I read a blog the other day in which the author was lamenting the current state of romantic comedies of the film variety. The heroines were vapid and predictable—too perky, too scatterbrained, too blind to what was going on around them. The heroes were cardboard, the plots trite. The dialogue was too pedestrian, too normal, too boring.
Then she got to the heart of the matter: The stories, she insisted, were focused on the moment the hero and heroine made it into bed—not on the evolution of the relationship, not on what got them there in the first place. And by way of comparison, she harkened back to the heyday of the genre, the romantic comedies of the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and even the early ‘60s. Back then, keeping the two leads out of bed was an underlying point of the movies and throwing every sort of temptation and mishap in the couple’s way was part of what drove the story forward. Sometimes clever and sometimes silly, the story lines in the old movies were fun and sexy and romantic. They focused on the boinging (of the heartstrings), instead of the boinking.
I couldn’t really argue with her on her early points; I hadn’t seen any of the movies she’d given as examples. But I could empathize. I’ve watched some in the last few months that have left me underwhelmed and mostly unamused. But her last point, about the stories? She got that one right.
The blogger’s words reminded me that one of the things I love most about writing romantic comedy is that, as an author, I have the luxury of time to build those relationships from the ground up. Glance by glance, sigh by sigh, butted head by butted head, I’m allowed to lead my heroes and heroines in that slow, age-old dance of the libido. Sure I can make them do the two-backed tango moments after they meet, but I don’t have to make them do it at all. I can make my heroes and heroines fence verbally, and misunderstand or be misunderstood, and then let the reader inside to agonize with them inside their heads and hearts. I get to tell the reader why my characters do what they do and say what they say and think how they think—so do the movies—but authors alone get to tell the reader what the characters are thinking. We get to show and tell our readers all about that inner turmoil, the doubt, the lust and….all the little stuff that makes a romance so sparkly and wonderful and breath-catchingly fun in the early stages. And we don’t have to do it in dialogue or right away.
Sure, movies generally do a great job of showing us what’s going on, but only in one dimension. If we miss the look on the actor’s face, if we miss the wink, the smile, the pratfall, we’ve missed something important. But when you read a book….well, when I read a book, I find myself slowly falling in love with the hero, identifying with the heroine, feeling their pain and their happiness. I want them to overcome their difficulties…slowly. But the best thing about reading a romance is that I get to reread those sentences or scenes that give me that warm burst of ‘aww, ain’t love grand?’ , or the ones that make me laugh out loud.
And I don’t have to hit pause or wait for it to come out on DVD to do it.
I’ll admit that I am a complete sucker for an old romantic comedy films. I have a pretty extensive library of them. I don’t just watch them for entertainment, though. I use them for inspiration, and as refresher courses in pacing and dialogue…and good, old-fashioned, toe-curling, sigh-inducing romance. But they’d never work on a desert island, which is why they’ll never replace my keeper shelf.
PS. If I had to start listing my favorite romance novels, the list would take hours to write. My list of favorite old movies is slightly shorter. Here are a few of my old favorites:
The Philadelphia Story (Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant –I love the dialogue and the passion that just simmers on the surface, even though you know it’s at a full boil underneath!)
My Favorite Wife (Irene Dunne and Cary Grant—A great example of how witty dialogue and physical humor can enhance each other.)
The Awful Truth (Irene Dunne and Cary Grant—Can you see a trend here? The wit in this one has a gentle bite, but one that you feel nonetheless. And some of the scenes still make me laugh out loud.)
Guys and Dolls (Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons—There’s something about the way he holds her when he kisses her that makes me melt. It’s like he just wants to inhale her or absorb her. Good shivers all around.)
Pillow Talk (Doris Day and Rock Hudson—Clever, funny, and just silly enough—and I’d kill for her wardrobe.)
Okay, your turn! Do you have any old favorites? What is it about them that makes you watch them over and over?