Capsule: On romantic comedy
David Denby has provided an excellent account of the development of the Hollywood romantic comedy in this week's New Yorker. There are wise dissections of how and why the stereotypes of men and women (for it is a tremendously hetero genre, even if there are traces of campness at its edges) have evolved in the last 60 years.
But of course it is the past the appears to be more attractive than the present of (and I simplify enormously here) men who won't grow up and women who take all the responsibility. Of the screwball comedies, Denby says:
The screwball movies, at their peak, defined certain idea qualities of insouciance, a fineness of romantic temper in which men and women could be aggressive but not coarse, angry but not rancorous, silly but not shamed, melancholy but not ravaged.
Allowing for the fact that we cannot really go back to this, for many reasons including feminism and the decline of deference, it does seem that something has been lost in the intervening years - a sense, perhaps, that genders are allowed be and act in ways more complex and modified than simple stereotypes. Of screwball, Denby writes:
Equality in these comedies takes a new shape. The man is serious about his work (and no one says he shouldn't be), but he's confused about women, and his confusion has neutered him. He thinks he wants a conventional marriage with a compliant wife, but what he really wants is to be overwhelmed by the female life force.
The emphasis is added, for this, truly, is what I think that I want - or at least, always thought was what I was wanted, and was surprised that other people, other men did not appear to want it. But that idea of being overwhelmed seems unachievable now, not least because of the near impossibility of being serious, as well as the sense that to be overwhelmed suggests that one needs to be ready to be overwhelmed, and that is a significant loss of control in our status and image obsessed world.
You cannot lose your heart if you are worrying what the world thinks about you losing your head.