Have you ever seen a romcom? If so, what do you think?
For me, all feelgood movies have a common theme of “relationships where we suffer terribly, but then end up loved and loved badly”. And “loving badly” is the main factor in making a comedy. The idea is that if you’re willing to endure, say, being left at the altar, brought back by a heartless new set of partners, and then badly returned to the same people again and again, you will somehow come out a better person. Of course, that’s the comedy bit.
I’ve seen enough from so-called “romcoms” to feel pretty confident about the rightness of that idea. But the genres do not exist in a vacuum. They also reflect the way our culture has changed. Once upon a time, when I was young, everyone might have asked “Why did she take him back?”, but now, no one would. They asked “Why would he take her back?” and, more recently, they said: “Why does she bother?”.
The reason these films still flourish is because they speak to us about things we think we know about relationships. Given the increasing delay between relationships lasting a few months and the necessity of a plotline to fill time, the initial – almost unlimited – energy our culture has spent on recreating movie romcoms has apparently been saved for fictional affairs that turn out to be truly hellish. What’s more, the films have about them the inoffensive quality that we’re used to from TV comedies, especially sitcoms. It’s not just because they’re overacted, but because they tend to be pretty simplistic and mawkish. I hate that.
Even so, I do love them. I remember loving all the “irresistible” guys – even if I was the one affected by their insincerity. And although I’ve watched couples hit new lows and the actors appear to have lost their emotional humanity, I also remember loving the when they got back up and did the right thing and left.
For people who love romcoms, it’s like having an out-of-date DVD collection which suddenly became hugely attractive again – well, to one person at least. Since I’m quite old and I’m quite emotionally distant from most of my friends, I suppose it works in reverse: audiences get old, close up to the things we enjoy the most and make them palatable to us.
When that happens, I go to quite nice restaurants, get stuck into good drinks and, most importantly, have shared a few too many beers with friends. It’s quite nice. This doesn’t go down well with all my friends, of course, but my grandfather told me that the important thing in life is to see things through the eyes of your child, so they always come through, I suppose.
Obviously, I’ve never tried this myself. Perhaps it’s because we live in a newsier, more complicated, social media-shy world than we did 40 years ago. You might think I’d be too cynical, but I can’t say that I’ve ever tried this. The idea of banishing the romcoms from my life – maybe for a bit – might be exciting. I don’t think I would have friends, though, to become even closer to.
The point is, I guess I’m not sure that the romcoms were ever truthful. As I look back at the final scene of One Fine Day, which is still my favourite of all time, I know how much trouble I got myself into trying to go up the staircase with a baby: “If you want to have a problem at the top, call the baby.”
I know what happens, though. Of course I went upstairs. Or at least, upstairs into the London underground station: through a grassy slope, down the stairs and on to safety. The only problem is, I wish I hadn’t.
Emilia Clarke is the newest cast member of Doctor Who, set to begin filming in early 2018.