The Sad Fate Of Comedy
On a recent flight to New York I wound up watching a movie so bad it was actually painful to follow. Sadly, it reminded me of a similar film I saw on an overseas flight just a few months before. I have trouble sleeping on planes, you see, and reading for seven hours requires a really good book. So, sooner or later, I end up turning to the movie options.
There are usually a few action or adventure flicks on the list, but they don’t quite translate to a screen that must have been the height of video technology in the seventies. Romantic comedies, however, can handle the airline TV monitor. Who cares that the lead actor’s face looks green and the night scenes show ghostly shapes against a burnt out background. The dialogue is so devoid of any subtext, you hardly need any picture at all. And as your eyes adjust to the deadly complexions of the protagonists, and learn to make out a bride’s bouquet from the sea of grey dots, you are already inside the plot and your mind reels at the sheer stupidity of it.
As any girl, I suppose, I am a fan of romantic comedies. My heart sings at the thought of His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, and anything in black and white. Then come the fifties and sixties – the golden era of cinema, as far as I am concerned. I have watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s every time I had a cold for the past 20 years. And I get a lot of colds.
Somewhere around late nineties, however, I’ve lost track of the current romantic comedy trend and am now rediscovering it while taking planes. It is quite frightening what has become of the genre.
All plots run along the same lines: A sweet working girl, in search of a perfect love. A heartless self-absorbed playboy who changes girlfriends like cell phones. A variety of Barbie clones who serve as a visual aid to spell out our guy’s commitment phobia. Eventually, however, he comes to realize how empty his life is. This is sometimes illustrated by visions of himself dying alone with no one on his side. He has been a selfish bastard. He missed every chance to find love and, to make things worse, has led various good-willing buddies astray. His redemption comes from: a. saving a best-friend’s marriage, b. crying at the death-bed of an old relative, and/or, c. rushing to the church where his true love (i.e. the mousy girl) is getting married, by which time the screenwriters have run out of ideas so they just borrow the ending from “The Graduate”.
The common denominator to all these feats of mediocrity is that at some point in the first part of the movie we get to see our bad boy in action. Surprisingly, these scenes are usually the best written and the funniest ones of the whole picture. You can see the screenwriters revel in the freedom they accord their character. Just watch him swill martinis, drop lines so not politically correct they would make James Bond blush, and, at the end, get any girl he wants, sometimes her girlfriends in tow. Soon after his punishment comes in the guise of unconvincing dialogue or some enraged bridesmaid – but this transition from the bachelor’s heaven to the insipid blandness of his final commitment never manages to convince. And I wonder if it is meant to.
As a kid I grew up on Soviet cinema, which by the time had mastered the art of anti-propaganda. You would watch a spy thriller set abroad, with our good Communist agent outsmarting CIA, MI6 and the whole lot –while grudgingly exploring the capitalist West, with its glamorous people and slick cars, and expensive liquor bottles lined up behind old oak bars. Evil never looked so good.
Other popular movie genre was a fairy tale for the grown ups. Here the screenwriters could really go wild, populating great castles with all the luxuries unimaginable in the drab Soviet reality. The evil King would be particularly fun, expounding aphorisms, which would have surely get him hanged after 1917.
I am not suggesting that there is an Orange revolution brewing in Hollywood, with screenwriters reflecting on the overall plight of the American male who, according to some of my European friends, is slowly croaking under the foot of matriarchy. But a little Perestroika would do us all some good — and highly improve overseas travel.