A Plea to Hollywood for More Female-Directed and Written Romantic Comedies

bridget 2 bannerUniversal Pictures

There is a scene in Bridget Jones’s Baby where the music suddenly changes as Patrick Dempsey’s Jack takes off his shirt and dives in the pool where Bridget (Renée Zellweger) and other expecting women are doing exercises. The moment serves a slight narrative purpose of jealousy — Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), is, after all, privy to the scene — but it is shot in a way that serves a much larger purpose: the female gaze. Upon my second theater viewing of this film (yes, second, and I’d see it for a third, frankly), many women in my company gasped delightedly and laughed as this scene happened. In fact, throughout the entire film the women of my theater were audibly enjoying themselves as I heard them gasp and “aww” and react to a number of moments (don’t worry, I was right there with them) and it was wonderful.

That’s the great thing about the Bridget Jones franchise — it’s always been (primarily) by and for women. It is unabashedly a franchise that is meant to inspire, support, and showcase women and nowhere is that more evident than in the films’ treatment of Bridget herself. Played in a way by Zellweger that it’s difficult to see anyone else in the role, Bridget is never painted as a perfect character. It’s easy to cringe during plenty of her scenes (in the most recent film, her presentation for work at a conference comes to mind), but it’s never cringing in a negative way, it’s the type of cringing that goes along with any sort of comedy film (aka secondhand embarrassment aka in some ways we really are all Mark Darcy). The importance of these scenes is how they’re framed and shot — and they are never, ever shot in a way that is meant to shame Bridget. Bridget, first and foremost, is continuously supported by the writers and directors of this franchise. She is adored, she is human, and she is allowed to have both happiness and flaws.

Bridget Jones DiaryUniversal Pictures

One of the best and most refreshing ways the films show this is through Bridget’s group of friends — made up of Shazzer (Phillips), Jude (Shirley Henderson), Tom (James Callis), and in the most recent film, Miranda (a wonderful turn by Sarah Solemani) — who are by Bridget’s side through thick and thin over the course of the franchise. These are the characters you want to root for and it’s warming to see real, supportive friends and especially female friendships. Female friendships aren’t completely unheard of in romantic comedies, of course, but it’s usually more typical to see the female lead interacting with no friends to speak of (Notting Hill; Leap Year, which is not a great romantic comedy, but Amy Adams and Matthew Goode have wonderful chemistry), least of all fellow female friends (Kate Winslet’s friendship with Eli Wallach in The Holiday is cute, but not quite the same). It is a small — but telling — aspect to these films.

Women have often been involved with romantic comedies and not just as leading characters — just look at Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers — which is as it should be, because it’s always important to try and get more women behind the camera, but also because romantic comedies occupy a very specific space in the media landscape for women. The boring rhetoric that these films are only for women or that they are in any capacity “less than” (whether in intellect, character, or what have you) should have been retired a long time ago as it dangerously plays into society’s problem with toxic masculinity. Romantic comedies, just like any other genre, have the ability to be intelligent, to buck stereotypes, and to be more compelling than their reputation allows. They’re also a form of escapism, as is any other piece of media.

The HolidayUniversal Pictures

Now, it should be noted that mainstream romantic comedies are sorely lacking in diversity and should the genre have a renaissance (which it absolutely should), it needs to cast a wider net because, in the past, mainstream romantic comedies have primarily been focused on straight, white couples. Stories for both the LGBT community and people of color are critically underrepresented and it’s non-negotiable that this needs to change.

But more than anything, Bridget Jones’s Baby made me realize I am aching for some good, solid romantic comedies again — you know the kind I mean. The ones from Classic Hollywood (The Philadelphia Story, Desk Set) and those from the ’90s (You’ve Got Mail, Notting Hill). Because you see, something happened to the romcom in the early 2000s and the genre has yet to recover. Suddenly we were getting romantic comedies that relied primarily on its gimmick (because every romcom has one, but it’s crucial that the characters still come first) and began to paint their female leads in broad, stereotypical, and unkind brushstrokes. There was How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in 2003 (male director, two of three male writers) and Failure to Launch in 2006 (both a male director and male writers) and the unforgivable The Ugly Truth (male director, female writers, two of which co-wrote Legally Blonde and oh, how the mighty had fallen). Of course, there were the surprise hits of the time as well, like Love Actually (hailing from Richard Curtis, one of the more trustworthy men in this genre, alongside the late Garry Marshall, who I’ve written about before) and The Holiday (which brilliantly serves Kate Winslet’s Iris in learning to find value in herself from herself).

The Philadelphia StoryMGM

Romcoms can absolutely be filled with harmful stereotypes, but so can any piece of media, and there is an equal danger in the teardown of romantic comedies on the pure assumption that they are “girly” and “emotional” and nothing more (it’s also dangerous to vilify such traits, as by doing so it plays into society’s gender norms, toxic masculinity, and misogyny). It is important that romantic comedies exist in a space for women, and should largely be created by women as well, but that does not mean they can only be for women. The genre, provided it starts to diversify itself, also has the potential to create real, human stories as the best romantic comedies of the olden days did.

I’m calling on you, Hollywood. It’s time to bring back the romantic comedy — with a real earnest love for the genre — and start telling these stories with a focus on diversity and the different love stories that exist all over the world, to give women a larger and louder voice with these films, and dismantle the poor reputation they have. Romantic comedies can overlap with genres, take place in different time periods, be unconventional — they are boundless, provided we allow them to be. So let’s do that.

 | Associate Editor
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11 Responses to A Plea to Hollywood for More Female-Directed and Written Romantic Comedies

  1. A Plea To Hollywood For Better Written And Directed Romantic Comedies.

    Surely there’s someone else out there who’s more interested in something being good than in something being directed by a specific gender or race or nationality or sexual bias or religion or hair color? Somebody? Anybody? Better movies?

    No? Just me?

    • Just me, then. Ok!

  2. Don’t agree that romantic comedies should be written primarily by women. Men write them just as well.
    The main problem I think is that Hollywood stopped making traditional romantic comedies. They tried to meld the genre with sex comedies and gross out comedies, which killed the “romance.” The best recent romantic comedy I’ve seen is Nancy Meyers’ “The Intern,” even though the love story in it is a friendship. According to boxofficemojo it made $195 M worldwide on a budget of $35. But is Hollywood looking to make more films like it? Don’t see any on the schedule next year – except “Home Again” with Reese Witherspoon, produced by Nancy Meyers and written and directed by her daughter.

  3. hey Anya,

    I agree we need more female written scripts in general. Can we chat? I run the International Screenwriters’ Association and part of our mission is to highlight talented female writers. Let’s work together to make that happen! :)

    Craig

    • Hey Craig! That sounds fantastic and I would love to talk further about this. You can email me at anya@tracking-board.com.

  4. For the record, there are tons of romantic comedies made for LGBT audiences and for Black audiences, but relatively few that cross over into the mainstream (a problematic word, but you know what I mean). These movies are being made; “mainstream” audiences simply don’t wish to see them. I don’t see how making even more would, by itself, resolve that snag. (Maybe there should be more of them cast with bankable movie stars?)

    And fwiw, I’ll throw my lot in with the “it doesn’t matter who writes it” crowd. If your relationship to art is based on political approval of the demographics of its creators, that’s another way of saying, you don’t like art. You don’t get anything out of the aesthetic experience, so you concentrate on meta issues surrounding its creation. My sense is that aesthetics should be left to those who can receive and engage in aesthetic experiences, but whatever.

    This is NOT to say that there shouldn’t be more women, persons of color, LGBT representation, etc., in cinema– of course there should– but let’s not pretend the reasons for that have any inherent connection to “better movies.” I also think we should all become vegetarians, but I don’t pretend the reason is because it would create “better food.”

  5. Hahahahaa,
    Well Anya I hope you learned your lesson. Even the HINT that (presumably white) men would have less opportunity got a riled up response.

    I only get over to this site once a week, and even with my infrequent visits, it’s pretty apparent that the comments to content output is very low. But man, look at all the response you got just suggesting a particular group should add their voices when it comes to a conversation they are active participants in!

    But that’s the world we live in. Another piece I read today was over here,
    http://billmoyers.com/story/farewell-america/
    “Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities?”

    The view you seem to be laying out is that writers/directors have run this genre into the ground. So why not have more women, who enjoy the genre more, participate in the production. That a change in the viewpoint on the subject would have an impact on the quality-at least to those who enjoy the genre. Simple proposal. I mean that sounds logical. If women were churning out the bulk of actions movies and the quality went down—I can’t imagine that SOME man SOMEwhere, wouldn’t suggest more men should be involved.

    But your commenters view seems to be men can do it better. That whoever is most talented should do the job. I hear that logic. But how can we know who’s “”better” if the doors aren’t open to wider pool? Although from experience, I have to tell you the “plea” model rarely works. But the “take” model does. So women need to ramp up their efforts. You know the deal, if you want a change you have to be the change, yada, yada, yada.

    But hey, I hear these dudes logic. Somebody should probably get over to Black-ish too and ask them to rethink how they’re doing things. Certainly it worked out nicely for the Straight Outta Compton writers, they were literally singled out from the rest of the production and got the Oscar nod for telling the NWA story (you can look up the acronym if you don’t know what it stands for). Ironically, one of those writers was a woman! And somebody should get those beavers out of the small dam building business-after all humans have better tools, more complex brains, etc.,

    OK, listen I’m not the best person to make this argument. It just struck me as funny as hell to see a backlash against the case you made.

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