The Hollywood romantic comedy’s critical and commercial reputation has never been lower, a far cry from beloved box-office hits like When Harry Met Sally or Pretty Woman, let alone the groundbreaking Golden Age triumphs of Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve or Some Like it Hot. To quote another romcom classic, Woody Allen’s bittersweet Annie Hall, genre-wise, what we have on our hands is a dead shark.
When Harry Met Sally… is in UK cinemas on rerelease as part of the BFI’s nationwide LOVE season.
The BFI LOVE Compendium is available from the BFI Shop for the special price of £15.
Yet if the romcom’s recent quality levels have surely fallen – “the long decline from Katharine Hepburn to Katherine Heigl”, as it’s been drolly posited — its current status also reveals an inherent, insidious sexism at work; an ongoing, narrow definition of what actually constitutes a romantic comedy has now constricted further to stigmatise the entire genre by branding it as “chick flick” material. All while simultaneously – as with the industry at large – restricting female filmmakers’ opportunities to widen the romcom’s scope and potential.
This video essay, taking in over ninety films, attempts to identify the modern Hollywood romcom’s current crisis by contextualising it within the genre’s eighty-year-plus history; by proposing alternative strategies to appraise its essential nature and artistic ambitions; and by suggesting ways the genre itself can be reclaimed through greater diversity and inclusivity.