Romantic Comedies: A History

For as long as man kind has been roaming the earth, there have been stories. From cave paintings on walls to novels, humans have always told stories as a way to entertain, teach and pass on family tales for future generations.

With the birth of motion pictures in 1888, humanity was able to take on a new art form to express and tell stories. By the early 1920’s, film exploded and stories were able to be shared on a mass scale. However, in 1927 something truly revolutionary happened – the talkie was born. The Jazz Singer, the first film where the audience could hear the actors talk, changed the film game – and the world was never the same.

What is a Romantic Comedy?

A rom-com is defined as a movie or play that deals with love in a light, humorous way. Sure, rom-coms have been around for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the last 100 years or so that they leaped off the stage and into cinemas across the world. How did we get here? To answer that, let’s head back to the 30’s shall we.

Screwball Comedy

Deriving from baseball, screwball comedies are a mix of rom-com, farce and satire. It is when a man and women meet, usually from opposite social classes. At first meeting they don’t like each other, however, through a crazy series of circumstances they are forced to work together and then – you guessed it – they end up together. The genre lasted for all of 15 years, but it layed the slab for where rom-coms would end up.

Fast-paced dialogue and exaggerated situations are what give screwball comedies their defining feature. They focus on the comedy of conflict, specifically with gender. The first screwball comedy was It Happened One Night, staring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. If you haven’t seen it…watch it!

Sex Comedy

Truckin’ along we get to the sex comedies of the 50’s and 60’s. In 1952 the supreme court ruled that films had First Amendment Protection (whoop whoop!!), bringing an end to the strict production codes from the previous 25 years. This allowed Hollywood to get bold in their writing. Also – fun fact – in 1953 the film The Moon is Blue was the first motion picture to use the word ‘virgin’…I know, scandal!

This era from 1953 to 1965 asked the question, ‘will she or won’t she’? Yes, the man would always try to get the woman in the hay without commitment. But guess what…they would always get married in the end. Some famous films from this time are Some Like it Hot, Pillow Talk, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds and The Apartment. (You want to see a strong woman, watch Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment – hero!)

Radical Romantic Comedy

The sexual revolution in the late 60’s propelled film into uncharted territory. No longer were people asking ‘will she or won’t she’ – more like ‘does love exist at all’? Men and Women were able to talk about sex freely without innuendo. They were cynical – there doesn’t have to be a happily ever after.

Films like Annie Hall were way ahead of the curve and Woody Allen helped drive the neurotic comedies to the forefront. Honestly – thank God ’cause without him we wouldn’t have been graced with Nora Ephron’s brilliance and then where would we be…stuck in Twilight and that is just a nightmare I can’t fathom.

Neotraditional Romantic Comedies

Speaking of ‘ol Nora, we finally get to my favorite era – neotraditional. When Meg Ryan had her fake orgasm at the deli in When Harry Met Sally, it was a revolution that ushered in the modern rom-coms of today. Thanks to a huge box office return, the 90’s and early 00’s are arguably the best years for the rom-com.

No longer are we worried about sex, or situational comedy, or ‘will she won’t she’ – we now look at the meet cute – awwww! Both sides of the relationship have to make it work. It’s all about compromise and transparency. Characters are leading with their hearts. They have dreams. Getting married isn’t a requirement nor something to be feared. It is really good stories about people, every day normal people who fall in and out of love. How relatable is that?!

As always – thanks for reading! If you have seen any of the films mentioned above, let me know which was your fav in the comments below.

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