Anyone watch a “romantic” movie lately? By the tears streaming down your face, I can tell you have. Obviously, you got sucked in the same way I did, assuming that despite there not being a “comedy” tag at the end of the description, there might be a happy ending. Right.
From what I can tell, the “romantic” movie needs to be better labeled. Seriously. With a Romantic Comedy, you know what you’re getting, but a Romantic movie is missing the “tragedy” tag at the end. As you sit there with your tissues, wondering why the hell you decided watching this movie was a good idea, it becomes painfully obvious that somewhere along the line, the traditional Greek definition of comedy and tragedy has been lost and we’ve all been snookered.
Nowadays, when a movie is labeled as “beautifully romantic” it means somebody’s gonna die. It’s going to be sad and you’re going to weep, but we sniffle through knowing somehow it’ll be sort of okay because the partner left behind has learned something, become a better person, because of this tragedy, or at least because of having that person in their lives.
Which brings me around to discussing what a tragedy is for realz. Tragedy does not mean that someone has died needlessly. We’ve forgotten that in a true tragedy, there is a redemption of some sort, even if it’s only of a small, personal kind. Someone still learns something in a tragedy, while situations like a senseless murder are not tragic in and of themselves. No, that is quite simply and horribly a waste of precious life. It only becomes tragic when we all start truly learning something and real change occurs, triggered by the death.
But i’m losing my path here. I’m talking about movies and storytelling.
I suppose that studios don’t want to flat out say “Hey, you’re gonna weep because the couple you’ve been rooting for all along are going to be torn apart by DEATH”.Which means that we are now going to be manipulated by those same studios into thinking our couple is going to struggle to get together, overcoming obstacles both external and internal, but in the end will be together. Except that this is, in reality, a Romantic Tragedy and so they may end up knowing they were loved and gave love in return, but they will never end up growing old together. The best case scenario is that they do end up together, but there was so much wasted time, so many mistakes made, that we’re still left with a feeling of sadness at the end, that it could have been so much better for them.
In juxtaposition, we have the modern Romantic Comedy. In modern times, there are always lots and lots of laughs in this genre. Things stay light and fluffy, for the most part. There is an extremely happy ending and all is right with the world when we’re through.
Shakespeare, of course, had this all figured out and knew how to do it up right. I’ll get to modern standouts in a moment, but we’ll ask the Bard to clarify things a bit first.
Quite simply, Romantic Tragedy = Romeo and Juliet, Romantic Comedy = Much Ado About Nothing. To be a bit more verbose about it, in both stories, two young people fall in love. There may be bickering between families or other little obstacles, but that is the core of their stories, they fall in love and decide to get married.
Also in both stories, we have a young groom who has been told his bride is dead, which is a lie. In R&J, we have a tragic ending, where the young man hears the news and decides to off himself because he cannot live without her.
Our hero, Claudio in MAAN, on the other hand, is told he must marry the bride’s cousin to uphold the contract he made with her father and tearfully agrees.
The difference, in the end, is that Claudio is rewarded for his patience and honor, finding that fair Hero is alive and well. Romeo, impetuous thing that he is, offs himself needlessly, which then triggers Juliet’s own actual and for real suicide.
With all that explanation out of the way, we can see that the comedy ends happily and the tragedy ends sadly as expected, but unlike our modern RomCom, there is a true depth and drama in MAAN, a full and satisfying tale with true peril for our couple to overcome.
So, are there any RomComs (gah, there’s even a silly name for them!) out there today that can live up to this wonderful mix of drama and emotion to feel more satisfying than the happy-dappy ending we’ve become accustomed to of late? Yes, though just as with MAAN, there needs to be a touch of tragedy in with the comedy.
See, there’s a reason that “Love Actually” is billed as the ultimate romantic comedy. If you have not seen it, and have any interest in all I’m saying here, you should. It manages to wrap up that perfect mix of happy, but temper it with just enough sad to make it resonate in a real way and avoid tending toward the inane. It’s the reason “Sleepless in Seattle” was so blindingly successful as well.
It seems that basically, to set themselves apart from the Romantic Tragedy, RomComs have gone to an extreme, along with the meaning of Comedy itself. Perhaps this is part of our modern quest for mindless escapism? To me, that simply short changes the genre and the story. It also then blurs what a Romantic Tragedy is meant to be and those films, in turn, are billed as “beautifully romantic”, disguising the darkness watching in wait for an unsuspecting viewer.
What’s to be done about it? Not much, from what I can see. Just keeping our eyes peeled for those deeper stories and sometimes succumbing to the lure of the RomCom when we’re positive we want the happy ending or simply had a rough day. We might possibly try to remember what Comedy and Tragedy are supposed to mean, in the dramatic sense, too.
As for me, I went looking for a story that was romantic without being silly or outrageous and got caught in the trap of the modern Romantic Tragedy/Comedy extremist definitions. Next time I’ll be sure to pull out the tissues before I sit down.