It’s alright everybody. Go back to living your lives. The end is not here. Despite what you’ve heard, the romantic comedy is not dead.
That was a close one.
I’m not one to panic, usually. I didn’t worry when, last year, Christopher Orr writing for The Atlantic issued his complaint that romantic comedies (or, rom-coms if you’re an awful person who says things like rom-com) have been on a decades-long decline. When, back in 2011, Huffington Post blogger Emily Bracken wrote that “Romantic comedies are dying because romance is dead,” I chalked it up to a bad break up. And, back at the end of February of this year, when Amy Nicholson penned these lines for LA Weekly, “The corpse lay crumpled on the conference table, close enough that the studio executive could tug on the red heel of her Louboutins,” I thought she was just being overly dramatic.
(Incidentally, each of those death knells was issued within a few short weeks of Valentines Day. Coincidence?)
But none of that worried me. Those are just crazy film critics, I told myself. But, it was harder to ignore the pronouncement when it was issued by someone I know — a friend even — in a magazine I trust (unless they’re writing about rap), “Christianity Today.” So, when I read Alissa Wilkinson’s “There’s More to Love Than ‘True Love’” on CT’s website a couple of days ago, I kind of freaked.
“The report is in,” she writes in her lead, “and the eulogy has been delivered. Romantic comedies are dead.” Ouch, but that’s nothing compared to what came next, “I say that’s good news.”
Knife to the heart.
I like Alissa. Like I said, we’re friends. For a time we attended church together, we’ve been to each other’s homes, and we’ve worked together on various writing projects. Also, I think she’s a good film critic. Our tastes often align — one of the first things I knew about her was that she thought “Stranger Than Fiction” was a near-perfect movie…and she’s right. So what’s going on? The romantic comedy dead? I read on.
Fortunately, by the time I got to the end, my fears were relieved. As is the case whenever anyone declares some unkillable thing dead, it turns out it was just hype and hope. (I should know, I’ve declared evangelical sub-culture dead about a million times.)
Turns out, Alissa tells us, there are other kind of movies being made besides romantic comedies, which highlight different kinds of love then the romantic kind, and it must’ve seemed, for a second, that this fact meant romantic comedies were dead. But, they’re not. Also, Alissa points out that there are some romantic comedies, like “Drinking Buddies” (a great movie, by the way), that put a twist on the traditional happily ever after ending. But, again, this doesn’t mean the end of the rom-com (crap, now I’m that guy). In fact, as Linda Holmes wrote last March on NPR’s “Monkey See” blog — in a response to Orr’s Atlantic piece — romantic comedy is actually often an element of a movie, more than an entire genre. That is, lots of movies have romantic comedy elements, even if they’re not, themselves, romantic comedies.
So rest easy. We have not seen the last of the meet-cute (thank you, old guy in romantic comedy “The Holiday” for explaining what that means to me). In less than two months, my favorite romantic comedians (is that a thing?), Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, will reunite in “Blended” a movie about two single people with families coming together, kind of like The Brady Bunch. My wife and I will watch the crap out of that movie. We might even get a babysitter and see it in the theaters.
Before I go (away from my desk where I’m writing in my pajamas), there’s one more troubling thing about Alissa’s CT article, and that is the way that she keeps trying to suggest that the (not) death of the romantic comedy is somehow good for Christians. In her false dichotomy between friendship love and romantic love — she even brings St. Augustine in the mix and offers a little Latin lesson — we get the sense that friendship is the purer. “There’s a reason why Jesus, who never married, did surround himself with close friends,” she tells us parenthetically.
I take the point. Friendship is important and is an essential ancillary to romantic love in a long-term relationship, like a marriage. No doubt. But using the pretend death of a movie genre as a kind of sermon illustration seems beneath the work of a film critic, and a preacher for that matter. How do we get from the opening lines I quoted above about the death of romantic comedies, to this: “But with any luck, maybe onscreen stories that focus on love between friends will also stick around, broadening our definition of love and pointing us—ultimately—toward the One who continues to make and shape us, every day.”
We’re still talking about movies, right? I mean, not even “films,” but just “movies” — popcorn, soda, date night, the whole thing. I get it, we can learn a lot about a culture’s values and priorities by looking critically at pop culture (I wrote something about that once), and I’m down with the idea that all things that are good and true point back to God, but let’s not get carried away. If we need “onscreen stories that focus on love between friends” to broaden our definition of love and point us to God’s love…well, yikes. What if, this time next year, everyone starts writing about the death of buddy comedies? What will that mean for God’s love?
And now I’m worried all over again.
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