September 23, 2007


When Harry Met Sal: The birth of the man-crush romantic comedy (Justin Shubow, 9/21/07, National Review)

As movie genres go, the romantic comedy should be dead. Born in the fast-talking screwball comedies of the 1930s, the simple formula of “meet-lose-get” has been followed in so many films, and in so many permutations, that its possibilities should be exhausted. Hollywood has even strip-mined the genre’s name, with “rom com” being the stubby remains. But new life has recently come from surprising sources: Superbad and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, two movies that, while middling in themselves, should be seen as following and expanding upon an innovative precedent first set by Wedding Crashers, that of the man-crush romantic comedy.

Although it seems to have gone unnoticed, the secret to Wedding Crashers success was that it was a romantic comedy in which the two buddies are the real couple. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, divorce mediators by day who are the ultimate pick-up-artist team on the wedding circuit. They are such best friends that every year for John’s birthday, Jeremy brings over his sleeping bag for a mini slumber party. But when John discovers that Jeremy is dating a woman behind his back, the friends fight and break up, with John going so far as to call Jeremy a hillbilly and white trash, the same exact insults they heard from a divorcing couple at the beginning of the movie.

Attempting to patch things up, Jeremy shows up unannounced with his sleeping bag on John’s birthday. He confesses, “I miss seeing ya’…You know I love you.” But though that bold move fails, John later succeeds with his own grand gesture when he makes a surprise entrance at Jeremy’s wedding. Happily reunited, the pair return to their wedding-crashing ways at the end of the movie, though now with their female love-interests in tow.

Seen in this light, the arc of their friendship is straight out of a romantic comedy: the courtship/relationship, the breakup, and the grand gesture leading to permanent reconciliation.

This doesn't seem an especially new phenomenon. All buddy flicks are in good part romances, but none moreso than Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid. There, not only is the relationship between the two magnetic leads far too strong for a competing one of either with any woman to be plausible, but the female lead is such a cipher that no viewer can be more attracted to her than to the men. You have to go back to the Myrna Loys and Katherine Hepburns of the world to find leading leaders who had enough character--rather than the mere good looks of most modern actresses--to present serious rivals to male bonding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2007 9:31 AM

It goes back further to the reverance for the Spartans. What redeemed the death cult of Spartan society was the brother love, which is why we remember them and why they are memorable. Otherwise, they had a reprehensible society.

Posted by: Buttercup at September 23, 2007 11:46 AM

Well, in fact there's a well-developed homoerotic theme in American art, from the relationship between Huck and Jim, between Gatsby and Nick and, for that matter, between Rick and Captain Renault. (Huck, Nick, Rick ... hmmm.)

Posted by: Ibid at September 23, 2007 4:44 PM

It can be done well. Patrick O'Brian does it well, again and again, With the Aubrey/Maturin relationship.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 23, 2007 6:48 PM