Romantic comedies have a long history. While we often think about them as films, their roots go back to the theatrical tradition of New Comedy in ancient Greece. Later, in the sixteenth century, Shakespeare masterfully combined romance and comedy in his plays. The eighteenth century then brought Restoration comedy which was followed by romantic melodrama in the nineteenth century. It was the twentieth century, with the growth of Hollywood, that introduced the early film versions of romantic comedies. Yet despite this long tradition and the general popularity of the genre, romantic comedies are often considered trivial, inconsequential films.
Perhaps these films are dismissed because they are so formulaic and predictable. They begin with a “meet-cute”, the initial moment where the couple encounters one another in a way that tells the audience that they will end up together even if they start out disliking one another. Some sort of conflict then arises that puts the two lead characters on a metaphorical (and sometime literal) journey together in which their connection grows stronger even while the apparent dislike continues. This culminates with the characters finally realizing and expressing their true feelings and ending up together. Perhaps though, this predictability is what also makes them so appealing.
Because they are predictable, we as the audience can relax into the story, invest emotionally in the characters, and simply enjoy. Yet there are other factors as well. Romantic comedies are relatable; they often are about ordinary people in regular situations. True, they also include a dash of Hollywood magic which brings about true love. Even more than this reliability though, romantic comedies ultimately call us to think about human connection. While the couple is at the center of the story, these movies often involve a community around the couple – the best friends, the crazy family, the sassy work colleagues. Romantic comedies celebrate the love of all these relationships, and they invite the audience to be part of the supportive community, cheering the couple on.
Valentine’s Day, therefore, is a perfect time to watch a romantic comedy, for the holiday is not just about the love between couples but a time to express affection between relatives and friends as well. So, make some popcorn and check out a romantic comedy from our DVD display on the Library’s fourth floor. Portable DVD players are also available for checkout at the Library Services Desk.