DIGI 369 Final Project: The Romantic Comedy Exploring the "Rom-com"

A brief introduction to the Romantic Comedy genre....

In simplest terms, it's a combination of two major film genres, Romance and Comedy.

A major example of these genres. From left to right: Casablanca (1942) and Trading Places (1983).

Here are the three major tropes you'll find in a Romantic Comedy:

  • An unlikely pairing. This can be anything from, "a royal princess and a reporter" (Roman Holiday) to "a death-obsessed 18-year-old and a 79-year-old free spirit" (Harold and Maude). A lot of the more humorous situations come out of the unlikeliness of the two leads.
  • Male or female sidekick(s). This includes any sort of external support from the friends or family members of the two romantic leads. They provide a good voice for commentary and guidance into the relationship at hand, which can be play out in both comedic and serious ways.
  • A romantic complication. This can be an internal or external problem that is a stumbling block for the two romantic leads and is quite often another source for comedic situations. While this complication may start out as comedic, it most often winds up being a serious plot point that needs to be overcome by the characters in the second and third acts of the story.

An unlikely pairing: Charlie Chaplin's "The Tramp" and Virginia Cherrill as "A Blind Girl" in City Lights (1931).

Male sidekicks: Ben with his stoned-out housemates from Knocked Up (2007).

Need a romantic complication? How about having your love interest be a royal princess? From Roman Holiday (1953).

While these tropes tend to always come through, as long as a Romantic Comedy contains both romance and comedy at the forefront, nearly anything can go. As you will see from the assortment of film shown in the below slideshow, a Romantic Comedy can cover a wide variety of settings, characters and plots.

Here are the films that will be covered over the course of this project.

City Lights (1931) starring Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill. Charlie Chaplin's famous character, Tramp, falls in love with a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill).

The Philadelphia Story (1953) starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and John Howard. Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) must decide who she truly loves when her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), comes back into the picture as she is preparing to wed the wealthy, George Kittredge (John Howard).

Roman Holiday (1953) starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. The touring princess, Ann (Audrey Hepburn), falls in love with a reporter (Gregory Peck).

Harold and Maude (1972) starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. A death-obsessed 18-year-old (Bud Cort) develops a relationship with a 79-year-old free spirit (Ruth Cordon).

Annie Hall (1977) starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. The neurotic stand-up comedian, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), reflects on the rise and fall of his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).

Knocked Up (2007) starring Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen. The irresponsible and fun-loving Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) must develop a relationship with the ambitious and hardworking Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) after a one-night stand turns into an unwanted pregnancy.

The Exemplar of the Third Era, 1927-1938: City Lights (1931)

City Lights (1931)

Abstract Summary: In City Lights, Charlie Chaplin reprised his most famous role, Tramp. After Tramp falls in love with The Blind Girl, he woos her by leading her to believe he's a wealthy man, doing so with money and resources lent to him from his friend, An Eccentric Millionaire, played by Harry Myers.

Eventually, Tramp is able to get together enough cash to give to The Blind Girl for an operation that "cures blindness", but because of a series of consequences involving robbers and thievery, Tramp winds up wrongly jailed.

Tramp is able to get out of jail and finds The Blind Girl working at a flourishing flower shop with her grandmother. With her blindness cured, the girl see's who he really is, and they remain in love as she loves Tramp for who he is.

Immediate Influence: Before City Lights was released, Charlie Chaplin was extremely nervous for the reception of the film as by that time, silent films were becoming more and more obsolete. That being said, the film was immediately released with positive reception and respectable box office returns, generating an estimated $3.2 million at the box office. One of the bigger immediate influences this success brought was the ability to release his follow-up and final silent film, Modern Times, which critics and film scholars now hail as one of Chaplin's greatest achievements along with City Lights.

Long-term influence: City Lights is now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made with a whopping 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and taking the #1 spot on AFI's "Top 10 Romantic Comedies" list. City Lights has also inspired countless filmmakers and along with being the inspiration for the final scene in Woody Allen's Manhattan, City Lights is regarded to be Orson Welles' favorite film. The impact that has resulted from this film is nearly incomprehensible.

Below are the endings of both Charlie Chaplin's City Lights and Woody Allen's Manhattan.

An assortment of images from City Lights.

The Exemplar of the Fourth Era, 1939-1947 : The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story (1953)

Abstract Summary: In The Philadelphia Story, Katharine Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, a sociality who is planning to marry her second husband, the wealthy and respectable George Kittredge played by John Howard.

Three days before the wedding, her ex husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), arrives at her mansion. Now Tracy and Dexter had divorced two years ago after an impulsive marriage where Tracy's high standards fueled Dexter's drunkenness.

Over the course of this film, another romantic interest is thrown into the mix with the reporter Mike Connor (James Stewart) and chaos ensues; this results into an inspiring and hilarious story where true love prevails and Tracy and Dexter remarry. Tracy has to learn to be forgiving and accept the limitations of humanity in order to find true love.

Immediate Influence: Prior to the release of The Philadelphia Story, actress Katharine Hepburn had several flops at the box office and was starting to garner a bit of a reputation as "box office poison". After the release, the film was a financial success as well as a critical hit, garnering six Academy Award nominations, one of which Hepburn was nominated for, and two wins. Because of this, Hepburn was back on the map following up The Philadelphia Story with Woman of the Year in 1942, for which Hepburn also received an Academy Award nomination.

Long-term influence: Like City Lights, The Philadelphia Story is now considered to be one of the best films ever made ranking #51 on AFI's "100 Years...100 Movies" list as well as ranking #5 on their "Top 10 Romantic Comedies" list.

An assortment of images from The Philadelphia Story.

The Exemplar of the Fifth Era, 1948-1965: Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday (1953)

Abstract Summary: Roman Holiday is essentially a fish-out-of water story. Being her first lead role, Audrey Hepburn plays Ann, the princess of an unspecified country who while touring in Italy, finds herself tired of all her responsibilities and rules.

Because of this. she wanders off alone into the streets of Italy and ends up passed out on a bench only to be found by Gregory Peck's, Joe Bradely. Joe Bradely is a reporter who on the verge of being fired, takes this as an opportunity to write the story of a lifetime. Little does he know this will turn into a romantic relationship.

There is a lot more going on in the plot here, but boiled down, the film establishes a strong connection between the two leads and breaks the audiences heart in an ending where they don't end up together. In a genre that can easily become light, fluffy, and honestly a little stupid, it is refreshing to see an ending that is grounded in realism rather than fantasy.

Immediate influence: One of the biggest immediate influences of Roman Holiday also coincides with it's biggest long term influence - Audrey Hepburn. Before the film was released, Hepburn had only appeared in minor film roles. After the movie was released and after Hepburn had won an Academy Award for the role, she became one of the hottest actresses around with hits like Sabrina, The Nun's Story and the famous Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Long-term influence: Roman Holiday is now recognized as one of the best romantic comedies ever made being #4 on AFI's "Top 10 Romantic Comedies" list. With this, it brought the world Audrey Hepburn, who has been nominated for five Academy Awards and is considered one of the best actresses of all time. She is ranked the third greatest female star of all time on the American Film Institute list.

Some images from Roman Holiday.
Harold and Maude (1971)

Abstract Summary: Out of all the movies covered in this project, this might be the most unforgettable for various reasons. Harold and Maude takes the trope of "an unlikely pairing" and brings it to a whole new level with the romantic leads being a death obsessed 18-year-old, Harold (Bud Cort), and a free spirited 79-year-old, Maude (Ruth Gordon).

In the film, the two leads meet at a funeral and well, fall in love. With Harold being a death-obsessed maniac who stages elaborate fake suicides and attends funerals for strangers, Maude compliments him well with a passion for living life to its fullest. Some of the most hilarious and memorable moments from the film happen because of the straight up bizarre chemistry that this couple has.

One of Harold's staged suicides. This movie is funny, I promise.

Immediate influence: The immediate influence of Harold and Maude was close to none. Upon initial release, the film received mixed reviews from critics and was not commercially successful. What might be the only immediate recognition it received were two Golden Globe nominations for Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon, receiving Best Actor and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy film respectively.

Long-term influence: Over time, Harold and Maude became a cult classic, inspiring directors like Wes Anderson in their more bizarre and unique stylistic choices. The film also grew to receive more positive mainstream exception from critics with a current 86 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and a number nine spot on AFI's "Top 10 Romantic Comedy Films" list.

Images from Harold and Maude
Annie Hall (1977)

Abstract summary: Annie Hall might be the most intellectual film out of this bunch. Being written, directed by, and starring Woody Allen, every plot beat that takes place in Annie Hall is experienced through the lens of his neurotic and intellectual character, Alvy Singer, a stand-up comedian living in New York City.

Annie Hall explores the complex psychology of relationship dynamics with Diane Keaton's Annie Hall, being an insecure jazz singer that strongly compliments Alvy Singer's neuroticism. With this, the film takes place within the memories of Singer who is looking back and reflecting on what went right and wrong in his past relationship with Hall.

As a result you have a film that is very romantic and funny while remaining very grounded and human.

Immediate influence: Annie Hall's immediate influence lied in garnering strong box office returns, critical acclaim, and four academy award wins for Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director. The film also marked Woody Allen's start into "dramady" territory with his follow up film, Manhattan (1979), receiving critical acclaim, along with many others to come. On top of all this, Annie Hall put Diane Keaton on a whole new level of stardom with Annie Hall being her first of four Academy Award recognized performances.

Long-term influence: Annie Hall is now considered one of the best films ever made being #35 on AFI's "100 Years...100 Movies" list and #2 on their "Top 10 Romantic Comedy Films" list. The film was also the influence for many films to come including When Harry Met Sally (1989), Chasing Amy (1997) and 500 Days of Summer (2009). On top of all this, Annie Hall is the film that inspired Rian Johnson to become a filmmaker, who's work includes Looper (2013), several episodes of the Emmy winning drama Breaking Bad, and the upcoming blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

Images from Annie Hall.
Knocked Up (2007)

Abstract summary: Knocked Up is the most recent film covered in this project and stars Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl as the two leads, Ben Stone and Allison Scott. After a drunk one night stand turns into an unexpected pregnancy, they are forced to bud a romantic relationship and make it work.

One of the things that is most notable out of this film is comedic style of filmmaking that is built off a strong cast improving general scene concepts to get a movie that feels fresh and unorthodox.

Through all the raunchiness found in Knocked Up, one may be surprised to find a heartfelt message underlying the film where love is not based off class or looks and life is highly prized. The final act centers around the main characters putting aside their differences to raise a child together.

Immediate influence: Knocked Up was a critical and financial smash with a 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and generating nearly $150 million at the domestic box office. The film also was a giant launchpad for actor Seth Rogen who with this being his first starring role, went on to become a successful writer, director, producer, and actor with films like 50/50 (2011), Superbad (2007), Pineapple Express (2008), This Is the End (2013) and Sausage Party (2016) under his belt. Rounding all this up, Knocked Up put filmmaker Judd Apatow at a higher caliber, allowing him to attach more up and coming talent in his projects like Amy Schumer, Jason Segal, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, putting them into stardom.

Photos from Knocked Up.

In conclusion...

What makes a relationship funny and why does it keep being explored?

In reflection, this was a question I repeatedly was asking myself upon making the decision to cover the Romantic Comedy genre for this project. To me, it is absolutely fascinating that such a genre could consistently last in relevance for such a long period of time. Heck, looking at Shakespeare the genre dates even further back before the earliest silent film. That being said I would lie if I were to say I have necessarily come up with any sort of conclusion to this question, but it's still one I have.

Future prediction: is this genre here to stay?

Obviously, this is an easy yes, so the better question would be this: In what form?

I will start out with this - relationships will continue to be explored in the cinema until movies cease to exist.

With that, I do think that what exactly people will find funny in relationships will change. Sure, all the classic films I watched for this project have held up in some way, but unfortunately, not all the jokes have. References change. People change. Culture changes. Comedy is such a subjective genre and what different people find funny is hard to measure.

What will I do with all this information?

The biggest insight I have gained from this project is a newfound respect for classic movies. Before this, I found it quite hard to sit down and watch an older film because of the stigma it brought. To my surprise, every single classic film I watched for this project held up extremely well and blew me away.

I won't shy away from older films anymore. To fully understand movies and the industry at the current state, you need to understand how it was.

Works Cited:

1. Silverman, Sid. "Review: ‘City Lights’." Variety. N.p., 11 Feb. 1931. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://variety.com/1931/film/reviews/city-lights-1200410506/>.

2. "City Lights (1931) - Box Office / Business." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021749/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus>.

3. "Ever Wonder What Orson Welles' Top Ten Favorite Films Are? Well, Here You Go..." ComingSoon.net. N.p., 09 Sept. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.comingsoon.net/movies/news/603821-ever-wonder-orson-welles-top-ten-favorite-films-well-go>.

4. SNIDER, FILM.COM ERIC D. "What's the Big Deal: City Lights (1931)." Seattlepi.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.seattlepi.com/ae/movies/article/What-s-the-Big-Deal-City-Lights-1931-883942.php>.

5. Chaplin, Charles, Harry Crocker, Albert Austin, and Henry Bergman. "City Lights." City Lights (1931) - Rotten Tomatoes. N.p., 12 Mar. 2017. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/city_lights/>.

6. "The New Pictures, Jan. 20, 1941." Time. Time Inc., 20 Jan. 1941. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,772652,00.html>.

7. "The 13th Academy Awards | 1941." Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1941>.

8. "The 15th Academy Awards | 1943." Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1943>.1943

9. Afi Is A Trademark Of The American Film Institute. Copyright 2005 American Film Institute. All Rights Reserved. This Is the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest Movies, Selected by AFI's Blue-ribbon Panel of More than 1,500 Leaders of the American Movie Community. (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

10. AFI: 10 Top 10. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.afi.com/10top10/category.aspx?cat=2>.2

11. "The 26th Academy Awards | 1954." Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1954>.

12. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars." American Film Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.afi.com/100Years/stars.aspx>.

13. Patterson, Troy. "Why ''Harold and Maude'' Is One of the Top 10 Cult Movies." EW.com. Time Inc, 20 May 2003. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://ew.com/article/2003/05/20/why-harold-and-maude-one-top-10-cult-movies/>.

14. Ebert, Roger. "Harold and Maude Movie Review (1972) | Roger Ebert." RogerEbert.com. N.p., 01 Jan. 1972. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/harold-and-maude-1972>.

15. Haglund, David. "Being There, Coming Home, and How Hal Ashby Became a Master of the Message Movie." Slate Magazine. N.p., 22 Sept. 2009. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/dvdextras/2009/09/forget_harold_and_maude.html>.

16. "Annie Hall (1977)." Box Office Mojo. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=anniehall.htm>.

17. "The 50th Academy Awards | 1978." Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1978>.

18. Morgan, Emily. "Rian Johnson: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know." Heavy.com. N.p., 19 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://heavy.com/entertainment/2014/06/rian-johnson-star-wars-director-episode-viii-8-j-j-abrams/>.

19. Apatow, Judd. "Knocked Up." Knocked Up (2007) - Rotten Tomatoes. N.p., 12 Mar. 2017. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/knocked_up/>.

20. "Knocked Up (2007)." Box Office Mojo. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017. <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=knockedup.htm>.

21. City Lights. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. Perf. Charlie Chaplin. 1931.

22. The Philadelphia Story. Dir. George Cukor. Perf. Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and John Howard. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940.

23. Roman Holiday. Perf. Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Paramount, 1953.

24. Harold and Maude. Dir. Hal Ashby. Perf. Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort. Paramount Pictures, 1971. Film.

25. Annie Hall. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Diane Keaton and Woody Allen. UA, 1977. Film.

26. Knocked up. Dir. Judd Apatow. Prod. Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson, Clayton Townsend, and Seth Rogen. By Judd Apatow. Perf. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. Universal Pictures, 2007.

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