Conversations with Marilyn Atlas regarding Today’s RomComs vs. the Screwball Comedies of the 30's and 40's.
Leslie Ann: I started my writing career writing romantic suspense, and used to devour romance books, but now I find less and less out there to capture me.
Marilyn: You know it’s interesting, I spoke at RWA (http://www.rwanational.org) conference this summer.
LA: I KNOW, I was bummed, I couldn’t attend. (It was the Scriptscene Chapter’s mini-conference.)
M: I talked about the women, the screwball woman of the 30's and 40's verus a lot of the romantic comedies of today, where the woman aren’t very interesting at all. They’re like props for the guys.
These women from the earlier movies were multi-dimensional, with interesting, crisp dialogue. The women were central characters, not accessories. They were usually very assertive, witty, free-spirited and very playful. Of course, some of the films were written by women. Or by men who showed great insight into female characters and did not portray the women as one dimensional.
Oh, a bit of an aside. One of the things I think is very interesting is there’s this plethora of all different kinds of RomComs coming out or in development, and there has all ways been this theory, I don’t know if it’s true, that when there is an economic downturn, RomComs are a way for people to be outside themselves and escape.
Okay, back on story. Today’s movies need to develop an emotional connection that goes beyond the sexual and the spark of personality. But the problem I have with the RomComs in the past few years, is that the women are not terribly interesting. I mean, it’s either about acquiring a husband or acquiring a lifestyle, or it’s centered around consumerism in some respects, rather than a mutual meeting of the minds.
I think of those movies, like Trouble in Paradise 1932--and the great line from the widow: "Marriage is a beautiful mistake that two people make together." And later on there is some reference to "Americans are interesting people, they are obsessed by two things, religion and money, but they’re energetic people."
Those two comments are very astute observations. In RomComs today I don’t get the sense that there is an external world or anything else.
LA: I sensed they’ve dumbed them down so much--
M: Exactly. And it’s embarrassing for me in some respects because I think, how great in these screwball comedies that you’d find people making interesting conversations. It wasn’t just about the romantic lives of two people, it is their observations about institutions. AND the other thing that was interesting to me was that the man and woman actually had mutuality. There was a mind thing going on...what was that movie with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant...His Girl Friday! She loved her career, she had a life.
It’s also interesting that a lot of these old movies begin with couples divorcing. You immediately know that there is something that binds them together. I don’t understand in some of the recent movies I’ve seen, what the connection is between these people. AND it’s all about the wedding. It’s as if bright women have nothing else to do with their lives but contemplate getting married.
LA: Which is sad. I think the institution of marriage is great, but come on it’s not the end of the story, but the beginning, really.
I started thinking about some of my favorite RomComs, then tried to figure why they were on my favs list. Was it the actors I enjoyed watching? (Like am I totally into Tom Hanks?) Was it the story, or the couple’s interactions?
Make your own list and see what you come up with. And then share it with us, pro or con.
Stay tuned for our final conversation tomorrow regarding Hollywood, Being There and What’s Comfortable for the Studio’s Today.