All’s Well That Ends Well:
My Top Ten Romantic Comedies
Having written a recent blog about unrequited love, I decided it was time for something a little more upbeat. That’s why I’ve chosen romantic comedies to finish my Valentine’s series.
It was Shakespeare who originated the rom-com genre four hundred years ago with his ‘comedies’: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘As You Like It’, ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’. You can see his legacy in films such as Richard Curtis's ‘Love Actually’.
I’m not giving anything away when I say that every film in my list has a happy (or potentially happy) ending. It’s the standard rom-com formula. You can’t possibly have a romantic comedy that ends tragically. It would be like including a sex scene in a ‘Muppets’ movie. Unthinkable!
N.B. Mild spoiler alerts for those of you haven’t seen ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘When Harry Met Sally’.
1. Love Actually (2003)
This Richard Curtis film could easily be labelled contrived, but I can’t help loving it. Like Shakespeare’s comedies, ‘Love Actually’ is a story with a number of romances developing in parallel and interrelated threads. There’s a stellar cast including Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman (he of the golden syrup voice), Hugh Grant, Colin Firth and Laura Linney. Meanwhile, Kris Marshall plays the part of Colin (‘cousin’ of Spike in ‘Notting Hill’) as a modern-day Bottom, crude, funny and strangely endearing.
2. It Happened One Night (1934)
Despite its age and general creakiness, this Frank Capra film is still a lot of fun. Clark Gable is the fast-talking reporter sent to find Claudette Colbert, an heiress running away from her father. The two of them are thrown together on a Greyhound bus, which makes this the original road movie. The film won Best Picture of 1934 and I can see why – its escapist story and witty dialogue must have been a cheerful counterpoint to the gloom of Depression-era America.
3. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Attention: Spoiler Alert
What’s particularly clever about this Nora Ephron film is that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan don’t actually meet until the end. Hanks is the perfect leading man in the Jimmy Stewart tradition and Ryan is ‘America’s sweetheart’. I love Ephron’s sparkling dialogue and nostalgic references to ‘An Affair to Remember’, a rather overwrought 1950s ‘weepy’ with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr (after whom I was named).
4. Woman of the Year (1942)
There just had to be a Tracy/Hepburn film in this list and ‘Woman of the Year’ is the best of them. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are reporters – his specialty is sport, hers is politics. As the title suggests, there are some feminist elements, but it’s not what you’d call a feminist film. After all, it was made in 1942 - pre Women's Lib. You only have to look at the billing – Hepburn always ceded first place to Tracy. Besides, with a few notable exceptions, the notion of a feminist rom-com tends to be an oxymoron - even now.
5. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
There’s so much to like about this Richard Curtis film – the clever screenplay, Hugh Grant’s ditheringly charming persona (which became the model for his characterisations in ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Love Actually’), Andie MacDowell’s self-possessed charm and the dazzling cast of supporting characters, including John Hannah, Kristen Scott-Thomas and Simon Callow. I must have watched this film half a dozen times and I always enjoy it. That’s the test of any film – whether it can take multiple viewings.
6. It’s Complicated (2009)
It's a sad truth that there are very few rom-coms where both the leads are ‘of a certain age’.* In fact, I can only think of two: ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, and ‘It’s Complicated’ in which Meryl Streep is torn between her wicked but lovable ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and her soppy architect, Steve Martin. I know who I’d choose! Alec Baldwin is so engaging that he steals the picture.
7. Green Card (1990)
Written and directed by Peter Weir, this is the only Aussie** film in my list. Set in New York, it’s a charming story of a young woman (Andie MacDowell) who marries Frenchman Gérard Depardieu (at his cuddly best) so that he can get a ‘green card’ to work in the US. You can guess what happens next.
8. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Attention: Spoiler Alert
This is the archetypal tale of best friends, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, who discover there’s more to their relationship than they thought. Written by the wonderful Nora Ephron, it’s brimming with memorable scenes and quotable quotes, the most famous being: ‘I’ll have what she’s having’.
9. Two Weeks’ Notice (2002)
Here's Hugh Grant again. (I’ve only just realised he’s in four of my top ten!) This time he’s paired with the beguiling Sandra Bullock, who plays the legal counsel to Grant’s spoilt millionaire. Even though this film is formulaic in the extreme, it’s also very entertaining, thanks largely to the charming performances of the two leads.
10. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Renee Zellweger is adorable as Bridget Jones, thirtyish, rosy-cheeked, pleasantly plump, prone to faux pas and desperately seeking the man of her dreams. Will it be her roguish boss Hugh Grant or the earnestly handsome Colin Firth? There’s a supporting cast to die for – including Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones and the much under-rated Neil Pearson. The ending will make your heart zing.
The films that just missed out (in no particular order): ‘Tootsie’, ‘His Girl Friday’***, ‘The American President’, ‘The Philadelphia Story’***, ‘Notting Hill’.
* There are plenty of rom-coms where the man is older and the woman young - for instance, 'Charade' with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, 'Sabrina' with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn and more recently 'As Good as It Gets' with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt.
** Well, there's an Aussie director . . .
*** classic oldies
12 February 2014