Romantic comedies have been a source of entertainment since the eighties, bringing us nothing but happy endings and fairytale journeys of two individuals meeting each other in a big, crazy world. But the world didn’t stop moving and changing since the great ’80s. Now, moving further into the 21st century, I (and maybe you too) am seeing a big difference in romantic comedies made today and the classics we know from the past. A shift in the focus and core of the romantic comedy: the couple.
We all know the romcom feeling: a sigh, a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling when you leave the cinema. Movies like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle are made to give you this exact reaction and the best part is: it totally works! These movies, classic as they might be, have a standard narrative that’s useable in any romantic comedy: boy meets girl / chemistry / something goes wrong, the world practically ends / they make up / live happily ever after. The happy ending is the most important and almost a criteria to a good romantic comedy. Without this element, the romantic comedy basically becomes a romantic drama. We just don’t get the warm and fuzzy feeling! If the perfect Julia Roberts can’t live happily ever after in Notting Hill, how on earth or WE going to get it?! Not to worry, happy endings still exist in the 21st century.
Today we can look back at the classics from the ’80s and ’90s with almost a feeling of sentiment. The innocence of the movie stars with the big smiles, the perfect guy; let’s be honest with ourselves: We know better by now. The most impossible relationships are build in these movies, and yet they seem to work out great. But how do they develop once the couple is settled down, get’s married and have children? This part of the romance is often invisible in the early romcoms. This has changed with the new generation of films in the year 2012 like The Five Year Engagement, The Vow, Friends with Kids and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. All these new romcoms focus on the couple, the family, the institute of marriage and basically keeping yourself and your relationship sane trough these life changes. For example: in The Five Year Engagement we follow a couple from the beginning of the film to the end. They get engaged and try to make a life together, as hard as that can be. Trouble and discussion come along, but in the end they make it to the altar and ultimately live happily ever after.
I’m hoping you start to see the big change in romantic comedies over the last 20, 30 years. We began in the ’80s with two individuals coming together and starting a life. We always assumed that this life was going to be a long, happy and vital one. The new generation of lovers apparently need a different kind of happy ending, a more hard and realistic one. We need to see if there still exist something like being happy with the one forever. A very basic and straight forward explanation can be given for this observation. Our generation (I’m talking about the people who are now young adults like me) had to grow up with the big concepts of not only marriage, but also divorce. Divorce has become a topic in a kid’s life on a daily basis. You were lucky if the divorce curse didn’t came knocking on your door. Romantic comedies like Notting Hill and Sleepless in Seattle were just not good enough, a little unbelievable. After all, two individuals starting a life together was easy. The happy ever after part turned out to be the hardest part. The warm and fuzzy feeling disappeared as we know knew the dream couples in movies may not be together and happy forever.
With the introduction of romantic comedies such as The Vow and The Five Year Engagement we know have an example of how a ”real” happy ever after looks like. Trouble in marriage, family and relationships are common, but with hard work and dedication to your husband/wife and family you can live happily ever after. This is the example we all can relate to in times of divorce and dreams. I want to look at a movie and think: yes, marriage will not be easy. But I am willing to work as hard as I have to, to be with the person I love and to live a happy and long life. With this movies, where the happy ending is still a big part of the formula, we all dare to dream again. To dream about that marriage of fifty years, to dream about a big family and to dream about the happy ending. With a realistic and sometimes maybe cynical logic in the back of our heads telling it may not work out. Realistic dreaming: the trend of the decade.
– Gracia Visscher