Thursday, July 19, 2007

Glamorous Dames and the Men Who Loved Them

This very week, in a dark bar, I said to the company there assembled, "You know why no one writes about romantic comedies? Because they are dumb." Enter, David Denby.

His long, uneven history of the romantic comedy, in "A Critic At Large, A Fine Romance, The new comedy of the sexes" wasn't so much dumb, as a little dull. I skimmed it. He gives a nice description of the appeal of the good old days when,

"The best directors of romantic comedy in the nineteen-thirties and forties—Frank Capra, Gregory La Cava, Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, Mitchell Leisen, and Preston Sturges—knew that the story would be not only funnier but much more romantic if the fight was waged between equals."

Sigh. God knows, I'd like nothing better than to see the end of Placey Placeholder and the (his term) "male pack" film. My less than enthusiastic feelings towards Apatow, Last Kiss, Wedding Crashers, etc are sprinkled all over the internet. But I wasn't quite satisfied with Denby's sort of selective time-line that linked Shakespeare, screwball, Woody Allen and today's seriously unfunny romantic comedies.

And then there's the larger question of men who love women. Think again: the divas, even (especially?) the comic divas, of classical Hollywood were loved and created (and lovingly created) by a queer sensibility. At the same time, certain of the classic Hollywood films have been understood to be structured by a little-discussed and maybe inappropriately named gay-male misogyny, a kind of counter-part to, you know, rampant homosociality. And what Denby's describing in today's pictures, he falls just short of calling misogyny, however heterosexist and/or homosocial it may be. Where is this history in Denby's analysis? Or, rather, what does 20th century history of sexuality and gender have to say to the "male pack" film and its tiresome women?

But what do I care? Romantic comedies are dumb and I don't watch them. Except for Shortbus, which I just saw and I loved but I do not think it falls outside of the paradigms discussed above. Poor, cliched, Sophia.

FYI, Glamorous Dames and the Men Who Loved Them is a recurring theme in this week's New Yorker.

Denby on Hairspray:

"The finest moment is something very simple and straightforward: Christopher Walken, playing Tracy’s father, Wilbur Turnblad, coarsens his voice and gentles his manner and woos Edna with the lovely Old Broadway-style song “You’re Timeless to Me.” The number begins in the Turnblad living room, works its way down the back stairs, and concludes in the yard, amid hanging laundry. In the end, Shankman may feel a greater kinship with the old folks than with the pulsing kids."

Franklin on the FX show Damages:

"Glenn Close is an actress whom people respect but don’t give their love to, the way they do to, say, the living national treasure Meryl Streep, who is roughly Close’s age peer and one of the few other American actresses who have some degree of majesty. (Anjelica Huston is another, but the list is short. All three, interestingly or not, have notably irregular, majestic noses. You aspiring actresses, cancel that consultation with the plastic surgeon.)"

Paumgarten on Mort Zuckerman's love life:
"He has dated, among others, Arianna Huffington, Nora Ephron, Gloria Steinem, Diane von Furstenberg, Blair Brown, and Marisa Berenson."

And, as if that isn't enough, "Barbara Walters describes him as one of the best dinner-party companions she has ever known." I'll bet he can ballroom dance too.

And Emdashes, long-time His Girl Friday fan, takes it from an anti-nostalgia angle. Interesting choice, Em. Also, her range of references (to film, and to internet dating) flesh out some of the historical contexts I only gesture towards.


Anonymous Emily Gordon said...

Fantastic point about queer constructions of glamor and sass. I must ponder this further tomorrow!

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Emily Gordon said...

Also, I loved Shortbus enough to see it several times, but I agree; Sophia disappointed me. I'd argue that despite the film's power and beauty, and sheer awesomeness, none of the characters were all that developed in the classic sense.

10:24 PM  
Blogger zp said...

At first I loved them for their cartoonishness, which isn't out of place. But then, after a bit, the cartoons seemed a little underthought.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Manan Ahmed said...

I started watching Shortbus but somehow lost interest pretty soon. I haven't tried to figure out why, just yet.

11:03 PM  
Blogger zp said...

I think that'd be hard to figure out in the absence of the film, no?

Inspired by the romantic comedy discussion at Emdashes and the "Most Annoying Small Liberal Arts College" poll at Gawker . . . . it occurred to us (me, Benj and visiting guest lecturer Aaron Whyte-Reiss) that the opening scenes of the film felt a bit too much like films we were shown as "first-years" to help us create a respectful and open dialog about community standards and expectations for sex!!!

I will also say that the deleted scenes complicated the sexual pleasures of Sophia and her man a bit more too.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Kudos for the matter-of-fact inclusion of Shortbus in the romantic-comedy genre. I wasn't crazy about the movie's wide-eyed neo-hippy approach (sweet as it was) but still, it's nice to see someone try to reinvent the quest for love—and lust, which is what half of the 30s and 40s comedies were really about! (Just watch the smoldering looks Barbara Stanwick give oafishly sexy Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve.)

12:53 PM  

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