2 Dec 2013

ROM COM RULES - The Film Rules

There is a certain sub-genre of romantic comedy chick-flicks contain meet-cutes known as Rom Coms.  These films are highly formulaic and cliched.  Perfect to a Film Rules.

But first, for a guide to living in a Chick Flick check out the now cancelled Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23's Season 2 Halloween episode.

These are the rules for a highly formulaic sub-genre of romantic films.  The term I will be using for these films is Rom Com and as always genre naming and defining has problems.  Rom Com, obviously, is short for Romantic Comedy and that term is often used solely to describe what I mean when I say Rom Com.  However, Romantic Comedy is also used by many to describe any film with romance and comedy.  While this is technically accurate it is misleading, many action films, dramas and even tragedies include romance and comedy - where do you draw the line?  Just like any Fiction film that includes Science isn't Science Fiction, as a genre label, Romantic Comedy has to describe a genre not just label contents, but the term causes confuse, so I'll avoid it.  Sometimes Chick Flick is used to describe this specific sub-genre, however, it is really describing the potential audience and can also be opened to dramas, action films with strong female leads and other types of film.  Another term used (especially in the industry) is Meet Cute, which describes the "cute first meeting" that is central to Rom Coms.  However, that is about a specific type of situation that appears in the film, and can appear in almost any film genre.  I could split hairs on genre definition for pages, but suffice to say I'm using Rom Com to describe a specific type of film that follows the rules below.  Or do they?

The Characters
Dan... in Real Life

While it is certainly true of most film genres, cliched casting and the use of typecast actors into the main archetypes that appear in the film is very important since Rom Coms rarely have sequels.  The use of actors with previous success in other fields (music, stand-up comedy, modelling, even television) is also important.

1a.  The Couple - Obviously there will be the potential couple.

           i.     Balance - Unlike a lot of film genres where there will be a main character and a secondary love interest (usually a male hero and a female supporting character (sometimes called a Female Lead, although the opposite can be true in romances).  Rom Coms are usually a lot more balanced, showing the POV of both parties.

          ii.     Opposites in Attitude/Behaviour - You know, "opposites attract" and it helps the old "love/hate thing.  Examples include (but are not limited to):
                  - Fears Commitment vs Obsessed with Marriage.
                  - Uptight/Workaholic vs Carefree, Romantic.
                  - Neat vs Slobbish.
                  - Jock vs Nerd (especially in Teen romances)
                  - Privileged vs Wrong side of the Tracks.
Most of these can be summarised as one will be "fun" and the other "serious".  If they female character is "fun" she may be labeled (by critics) as a "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" although they appear in a range of films and often don't appear in "balanced" films, being seen mainly through the eyes of the male lead.  Of course, one (usually the serious one) will have to change for the happy ending.

          iii.     Opposites in Life - They will often be competitors or be set against each other in some way (a writer of bad films/a film critic, etc) to heighten the "love/hate" thing.

          iv.     Occupations/free time involving Romance or the Media - At least one will often have something to do with love in their profession (or home life); involvement in weddings or matchmaking or advice.  It's ironic, especially if they can't find love.  One (maybe the same one) will often be involved with me involved in the media.  So when the big embarrassment happens it can be broadcast.

1b.  The Best Friend/Confidant - Usually each will have a sidekick and/or adviser (or a couple thereof).  This will usually be a best friend character, who will often be some combination of:
          i.     Ugly (for women: Hollywood ugly: "cute not beautiful" or "beautiful but not skinny".  For men:  Overweight, not attractive, usually an actor with a history in comedy.)
          ii.    Wacky, especially if the friend-lead is the serious one.
          iii.   Slutty/Sleazy, if only in word and thought but not in action (once again, especially if the hero/heroine is "repressed".)
          iv.   Family, may be a best-friend parent or a best-friend sibling.
          v.    The Opposite Sex, usually the same sex, but can be the opposite sex; a still-friend ex, a friend-zoned friend or to stop any complications, gay.

1c.   The Third Person - One (or both) may have a current or ex (or another possible future) romantic interest.  Usually, but not always another man for the woman.  They will be a better "match", sharing common interests and goals, but there just won't be the "spark" or passion.  A fiance is common as it means that there is a wedding in the future [see Rule 7].

There Won't Be T&A
Friends with Benefits
Whereas some other genres rely on sex and nudity, and some can give take it, the Rom Com despite being based around romance avoid sex and nudity.  There are a number of reasons for this: the idea that romance is more than just sex, the idea that the female audience is less interested in nudity especially female nudity than the male audiences of other genres (although guy's butts may be OK), trying to maintain a PG rating.  Nudity that exists will be of minor characters. suggested not shown, etc.  Sex will similarly be cut away from or underplayed.   This, of course, changes over time.  Another feature is the male character refusing easy sex, either because it isn't with the woman he loves, or if it is offered by her because it's for the wrong reasons.

The Meet-Cute
The Truth About Cats & Dogs
This will be the funny situation in which they first meet.  There will be a spark, but an immediate, comedic reason for them to dislike each other.  It will be a great story to tell the kids in later years.

My Best Friend's Wedding
Circumstances will conspire against them.  Either new separate circumstances or those transpiring from the Meet-Cute [Rule 2], the existence of the third person [Rule 1c], or conflict due to opposite nature [Rule 1a ii & iii].  The circumstances will stop them admitting their true feelings to anyone even themselves, although they will be evident to others, until that finally make the 

Realisation of Love.
Pretty Woman
The guy won’t realise he loves the girl until he sees her in formal wear/underwear/accidentially naked*.  This is especially the case if he was “cute not pretty” but “scrubs up well.”  It can also tie into “the event” [Rule #6b] either trying on dresses or her appearance at the event.  The dress she tries on may be a wedding dress.  This may or may not lead to proclamations of love and/or sex [although, see Rule #2].  She will probably realise that she loves him much sooner but have reasons why it won't work, or will be confused by feelings for another.  Once they not only realise that they love each other, but share that realisation, that are heading for...

The Break-Up
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Something big will happen to ruin their relationship.

6a.  The Reason - It will happen for pre-Rule #5 reasons.  Something said before the love realisation.  Something produced for the media job unable to be stopped. Something about their competing jobs or attitudes.  Something "set-up" about their meet-cute that will come back to haunt them.  Possibly something about an ex.

6b.  The Event - It will often happen immediately before, during or immediately after a big "event" being prepared for in Rule #5.  The will usually be important in the female's life and the break-up will ruin it.  This means that just beyond the reason for the break-up is the extra weight of the ruined event.

6c.  Humiliation - The break-up or the reason for it may appear in media or be broadcast in some other way be an embarrassment to the "wronged" party.  This means that just beyond the reason for the break-up is the extra weight of the embarrassment.

6d.  But... - As suggested by [Rule 6a] the reason for the break-up will be based on a misunderstanding or information that no longer applies, but that if the "guilty party" could just explain... unfortuately, this is no room for explanation.

6e.   The Turmoil - With the relationship ruined, both parties lives will be in turmoil.  The "wronged" person will make a decision that will lead the them being...

Separated Forever
The Wedding Singer
To solve the their own Turmoil [Rule 6] the "wronged" party either decide to leave (take than overseas job, move back home, flee the country) never to return (in theory) or will accept some other offer, like the marriage proposal or decide to go through with the wedding to the neglected fiance.  The "guilty" party will then have to make a life changing decision to achieve...

Say Anything
To prove to the "wronged" party that they really do love the other person they will need to go through a four step process.

8a.  Giving up something dear - Be it a job, a relationship, a world view or even selling a precious belonging.  This is necessary for two reasons:
          i.     To prove that they are willing to change for the one they love.
          ii.    The time critical nature (and sometimes expense) of chasing the one they love and stopping the parting.

8b.   Unusual Mode of Transport - Because of the time restrains and because cars at this point in the film could only be less reliable if you were being chased by the killer in a Slasher Film, and traffic jams jam traffic another mode of transport will be needed, be it horse, stolen child's tricycle or being piggy backed by someone doing parkour.

8c.   The Stunt - Because of the distance and time factor some physical challenge will need to be defeated, jumping from one building to a

8d.  The Romantic Gesture - Finally, in front of a crowd of people, the "guilty" party will publicly announce that they were wrong, declare their love.  This will be followed by a PDA and applause from those watching.  And they will all live...

Happily Ever After
27 Dresses
They will get on the train/plane/boat together, or we'll skip ahead to their wedding, or possibly further in the future to see them still together sometimes years later.  It may be important to forget that just deciding to change who you are probably doesn't work and that repressing a personality trait may make you bitter towards the person causing you to repress it.  Forget that.  They will clearly live happily ever after.  There will be no...

RULE #10
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Hollywood loves sequels.  However, because of the "happily ever after" (Rule 10) there Rom Coms are almost always without sequels as it completely undermines the ending of the film.  Although a spin-off sequel about the sidekick finding love could be possible, I don't think it's ever been done.  There are other avenues that can be explored ("the coping with kids" sequel, but these are rarely, if ever, done).  Sometimes there is a meta-sequel (Rumour Has It being based on the idea that the family involved inspired The Graduate.)  Then there is the spiritual sequel, when the two leads appear together again as different characters to renew the chemistry.

My plan is to watch, review and analyse a Rom Com, or Romantic or Comedy film that may fit the rules and to see how well the rules hold up.  My current plan for viewing is:

What do you think of the rules?  Are they fair?  Any obvious omissions or glaring mistakes?  Any rules that you know don't work or predictions of rules that will fail or succeed?
And what of the film list, any that *need* to be added beyond the ten?  Any "categories" that need to be added or tested?  Any films that shouldn't be there?

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