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To What Extent, and Why, does contemporary romantic comedy follow or depart from the conventions established in the classic Hollywood era? Answer with reference to at least two films.

FM3011 - Comedy


To what extent, and why, does contemporary Hollywood romantic comedy follow or depart from the conventions established in the classic Hollywood era? Answer with reference to at least two films.


In the 1970s, Brian Henderson predicted that, due to changes within family structures and sexual relationships, and a loss of faith in the interest of romance as a subject, the romantic comedy would become outdated and therefore, supposedly, an impossibility in todays cinema (FM3011  Comedy

Henderson, Austin: ). Indeed, there have been many alterations to our social structures since the classic Hollywood era, defined by Susan Hayward as the cinema tradition that dominated Hollywood production from the 1930s to the 1960s (Hayward, Routledge: 45). The feminist and gay movements of the 70s, a rise in divorce rates and the subsequent increase in the number of single parent families, have all played a part in significantly changing the shape of our society and our outlook on life. However I would argue with hindsight that, rather than causing the genre to be obsolete in the present day, these changes within society have merely forced the romantic comedy to change tack somewhat, in order to conform to modern ideologies.


Claude Levi-Strauss studied many cultures and myths and, according to him, these stories help to solve key issues within a culture, offering an imaginary resolution to any social discordance, which might arise. This theory can be applied to many sorts of myths or stories, including films, and I think it is a good place to start when replying to Hendersons claim that romantic comedy would no longer work.

It is generally agreed, I would assume, that romantic comedy was, and still is an extremely popular genre. The reason for this great and continuing success might be attributed to, what Delia Ephron calls our thirst for romance, no matter how bleak things are. She goes on to say that in fact, the bleaker they are, the more we crave it. (Perhaps accounting for the particular prosperity of the genre following the First World War and during the Depression). When youre single, youve got the notion of Tomorrow is another day  who knows what will happenwhen youre in love, the only place you fall in love again is at the movies. She would suggest that the hardest thing about making a romantic comedy today is finding the thing that keeps two people apart. There were so many more impediments in the past, such as money, race or class differenceOn the other hand the world is always representing new ways to be separated  like the Internet in Youve Got Mail. (Dardanis, A Fine Romance, Journal, Nov.2000).

Very often in a romantic comedy, the two protagonists, or the hero and heroine, are portrayed as metaphors for two contradictory standards, almost as ambassadors for two feuding sides (which is what Ephron is referring to when she talks about the thing that keeps two people apart). Tom Hanks in Youve Got Mail represents a capitalist character because he is the heir to the multi-million dollar Fox empire. Around the corner is the small independent bookshop, owned by Meg Ryans character, which is threatened with closure due to the opening of the new Fox store. The hero is seen to be underhand and manipulative throughout the film, motivated solely by money whereas the heroine is portrayed in a much more sympathetic light, as hard-working and enthusiastic, displaying many characteristics which we naturally expect from a good person. With this in mind, it can be deduced that romantic comedies are not only about romantic relationships, but are also a place to explore key issues of a culture, whether they be social, political or economic.


In order to establish whether or not contemporary Hollywood romantic comedy follows or departs from the conventions of the classic Hollywood era, I think it is essential to define the conventions of the classic era, using a text from that period as an example, and then compare it with a more recent film. For the purposes of this essay, I have chosen to focus on