In September 2013 The Hollywood Reporter pronounced the romantic comedy genre as dead. The heyday of romantic comedies in the late 20th and early 21st century has drawn to a close.
To get an understanding of why this genre is perceived as dead we need to look back to its roots – the screwball comedies of the early 20th century.
In this classic scene Cary Grant’s David first meets Katherine Hepburn’s Susan on the golf course.
This scene is an example of one of the essential components of the romantic comedy, the scene showing the first meeting of our couple.This moment, often referred to as the “meet cute” due to the comic, unconventional, or unlikely meeting of our couple, is important because it establishes the dynamics of the relationship and the core personality of the characters.
In the scene from Bringing Up Baby we see that Susan is a confident, bold, self-assured woman which is a sharp contrast to David. We know that this couple will end up together, but how can two opposites come together? Will one or both of them change?
The extreme of the screwball comedy sets high stakes for the story that keeps the audience engaged. Many contemporary romantic comedies have watered down the meet cute into a more temperate and mild confrontation.
There are some contemporary romantic comedies that have managed to incorporate the sensibility of the screwball comedy. 50 First Dates borrows from Groundhog Day and gives us an entire portion of the film devoted to many attempts by Adam Sandler’s Henry to construct his own meet cute with Drew Barrymore’s Lucy, from feigned illiteracy preventing him from ordering breakfast to a staged roadside fight.
Comedy is tragedy taken to the extreme. It’s the extreme nature of the situations and characters shown in the clips above that creates a relationship worth watching and, ultimately, falling in love with.