From Hepburn to Heigel: the Romantic Comedy’s Transformation

02 Oct

In old school Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Katherine Hepburn filled the movie screens with their charm, sexuality, and talent. In films like “His Girl Friday”, the beginning of the romantic comedy featured a clash of the sexes as Rosalind Russel lusted after Ralph Bellamy while still being pursued and sought after by her former husband Cary Grant. In this contrast of sexes, comedy arises from the hijinks that occur and the confusion that follows. As David Denby writes, “Romantic comedy is entertainment in the service of the biological imperative. The world must be peopled”, meaning that someone has to end up with someone else in order to continue the idea of consummation (594). In between those initial meetings and final conclusions, situations have changed as decades have passed. Namely, that men must now grow up and that women must learn to accept certain things are out of their control. In the past ten years, romantic comedy has grown to include men who are more relatable to today’s audience than leading men of the past like Hugh Grant have been.

Beginning with Shakespeare, romantic comedy has grown since the dawn of film to include more sex and less ambiguity.  This has led to a somewhat loss of balance that movies like “Friday” had in which the “balance between the sexes” led to a “matched virtuosity more intense than sex.” Devin then goes on to say that “the screwball comedies were not devoted to sex, exactly—you could hardly describe any of the characters as sensualists” (596-97). Men and women today are a lot more sensual and sexual than they were even 20 years ago, and therefore there has been a giant shift between the two in terms of power. Women now ooze sexuality and men are now physically lacking the power to keep up with them (Katherine Heigel/Seth Rogen, Jason Segal/Kristen Bell, John C. Reily/Jenna Fischer). From this we can see that ultimately “achieving balance between a man and a woman in a romantic comedy can be elusive” (598). Yet, perhaps it is this tension and shift that makes the leading men of today’s romantic comedies more relatable than leading men like Hugh Grant or Jude Law. Men who are not physically perfect, have wit, and look like you could pass them any day on the street or in a classroom ending up with the beautiful woman. Movies have always been an escape from reality, so this might end up being why such films continue to be made and do well.

Works Cited

Denby, David. “Apatow and Tarantino: Two Contemporary Filmmakers.”

Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture.

Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 2009. 591-601. Print.

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