I was having a drink with a friend one night before Christmas, when she asked me “what is your favourite romantic comedy?
Of course, the serious film buff in me wanted to say “I’d rather watch Citizen Kane or Vertigo than a rom-com”. But the truth is I’ve always enjoyed a good romantic comedy, and even though I don’t spend my time endlessly watching Kate and Leopold or The Women, if there’s a film about New Yorkers falling in love, with some amusing dialogue thrown in, I’m more than happy to watch it.
The three romantic comedy films I hold closest to my heart are One Fine Day, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. They may not necessarily the best, and they’re certainly not the coolest films ever made, but that’s never been the job of the rom-com. Films that got greater critical acclaim, such as Jerry Maguire and Before Sunrise are worthy in their own right, but they don’t sit as neatly into the rom-com box as the flicks I mentioned above. What made One Fine Day so appealing was the charisma of its leads. Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney are two of the top actors in the industry. Pfeiffer was at the peak of her career – but Clooney was still proving himself. He had the popularity from E.R. but this was four years before O brother,Where Art Thou? — he was still finding his way up the ladder and the film proved a good platform for his distinct talent. Pfeiffer and Clooney were able to find that rare and elusive thing: chemistry. Remarkable, considering that most of their screen-time was apart.
A more obvious example of capitalising on star-power is the two Nora Ephron helmed films Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, together; were box-office gold. Sleepless in Seattle resonated with audiences the world over, and still does to this day. Why? It’s hard to say. That’s the thing about romantic comedies, some of them just hit. It’d be naive to attribute it solely to the writing, or the strength of the actors. Romantic Comedy is about dealing with matters of the heart. Just like in life — most of the time these matters will be struck down as being cheesy or ridiculous– but occasionally, if we’re open enough, they get through to us. Sleepless in Seattle is one of the most viewed films on television of all time. The formula was repeated again four years later with You’ve Got Mail, one of the first films to deal with finding love over the internet. The film is my personal favourite rom-com. Is it one of the greatest films of all time? Of course not. But for many people who love rom-coms, it stands tall. You’ve Got Mail is one of the movies I enjoy writing about and I have written about it far too many times. I would prefer to enjoy writing about a more intellectual film, but this is a film that holds a special place in my heart, as silly as it sounds. Writing about it is almost as delightful as watching it and it is, of course, one of the most delightful films I’ve ever seen in my life. I never get tired of watching it. I would instantly stop channel-surfing the moment I see the movie on TV, even though I already own it on DVD..
Whenever I watch this film, I always wish that all romantic comedies could be as charming, lovely, and funny. That kind of sets me up for disappointment because I soon realize that most romantic comedies are awful and lame. I realize that the romantic comedy genre heavily relies on formula and there’s nothing wrong with relying on formula, but most romantic comedies do such an obnoxious job with the formula that it becomes rather unbearable to watch. I don’t care if it’s predictable, I just want to see a great story unfold. Movies, books, and plays are often about the journeys rather than the destinations.
On paper, You’ve G@t Mail is a film that should hold no appeal to the me. I usually don’t care for modern romantic comedies. When I see a romantic comedy, even now, it’s usually through force, frustration and eye rolls ensue and it’s usually not a pretty sight. Modern romantic comedies never satisfy me in the way You’ve Got Mail does. There is too much of “been there, done that.” And that should have been true for You’ve Got Mail, considering it is a remake, but it feels fresh, and it feels fresh every time I watch it.
During a long winter with, sadly, a string of merely good to truly mediocre films, I often think I might as well watch something I know I will enjoy: and that often means You’ve Got Mail.
You’ve Got Mail is perfect. It’s this wonderful marriage between sweet classic movie romance and modern movie cynicism. If there were e-mails and an explosion of superstores back in the ’40s, I’m convinced that You’ve Got Mail could have been made in that era. (I know, I know, The Shop Around the Corner, the film You’ve Got Mail is based on, is a charming film in its own right, but it doesn’t quite resonate with me in the same way.) This film has some of the most witty, clever dialogue I’ve ever heard in any film of the past 20 years. The leads are caring and not grossly self-absorbed (and when they are, it’s in a completely human way, rather than the all too common superficial rom-com way), so they are basically people I wouldn’t mind hanging out with on a weekly basis. And they own bookstores.
Because it’s a film about highly literate people. People who care about how words are used in literature, newspapers, and daily interactions, who realize the sheer importance of words and how they can be beautiful things (meaningful e-mail exchanges) or nasty weapons (impulsive insults to your business rival). It’s a film that contains more than just two people falling in love–it’s actually dangerously close to sophisticated social commentary. Of business, of writing, of culture, of technology, of society. It’s a romantic comedy willing to acknowledge that reality indeed exists and it’s a really messy thing that we all must reckon with.
You’ve Got Mail is the greatest romantic comedy of the 1990s and it gets better with multiple viewings. I don’t care what all the elitists say. There is an incredible warmth to this film: to the care-free soundtrack and the richly beautiful New York cinematography. In a world where bookstores and AOL are nearly extinct, this film proves to be incredibly timeless.
By the end of the 90′s, the romantic comedy genre had gone through many highs and lows. Nora Ephron’s demonstrated to other filmmakers that modern romance doesn’t have to begin and end in the bedroom. Sleepless in Seattle captivated audiences, paved the way for One Fine Day and You’ve Got Mail, and led to a brief revival of that great, and sadly dying Hollywood art form. The romantic comedy.
I’ll see you all in 2013.