Romantic Comedy

 

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A film that finds a novel form in which to survey one of cinema's best established genres.

 
Romantic Comedy
 

When Mark Kermode started his first series of Secrets of Cinema for BBC television he must have recognised that he had found a very workable formula, one that would show him analysing the established ingredients that define how genre films are made and incorporating many illustrative clips. It was no surprise that the first genre he picked on was the romcom. One might well suppose that Elizabeth Sankey's feature film Romantic Comedy, a documentary about that genre, would follow a comparable pattern and invite comparisons. But not so. Sankey offers something else entirely and, while it may intrigue, it strikes me as a very bizarre concept indeed.

 

In Romantic Comedy we have no less than eight relatively young film enthusiasts (some of them, but not all, professional critics) none of whom are to be seen. They make their comments on the soundtrack but without our ever knowing which of them we are listening to at any given moment. As for their remit, it is to discuss the romcom not by analysing how it works or by assessing the various titles that come up but by commenting generally on the aspects of these films that appeal to them and those of which they disapprove.

 

The initial focus is on the heroines and, while the film goes back to reference a few classic titles from the 1930s (e.g. Twentieth Century, My Girl Friday), the examples extend to recent 21st century pieces. Although the genre inhabits a world of make believe divorced from reality, these commentators view it as a source for role models and consequently attack the way in which it portrays women who not infrequently are made to look foolish but also have as their one goal in life marriage to the man of their dreams. Similarly, when they move on to consider the genre's heroes, our commentators deplore the aggressive male tendencies portrayed approvingly and are outraged that these heroes have always traditionally been white, heterosexual and middle class. Some of the underlying attitudes in these films may well justify this kind of social analysis, but if the changes suggested here were indeed followed one would end up with works that bore little or no resemblance to what we think of as a romcom.

 

The oddity of many of the ideas expressed is exemplified by the proposal put forward that the recent gay drama God's Own Country is best approached as a romcom even though not recognised as such. Indeed, so many elements of the traditional romantic comedy are criticised that it feels strange that our commentators admit to liking the genre (it would indeed be logical if they labelled it as being at best a guilty pleasure). But, if what is said in the film often invites disagreement, that can sometimes be stimulating in itself and lovers of romcoms will enjoy being reminded of so many titles ranging from the much loved (the superior quality of 1989's When Harry Met Sally... stands out) to some that are rewardingly out of the way. With no new footage incorporated (the only visuals here are the extracts themselves), Romantic Comedy offers nostalgic appeal. Opinions are certainly not in short supply, but whether or not the observations made really convince is often open to question. As for the format, it hardly yields something truly worthy in its own right being somewhat akin to a DVD or Blu-Ray extra in which as a subsidiary attraction you can watch the film again but this time with an audio commentary.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  The voices of Jessica Barden, Cameron Cook, Anne T. Donahue, Simran Hans, Brodie Lancaster, Charlie Lyne, Eleanor McDowell, Laura Snapes.

 

Dir Elizabeth Sankey, Pro Oskar Pimlott, Chiara Ventura and Jeremy Warmsley, Screenplay Elizabeth Sankey, Ed Elizabeth Sankey, Music Jeremy Warmsley.

 

Montgomery Avenue Productions/Rubber Stamp Films/Sungazer-MUBI.
78 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 5 May 2020. Available on MUBI. No Cert.