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Forget About Debt Limits and Social Security, We Need to Save Romantic Comedies

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Recently, Vulture writer Claude Brodesser-Akner wrote an article posing a terrifying question: “Can the Romantic Comedy Be Saved?” First, who knew the romantic comedy was in peril, and second, why does he spend fifty percent of his article questioning studio executives? In this day and age studio execs are mostly business school graduates, not Creatives who understand the subtle nuance of the Rom-Com Genre. He could have asked a bona fide Romantic Comedy Expert. What makes someone a Romantic Comedy Expert, as opposed to, say, a fan of romantic comedies? I will tell you. An expert never uses the term “chick flick,” as it disparages the genre and is derogatory. She has seen 27 Dresses no fewer than 27 times because it feels like her duty to watch it every time it comes on TBS (and because, James Marsden…duh).  An expert hates Hugh Grant and Gerard Butler but loves Colin Firth and believes Tom Hanks is some type of deity. She adores Sleepless in Seattle, tolerates Pretty Woman and knows Larry Crowne is indefensible.  So I offer you an expert response to how we as a country can come together and save romantic comedies.

R.I.P. Nora Ephron
Brodesser-Akner cites failing box office numbers and diminishing audiences for the reason why romantic comedies are in peril. The studio executives spend quite a bit of time blaming you, the audience, as well as unwilling actresses. But to get to the heart of what is really wrong with the modern day romantic comedy, we need to go to the late 1980s/early 1990s — The Golden Age of Rom-Com — and look at the Queen of the genre, the late Nora Ephron.

Nora Ephron is to the romantic comedy as John Hughes is to coming-of-age movies. Invariably, when you think of romantic comedies, you’re thinking of one of Ephron’s most famous films: Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally or You’ve Got Mail. Ephron had a knack for writing about the magic of falling in love, the fear that comes with being vulnerable and the clumsiness of the beginning of relationships. Instead of being slick and sexy, her characters often said the wrong things and tripped on their words: they were human. She captured all of the nuances that modern day rom-coms miss. Now characters meet and sleep with each other within twenty minutes of the opening credits and fall instantly in love. Before the first act has concluded they have all this investment, these impossibly high stakes. Then like clockwork, forty minutes before the film ends it all falls apart, but comes back around just in time for boy to chase girl through the streets of Big City A and fix everything. It rings false, yet studio execs keep shoving that same formula at us with different packaging. That is why Ephron’s films and one or two of Gary Marshall’s remain the most beloved of romantic comedies — and why there hasn’t been a truly great romantic comedy since 1998, the year You’ve Got Mail was released.

Indie Is Doing It Right
Though I remain the genre’s biggest fan, it’s a sad fact that the romantic comedy has lost imagination. Two people meeting several times in their lives before they realize they’re meant to be together — that’s creative. A recently widowed father set up by his son on a radio show to meet his soul mate in the style of An Affair to Remember — that’s genius! What isn’t genius is the plot device of two men fighting over the same woman. That same premise has been repackaged in many ways. We loved it most as Bridget Jones’ Diary but really have to draw the line at when it comes to spy vs. spy in This Means War. Studio romantic comedies have started playing to the lowest common denominator. They’ve shamefully bought into the premise that the genre is little more than a date movie and they do not need to try very hard to entertain. They could stand to take a cue from independent filmmakers who are making beautiful forays into the romantic comedy world. (In indie film, they’re called “relationship films.”) Indie filmmakers have the imagination to make a story about a divorce romantic, funny and heartbreaking (Celeste and Jesse Forever). They have the creativity to create a world where a novelist accidentally writes his dream girlfriend “to life” and then must deal with the consequences (Ruby Sparks). I don’t want to say that indie filmmakers are better than studio executives at making solid stories to which people can relate, but they are.

In Living Color
One thing can go the furthest to save The Romantic Comedy from a fate worse than The American Western: Studio executives, producers and casting directors must to begin to acknowledge that people of color have relationships and fall in love. I understand that this is a novel concept as Tyler Perry’s on-going string of misogynistic portrayals of African American women in films like Why Did I Get Married portrays them as nagging, cold, career focused bitches. And we’re hard pressed to find evidence in any film that Latinos or Asians ever fall in love except for maybe Jennifer Lopez, but she’s somehow always cast as an Italian woman. But consider this: The most successful romantic comedy last year was Think Like a Man, which brought in $33 million its first weekend. The film has a predominately African American cast but is technically multi-ethnic. An unnamed studio executive in Brodesser-Akner’s piece dismisses the numbers out of hand because it “never truly broke out beyond its predominantly African-American target audience.” This is grossly inaccurate.  Think Like a Man only opened in 2000 theaters its opening weekend. The film brought in $91 million dollars at the box office domestically and the audience breakdown was 37% males and 63% females; 38% were under 30; and 62% were 30 and over, according to market research firm CinemaScore.  By these numbers, only black audiences saw Think in the same way that only black people voted for Obama.

Only in Hollywood is segregation still legal. Studio executives would be wise to start diversifying their casts when it comes to romantic comedies, and I don’t mean token characters. I mean real people with real roles. Look what it’s done for television. Bonus points if you have an interracial couple. Double bonus if you stop calling films with predominantly African American casts “urban.”

Save the romantic comedy by making smart films about real people in real relationships with a couple of laughs in between. Until you can figure it out, I’ll still be watching — but I’m probably the only one.

Holiday Lists for the Misanthrope: Part Three

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Do you have a radio station in your city that starts playing Christmas songs 24 hours a day for 30 days the day after Thanksgiving?

Los Angeles does. When I first moved here in 2000 it was charming, but now it is nauseating.  Imagine it’s 10am Wednesday and you’ve already listened to your podcasts of This American Life, Radiolab and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and for some reason The Moth hasn’t uploaded a new podcast in weeks. So you start flipping stations. You have the choice of Justin Beiber singing “Baby, Baby”, sports talk radio, or 103.5 The KOST playing The Backstreet Boys singing Little Drummer Boy followed by Johnny Mathis roasting chestnuts on an open fire.

For these thirty days filled with insufferable Holiday cheer, I always make sure to have my ears safely guarded by a mixed tape (1996-2000) or a playlist.  I will now share my 2012 playlist with you.

Holiday List for Misanthropes by yanseepants on Grooveshark

Week Three: Holiday Music

I’m Only Happy When It Rains
Garbage, Garbage (1995)
During the month of December you will find that people give you disingenuous wishes of a Happy Hanukah, Kwanza and New Year. But we both know what actually makes you happy, their silence, and rain.

Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis
Blue Valentine
, Tom Waits (1978)
It’s a misconception that I dislike Christmas music. This Tom Waits song is an old favorite of mine. It first made it’s way onto my playlist in college. I know it’s strange to say a Tom Waits song is beautiful, but this song is beautiful and messy and sad. Merry Christmas!

Sullen Girl
Tidal,
Fiona Apple (1996)
Have you ever been a 9-year-old girl with a birthday five days after Christmas so it is always impossible to have a cool birthday party because everyone is always out of town or at their grandparents or skiing or something lame like that? I don’t want to bum you out; but some 9 year olds never quite recover from it getting dozens of “RSVP- no” responses year after year.  Hypothetically speaking.

 Old Boyfriends
One From the Heart, Crystal Gayle (1982)
Let’s be honest, a reason lots of people don’t like The Holidays is because no one loves them. Ok, well someone that used to love them doesn’t love them anymore, or doesn’t love them enough. Basically they’re not in a relationship anymore – that’s the worst during the holidays. HBO is constantly showing Love, Actually, there’s mistletoe everywhere – it’s totally obnoxious. I get it you guys; I’m single this year too. However, music is balm for the soul – so here’s another Tom Waits song for you sung by Crystal Gayle. This one is particularly balmy.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)
Brain Drain,
The Ramones (1989)
A friend really felt this list needed some punk. I didn’t want to fight about it.

I Don’t Give a Fuck
2Pacalypse Now,
Tupac Shakur (1991)
I’m not going to lie to you, while this is one of my favorite workout songs, the beat and Tupac’s attitude may compel you to sincerely not give a fuck. Or punch someone in the face. You’ve been warned.

For Traditionalists
If you insist on having some Holiday cheer, I suppose you could enjoy the following, but it’s pretty close-minded of you.

Santa Baby
Eartha Kitt (1953)

All I Want For Christmas Is You
Merry Christmas, Mariah Carey
(I LOVE this song, but just singing and dancing around to it, not because it inspires Holiday cheer or whatever.)

Christmas in Hollis
Run DMC, (1987)

We Wish You A Merry Christmas
A Christmas Together,
John Denver and the Muppets (1973)
Yay, the Muppets and John Denver! Aww, John Denver…

Happy Holidays you scrooges!

Holiday Lists for the Misanthrope: Part Two

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No matter how hard she tries to avoid it, during the Holidays it is almost a guarantee that the Misanthrope will find herself at a party, a gathering of a bunch of people she knows from work, or through a friend of a friend. A mish mosh of people she wouldn’t want to spend four minutes in an elevator with, let alone the requisite 60 minutes to an hour and a half at a party making small talk and avoiding conversation landmines like Obamacare or the benefits vs. detriments of Walmart.

My fellow Scrooges, you cannot skip these parties. They are either work functions to which you must to put in an appearance, or parties hosted by people you don’t completely hate, so you must show your face. You may be wondering, “Why can’t I just pretend to be sick?” Because feigning illness is for high school kids. But our second Holiday List for the Misanthrope will provide you with five professional tools to survive Holiday Parties.

Week Two: Holiday Parties

Earplugs

We’ve all been to a party where there is one guy or gal in the center of the room sucking all of the air out. Every time someone starts to tell a story that is moderately interesting, this nitwit jumps in with the “one up” game. “Oh, you burned your finger? I set my pants on fire.” This person is typically loud and obnoxious and like a cat to the only allergic person in the room, he’ll find you and want to talk to you for hours. If you’ve got your earplugs in, all you have to do is the following: shrug, smile, and nod. That guy will go on all night. The next day he’ll think he had the best conversation with you (he only wants to hear himself talk anyway), and your only memory will be the sound of white noise.

Drink Early, Drink Heavily

In some situations it may become necessary to be the party drunk. I don’t recommend this for work functions, but for social gatherings, sure, why not? You don’t know most of those people anyway. To avoid mindless chatter, I recommend throwing back a few Jameson and Gingers starting the moment you walk in the door. You’re going to need to have a new drink in your hand every fifteen minutes for at least the first hour. Once you’ve passed the point of being fun drunk and are working on being sloppy, no fun embarrassing drunk, no one will want to talk to you anymore. Find a sofa, curl up and pass out. As G. Dubya once said, Mission Accomplished.

Party Hop

The best way to avoid being stuck hanging out with a few annoying people all night is to hang out with a bunch of annoying people all night. Every once in a while the stars will align an you’ll have invitations to attend three to four parties all over town on the same night. Accept all of them. If you find yourself with no invites, pretend you have multiples – I always do. I know, this sounds like a nightmare, but it is actually brilliant. You won’t be able to stay at any one party long enough to have any “real” conversations; as soon as someone starts to irritate you it’s off to the next party! This can be a little tough on your gas tank and you won’t be able to drink much, but you can satisfy up to four friends you barely like by attending all of their parties in one night and never have to actually “connect” to a single person. And if you’re pretending to have multiple parties, you can be home before the bad sketches start on Saturday Night Live.

Take Your Dog

I’m not going to lie, this can be tricky, but if executed correctly this is an almost infallible tactic. You’ll first need to make sure that Fido is welcome in your host’s home, once she’s been given the OK, you’re gold. This works best with small exceptionally cute dogs with personality. Throughout the evening you’ll be afforded the opportunity to excuse yourself from excruciating small talk by taking your pup for pee breaks, when your Ex shows up with his new girlfriend, you can play fetch with your dog to avoid the awkwardness of the situation, and dogs are a very good judges of character: if she growls at that guy trying to give you punch, you know it’s laced with GHB and not to drink it.

Everyone loves to see a dog coming, but no one likes a barking restless dog. As the evening goes on your dog will start to get a little stir-crazy. She may even start barking and harassing guests to play. This is your cue to leave. Don’t let your dog overstay her welcome or the memory your hosts will have of the dog will be negative. You want the memory of Fido to be cute and playful so she’ll be welcomed back next time you need an exit strategy.

Start to Love Football

It’s The Holidays so there is almost always going to be a football game on television. Your mission is to find the TV and be the one to let the host know that you’ve got money on the game and you really need to see if the Jets (that’s a football team right?) are gonna pull it out. I find football about as difficult to follow as a soap opera plot, but that’s the entire point. You’ve got at least four hours to figure out what the hell is going on. Get so involved in working out what 1st and 10 means and what a Tebow is that when people come over to talk to you they think you’re really into the game! Warning: you will need to figure out what to do with halftime and commercial breaks. I suggest combining Take Your Dog and Love Football as a perfect avoidance technique.

For traditionalists

**If all else fails, you can pretend to be sick, but everyone will know you’re lying so you’re going to have to pull out a kidney to pull it off.