), best director (Allen), best writing (Allen), and the best picture. It would be a perfect triumph if only Allen could get the title for the best actor in a leading role too. Another one of his best is Manhattan (1979) telling the story of a writer who goes out with a 17-year old girl. Although just in black and white, high appraisal was given for the cinematography which fantastic views of New York were presented throughout the movie.
In 80s, there were only three romantic comedy movies that stood out at that time. The first one is Moonstruck (1987) by Norman Jewison and Cher and Nicholas Cage were the main casts. It got 6 Oscar nominations including the best movie and three went for best actress in a leading role, best actress in a supporting role, and best writing. Later, there were Mellanie Griffith and Harrison Ford playing in Working Girl (1988) where qualified cinematographer, Mike Nichols, worked as the director. It became a nominee for six Oscar categories including the best picture. The last but not least is When Harry Met Sally (1989) directed by Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron as the scriptwriter who was nominated Oscar for the best writing. There, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan acted romantically accompanied by popular love songs along the movie.
90s to Present
90s and after are the awakening era of the genre. There were dozens of such films produced in 90s and hundreds in the next decade. They still have cliché story improving from what has been there in the same movies in the classical era. However, there are more variations in it surpassing the limit of the genre itself. The development itself did not only happen in Hollywood but also in England and Asia.
One title that becomes a popular mark of romantic comedy is Pretty Woman (1990) from the director Garry Marshall. The brilliant acting from Richard Gere and Julia Roberts made it as the best-seller of romantic comedy film, giving US$ 463 million revenue from all over the world. The trend about the prince and poor girl who falls in love once again became the issue of the movie. Not only that, Roberts got Oscar for the best actress in a leading role and the film came to be a nominee for four categories in Golden Globe Award. Pretty Woman was the one that brought Roberts as one of Hollywood’s female superstars.
In the next years, there were Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry carrying their comedic acts in Boomerang (1992), giving fame and fortune for the producer. In 1993, Groundhog Day by Harold Hamis carries a story about a host of TV forecast news trapped in one repeated day where Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell became the stars of the movie. Another one is Sleepless in Seattle (1993) directed by Nora Ephron. Outstandingly, the US$ 21 million budget for it is totally nothing compared to US$ 227 million profit it achieved. It was the title that brought Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to the top.
A romantic comedy from England by director Mike Newel, Four Weddings and A Funeral (1994), was a megahit by making US$ 245 million from only US$ 4.4 million fund. Different from Hollywood’s creations, English scents especially the British joke gave another color for it. With Richard Curtis on the scriptwriting, it was nominated for Oscar as the best picture. Fame was what came to Hugh Grant after took a role for this film.
Romantic comedies afterward still occupied the names above. Julia Roberts was then specialized in such movies and took the main cast for My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Notting Hill (1999), and Runaway Bride (1999). In Notting Hill, she and Hugh Grant played as a famous actress and the owner of a book shop while in Runaway Bride, she was back with Garry Marshall and Richard Gere. Ephron, Tom Hanks, and Meg Ryan teamed up again in You’ve Got Mail (1998) though it’s not as great as their previous title. Previously, Ryan took a part in French Kiss in 1995.
Some actresses on the rise also involved themselves in romantic comedy movies such as Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping (1995) and Drew Barrymore in The Wedding Singer (1998) and Never Been Kissed (1999). The duet of Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller gained success in There’s Something About Mary (1998). Not only them, George Clooney and Michelle Pfeifer also came together in a story of one day, One Fine Day (1996). Another title of romantic comedies that deserves to watch is As Good As It Gets (1997), employing senior actor Jack Nicholson and actress Helen Hunt, that swept up 7 Oscar nominations.
In the new millennium, romantic comedy was more solid and turned into one of the most influential genres in movie industry. In just one decade of this era, there have been nearly twice titles as much as the production in the previous 50 years. Half of them are aimed for teenage with attractive, energetic, and fresh young performers. However, big stars still play an important role for the success of a romantic comedy movie. Romantic comedy is also sometimes mixed up to other genres like fantasy, sports, even superhero.
What Women Wants (2000) is an opener for romantic comedy in the 21th century. Starring Mel Gibson and Helent Hunt, it made profit for up to US$ 374 million. Then, there was Bridget Jones’ Diary from England movie industry bringing charming performance of Renee Zellweger along with Hugh Grant and Collin Firth. Two years later, the sequel followed. The fate of love became the theme of another movie starring John Cussack and Kate Beckinsale, Serendipity (2001). The singer Jennifer Lopez was also talented in acting for The Wedding Planner (2001) and Maid in Manhattan (2002) whereas Jennifer Anniston was the actress for Along Came Polly (2004), The Break Up (2006), The Switch (2010) and last year’s Just Go With It (2011).
Some actresses got their fame for acting in romantic comedies. Rising star in the early 2000s, Drew Barrymore, took her part in 50 First Dates (2004), Fever Pitch (2005), and He’s Just Not That Into You (2009). Spider-Man’s Mary Jane, Kirsten Dunst, had a great performance in Get Over It (2001) and Wimbledon (2004). Reese Witherspoon also dedicated herself for the genre by giving a role in Legally Blonde (2001), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), and Just Like Heaven (2005). Katherine Heighl started shining after took a part in Knocked Up (2007), 27 Dresses (2008), and The Ugly Truth (2009). Young actor Ryan Reynold also made her way in such movies as in Definitely Maybe (2008) and made Sandra Bullock his lover in The Proposal (2009).
Unconventional romantic comedy was firstly presented by Love Actually (2003) by Richard Curtis. It’s exclusively unique without a main plot by occupying multiplot of 8 stories that were served alternately. Although there is no relation between each plot, all of them use the same theme. A row of famous movie stars showed up in the film like Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Flirth, Kiera Knightley, and many more. Its success was followed by a couple of movies alike, Valentine’s Day (2010) and New year’s Eve (2011), both by Garry Marshall.
Asia also has its talent in romantic comedies, especially Korea, Japan, and India. In India, almost every movie has the element of comedy and romance. It’s quite difficult to classify which movie that is truly romantic comedy. One instance of good Indian romantic comedy is Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) by Aditya Chopra starring the number one actor in India, Shah Rukh Khan. Korea is a country where the genre dominates and there is a great enthusiasm for it. One of the finest there is My Sassy Girl (2008). It was remade for Hollywood market in similar title. Knowing the reputation, its fame is unbeatable by any other Korean movies until now.
Romantic comedy is a favorite genre mostly awaited. Mild theme, entertaining, and low cost are the reasons for the producers to always create this kind of films. It will always be there to serve the demand and interest of the audience, especially the female ones.
Editor and senior writer at Montase, lecturer at film academy in Yogyakarta, film critics, and author of the book ‘Memahami Film’ (Understanding Films)
Alumnus of film academy in Yogyakarta, practitioner, writer at Montase, and focusing on indie movies.