In the new movie "In the Land of Women," a young man played by Adam Brody is trying to live a moment out of a John Hughes comedy.
He's not looking for a scene from "Home Alone," the movie for which Hughes might be most famous, but something that resonates from the charming, slice-of-high-school-life film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" or the romance-tinged "Pretty in Pink" and "Some Kind of Wonderful."
And he's not alone.
For a few years now, fans of romantic comedies have been suffering a dearth of good movies. The man shortage was proven to be a myth. But the quality-romantic-movie shortage is real.
What love stories we get tend to be dull, or silly, or full of hilarious cliches. We know, we can't clone Frank Capra. But where is Nora Ephron, who wrote the witty "When Harry Met Sally"?
We were going to ask her when she was scheduled to speak at the University at Buffalo last month, but she canceled, reportedly, to work on a new film. Could it be true? Nora Ephron, where are you?
"You should ask her. I want to know, too," laughs Jonathan Kasdan, 26, who wrote and directed "In the Land of Women." Kasdan also enjoys Ephron's romantic comedies.
Why has the genre become so contrived?
"There's a desire to see two people end up together, maybe exactly because it doesn't happen in life," Kasdan mused in a recent phone interview. "Things happen to be neater in movies than they are in the real world. I love those movies.
"The challenge, I think, is to find a way to give people that kind of satisfaction in a way that isn't boring or that we haven't seen a million times. It's something I'm really interested in -- how can you make a movie where two people do find each other and it's done in a way that you're not tired of?"
*Plots have grown old
By definition, romantic comedies seem doomed to be cliched: Two people meet, deny their attraction, fight or face another obstacle, part and get back together. These script cliches are so widely accepted that you can even find them in Wikipedia:
*The grand gesture: One of the two makes some spectacular effort to find the other person and declare their love.
*The meet-cute: A contrived encounter of two potential romantic partners in unusual or comic circumstances.
These cliches aren't new, and they aren't always bad. Remember when the runaway heiress played by Claudette Colbert fights with Clark Gable over the last seat on the bus in Capra's "It Happened One Night"? That was meet-cute, and we love it. Gene Kelly ran away from fans and hopped into a car driven by Debbie Reynolds in another Oscar-winner, "Singin' in the Rain."
The problem might be, as Kasdan suggests, that we've seen these plot turns so many times that they've grown old.
But we wonder if they've become, somehow, more phony. We all like a little fairy tale in our lives, but when you're trying to reflect real life, as most modern movies are, these unrealistic cliches are so annoying that they can take you out of the film.
Here are some things that are bothering us right now:
*Love Before Millions. Particularly egregious, this cliche fuels the now-common belief that your relationship needs to be evaluated at an arena or in front of TV cameras, spawning real-life imitations like public proposals at Bills games.
A few classic examples:
"Notting Hill": Bookstore owner Hugh Grant stammers out his love for his movie star honey (Julia Roberts) during a news conference, with the media all snapping pictures.
"Never Been Kissed": Drew Barrymore lip-locks with her sweetie on a high school baseball field, as crowds applaud.
"Last Holiday": L is for love, and it's also for Latifah, L.L. Cool J and the ledge on which they're perched as they finally kiss in this movie, as millions of people gathered below loudly express their approval.
*Sudden Inexplicable Frostiness: Often, one of the main characters freezes the other one out. Why? Who knows?
In "Raising Helen," Kate Hudson is raising her orphaned nieces and nephew when she meets a hunky, darling Lutheran pastor (John Corbett). Lucky her, right? Wrong! Walking home from a date one night, he asks: "How's it going?" She screams: "Do you have any idea what this has done to my life? I lost my sister, my social life, my disposable income and my ability to fit into a size two!" Poor baby!
In the recent but already-forgettable "Music and Lyrics," Drew Barrymore suddenly won't take Hugh Grant's calls, even after he -- get this -- has dinner with her sister and her sister's screaming kids. Which reminds us:
*Mr. Too Good to Be True. Guys do things in movies no real-life guy would do.
"Pretty Woman": He takes you on an unlimited shopping spree.
"Sleepless in Seattle": He lives in a houseboat.
"The Family Stone": He holds back your hair when you're throwing up.
"The Wedding Singer" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral": He participates in wedding plans.
*The Kiss Followed by the Jump Right Into Bed. For decades, even married couples couldn't be seen on screen in the same bed. But these days, hero and heroine don't hesitate to consummate their passion.
In "Music and Lyrics": Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore are in the middle of writing a song together when they wind up under the grand piano.
In "The Holiday," Jude Law and Cameron Diaz are both beautiful people. But they've barely exchanged names when -- within minutes of meeting -- they're between the sheets.
*The Cinderella Subservient Job Complex. In "Music and Lyrics," Barrymore is a plant waterer. In "As Good as it Gets," Jack Nicholson falls for a waitress.
"The Wedding Singer" makes Adam Sandler's sweetie a waitress. And in "Maid in Manhattan," the title says it all.
We're not denying plant waterers, maids or waitresses their luck in love. But why can't the hero and heroine be peers? Sometimes, the guys have lowdown jobs, but they're always really something better. (See "Improving on Perfection," below, and its reference to bagel maker Patrick Dempsey.)
*The Woman With a Big Job That Makes No Sense. This particular cliche tends to rear its ugly head in corny made-for-TV movies. But it makes its way onto the big screen, too.
"Because I Said So" stars Mandy Moore as a caterer with a really cool apartment. She's about 22.
In "Just My Luck," paparazzi princess Lindsay Lohan, as if anyone's supposed to believe she can hold a job, is fabulously successful.
And in "Failure to Launch," Sarah Jessica Parker is a -- get this -- motivational consultant who's hired to get Matthew McConaughey out of his parents' house.
*The Long Chase/Grand Gesture. When done right, this can be very romantic. "Sleepless in Seattle" ended with Tom Hanks finding Meg Ryan at the top of the Empire State Building (in a nod to "An Affair to Remember"). In the 2006 version of "Pride and Prejudice," Darcy (Matthew McFayden) walks over the foggy moors -- shirt open, cape flowing -- toward the home of Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley). It's a sweeping, effective romantic moment.
Sometimes, though, this device is a dud.
In "Love Actually," Hugh Grant was adorable as he went door to door, looking for the woman he had fallen for. But in the same movie, dozens of people trail Colin Firth as he's striding to declare his love to his sweetheart. Do we really need another long chase with the guy followed by the whole town?
In "Must Love Dogs," Diane Lane commandeers a rowing team to take her out to John Cusack's boat. Growing impatient, she jumps into the water and swims to Cusack. It's dreadfully silly.
And "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" should have been called "How To Lose a Moviegoer in 10 Seconds." Matthew McConaughey, on a motorcycle, chases Kate Hudson, in a taxi, through Manhattan. The taxi stops on the Manhattan Bridge, and the lovebirds meet, fight and then kiss in front of hordes of honking motorists. (See Love Before Millions, above.)
*The Glasses-Wearing Ugly Duckling. It might have worked in the 1940s, but now, please don't slap glasses on a supermodel and expect us to accept that she's plain. Think of Rachel Leigh Cook in the teen romance "She's All That." Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality." Kathleen Turner in "Romancing the Stone."
If these people were serious about looking ugly, they'd pull a Nanny McPhee, the way Emma Thompson did. She was brave.
*Improving on Perfection. He's cute. He's a professional. He's caring. He's Mr. Wrong!
In "You've Got Mail," Meg Ryan is dating Greg Kinnear. He's a writer, an absolute riot, self-involved in the most adorable way, absolutely perfect -- but! In comes Tom Hanks and she's gone. The same thing happened with Meg Ryan in "Sleepless in Seattle." She was engaged to that cute Bill Pullman, but jilted him -- again, for Tom Hanks!
In "Lucky Seven," a made-for-TV movie, Kimberly Williams meets walking Ken doll Brad Rowe. He's the man of every woman's dreams -- but she can't resist bagelmaker Patrick Dempsey waiting in the wings.
In "Sweet Home Alabama," Reese Witherspoon had hunky Dr. Dreamy (Patrick Dempsey) as a fiancee and dumped him for Josh Lucas.
*The Annoying Ending: We were going to write about movie endings, but we interrupt this program to report that we finally found her. Nora Ephron.
She's blogging, is where she is. On www.huffingtonpost.com.
But "When Harry Met Sally" this isn't.
Here Ephron is, in a typical entry, writing about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "Condi was the hostess of the dinner ... She was completely competent. She was, however, not at all funny. She tried to be, but she wasn't. She was what I call not just 'not funny' but ..."
Nora! YOU'RE not funny! What happened to you?
Now we'll never live happily ever after.
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