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Is romance dead in Hollywood?

Posted on February 13th, 2018
Posted on February 13th, 2018

by Coop Cooper

With Valentines Day falling on this week, many people are making plans with their significant others and some will likely watch a romantic comedy on cable or possibly go to a theater to view “Fifty Shades Freed”. You won’t see many romance films in my reviews for a few reasons: 1. Hollywood doesn’t make them as frequently as they used to. 2. They aren’t usually blockbusters so they rarely get the hype or attention as other films. 3. I don’t prefer watching them so if I have to choose between the latest Marvel or Star Wars film, you can probably guess which movie I’d go out of my way to see.

Yes, “Fifty Shades Freed” is the only ‘romantic’ movie – if you can call it that – currently in theaters. As I write this, “Braveheart” is on TV in the background and I am noticing strong romantic elements within it. Even “The Empire Strikes Back” had a memorable and compelling romantic story arc completely absent from the newer films. It seemed so common in films before the 2000’s back when Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan were still in the A-list. Perhaps tastes have changed but lets look at why some people, including many critics, didn’t care for them in the first place…

They are very predictable. With a rare exception like “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997), the main characters always end up with each other in the end. Sure, the best of these types of films always took an clever path to get there, but we all knew what was going to happen. This makes them boring, and often irritating for people (and critics) who might want surprises in their fiction as opposed to something all-too-familiar. Also, the clichés in these films are egregious. A few days ago I stumbled across a film starring Katherine Heigl in which her character whined that she was miserable and a loser because she couldn’t find a ‘good guy’ to be with, despite the fact that she had a great career, a loving family and her health. Her biggest fault seemed to be that she was clumsy and that she obviously had a bad attitude about life. Of course she met a great guy and after a series of softball conflicts, of course they ended up together. Sound familiar? You bet it does.

But those tropes plague ‘romantic comedies’, so what about other types of romantic films such as ‘romantic action/thriller films’? I have joked for a long time that there hasn’t been a good one of those since “Romancing the Stone”, so perhaps that sub-genre is simply too difficult to get right. That’s a shame because Alfred Hitchcock was so masterful at making them. Go check out “North by Northwest” or “Notorious” if you don’t believe me. There are also sweeping period ‘romance’ films that Hollywood seems to have abandoned. The best one I can remember in the past fifteen years is “The Painted Veil” starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. One of the best aspects of period romance films is that they don’t always have a happy ending, but still subscribing to the philosophy of ‘it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’. You do see more of these around Oscars season, but they are becoming more rare.

Will romance and romantic comedy films make a comeback? Genres fall in and out of favor in Hollywood but I see no signs these types of films will return significantly anytime soon. Perhaps millennials have no appetite for it. As French actresses Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot have recently said, maybe the #MeToo movement has the unintended consequence of cooling people off to the idea of romance. Perhaps the old fashion notions of ‘meant to be together’ and ‘destiny’ and ‘the good guys get the good girls’ seem too unrealistic and chauvinistic these days which is why Disney is taking a different approach to its fairytale movies in the 2010’s. To me, romance in Hollywood died with the release of “Gone Girl”. While it was a phenomenal film, it’s cynicism on the subject may have been a prophetic sign of things to come. Whatever the case, I think it will take a literary phenomenon like “The Notebook”, “Twilight” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” to get Hollywood’s attention back on romance. In the meantime, there are the great classics to revisit like “When Harry Met Sally”, “Romancing the Stone” “The African Queen” and “West Side Story”.

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