I come in defense of the chick flick, the girl movie and the so-trashy-it’s-good film: the rom-com. Movies often tossed aside, disregarded and disrespected, the genre holds a special place in my heart as fodder for countless girls-nights-in, subject of feminist speculation and the making of Katherine Heigl’s career.
Rom-coms have always been written off as trite and irrelevant (read: girlish). For at least the last decade, though, they’ve also been flat-out ignored, relegating the films to objects of collective 1980s-2000s nostalgia. Google “death of the rom-com” and pages upon pages of articles will come up, each successive author banging another nail into the chick flick coffin. What caused this demise? Did rom-coms get worse or did we just lose patience for them? Have audiences simply descended into cynicism and lost their interest in romance?
One reason many moviegoers dislike the genre is because rom-coms, as a rule, are completely absurd. As Mindy Kaling puts it in her New Yorker article “Flick Chicks,” “I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world.” Rom-coms operate on a shared language and mythology foreign from real life.
The lovely absurdity of rom-coms is exemplified perfectly in Richard Curtis’ 1994 hit, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, starring Hugh Grant’s expertly floppy hair. Through the course of — you guessed it — four weddings and one funeral, leading-man Charles, played by Grant, clumsily woos Andie McDowell’s Carrie, a beautiful and aloof American woman he meets at wedding number one. Curtis wanted to make a romance that didn’t leave out “all the interesting bits,” that felt real, that felt ordinary. It is this quality combined with the contrived absurdity signature of rom-coms that makes “Four Weddings” so charming.
“For at least the last decade, though, they’ve also been flat-out ignored, relegating the films to objects of collective 1980s-2000s nostalgia. What caused this demise? Did rom-coms get worse or did we just lose patience for them? Have audiences simply descended into cynicism and lost their interest in romance?”
The movie’s climactic scene might also be its strangest. Carrie and Charles are standing in the pouring rain, the latter having just run away from his own wedding to another woman. In the middle of Charles professing his love for her, Carrie says, “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed,” in a bizarre monotone which only highlights the exaggerated rom-com-ness of the scene. Moments like these define the bumbling awkwardness of nearly every single character: Charles is ditzy at best, stumbling and stuttering in his attempts to flirt and his cast of friends wander aimlessly through life and love. I must confess that I am absolutely in love with “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and it’s the absurd scenes like these that endear me to the film.
“Four Weddings” characters meander through the movie’s plot like bumper cars — a plot which, like all rom-com plots, makes very little sense if you think about it for more than two seconds. Charles decides that Carrie is his dream girl after only one day of knowing her; Carrie marries a man much older and richer than her, then spontaneously leaves him; we cut forward in time to Charles’ wedding with a woman we’ve barely met.
These plot points are never really explained to the audience. Why? Don’t worry about it! It’s rom-com world — things don’t have to make sense! While that might sound like just lazy writing, I found this strangeness comforting. For one, it emphasizes the magnetic power of fate: the central couple are brought together against all odds, pulled from their respective relationships and from across the globe. Really, fate’s publicist owes so much to the rom-com. Beyond highlighting the power of fate, though, the absurd movements of “Four Weddings” make us feel good because they embrace the irrationality of reality. By letting its characters get a happy ending, even though so many things in their lives seem unexplained and undeserved, the film is telling its audience that we, too, might yet get a happy ending. Even when our powers of reason and best efforts inevitably fall flat against the unpredictability of life.
Those audiences and critics who believe that rom-coms spoon-feed audiences sugar-coated lies about life and love are missing the entire intention of the genre. Yes, rom-coms are absurd, but this ridiculousness is the point! Richard Curtis knows we are not fools. He knows that his films exist in a made-up land of fate and luck and perfect hair. But what makes rom-coms unique is that privilege to enter a world where things don’t have to make sense. Although misconstrued as fairytale nonsense, rom-coms like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” tell us that even though nothing makes sense, everything will be okay.