Romcom Redemption

Since the late 1980’s romantic comedies (romcoms) have been a staple genre.  It was popular all the way until the late 2000’s when the genre feel out of popularity.  Now Netflix is bringing it back.

There seems to be a gigantic list of romantic comedies that came and are now classics from the 80’s.  There is “When Harry Met Sally”, “16 Candles”, “Pretty In Pink”and “Can’t buy Me Love”. These romcoms are now classics and must watches for all romcom lovers.  The 80’s also had several romcom stars. The most notable being Molly Ringwald who starred in “Pretty In Pink” and “16 Candles”. The theme of female romcom stars continued all the way to the present.

The 90’s was the arguably the golden age of the romcom.  Movies from “Notting Hill” to “10 Things I Hate About You” were somewhat popular while some of the biggest hits that every person still knows are “Sleepless In Seattle” and “Clueless”.  “Clueless” was the “Mean Girls” of the 90’s and became a quotable icon very quickly. “Sleepless In Seattle” is one of the most iconic romcoms that everyone knows and loves. It is one of the most must see romcoms and movies in general.  Some of the stars from the 90’s romcoms are Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Not only were the two popular romcom stars but they also starred opposite of each other in two of the biggest romcoms of the 90s (“Sleepless In Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail”).

The 2000’s were the downhill slope of the romcom.  The theater and tv were getting so saturated that not that many stood out to the general public.  Some of the big romcoms were “27 Dresses”, “Bridget Jones Diary”, “The Proposal”, and “13 Going On 30”.  The 2000s split romcoms into several categories because there were so many movies. Romcoms were split into teen movie romcoms, made for tv romcoms and then hit romcoms.  Some of the teen romcoms were “She’s The Man”, “What A Girl Wants” and “A Cinderalla Story”. The star of the teen romcom category was Amanda Bynes who starred in over 5 romcom movies.  There were many stars of the popular romcoms, One of the stars of the popular romcoms was Sandra Bullock who starred in “Two Weeks Notice”, and “The Proposal”. Two others were Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lopez.

After the early 2000s were over saturated with romcoms the genre died down for a little bit.  There was only made for tv romcoms, with most of them coming out of the Hallmark Channel. Over the past year Netflix has tried to redeem the genre and have been creating a large amount.  There most recent movies have gotten a lot of attention and they are bringing new romcom stars. The most popular Netflix romcoms are “The Kissing Booth”, “Set It Up”, and “To All The Boys I Loved Before”.  With these movies the biggest star that has risen is Noah Centineo who starred in “To All The Boys I Loved Before”. With all of these new Netflix romcoms the genre is coming back into the lime light and is being revived.

Black Comedy and the Role of Ratings

In my experience, black comedy is edgy by nature. Since the most common theme I’ve seen explored in the genre is death, I’m not surprised what makes black comedies so unique for me is how they force me to laugh at things I wouldn’t laugh at otherwise while still being in good taste. I watched the films “Heathers” (1988) and “The Truman Show” (1998) back-to-back in order to catch up on some highlights of the genre, and found another element it experiments with to great effect: the expectations we have of a film based on the age of the main characters. I only knew the basics about the protagonists of both of these films, so the dissonance between its subject matter and its treatment of said subject blindsided me so much I had to write about it.

All I knew about “Heathers” was that it was about the most popular (and mean) girls at school. This is a a well-trodden premise, and I was worried at the beginning when the basic high school stock characters were established that the film would be a straight-forward high school drama. And yet something feels off; the characters of the movie are more cruel and crass when dealing with sensitive issues than I can ever remember seeing when I was in high school. I found it hard to believe that even in the 1980s young people could be so nasty. Then, the film hits a turning point when the least-mean popular girl Veronica (Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”) tries to do the Heathers’ bidding by talking to the mysterious JD (Christian Slater, “Mr. Robot”), who has been watching and smiling at her from a corner of the cafeteria while the Heathers wreak havoc all of lunch. At this point I got worried. Another high school romance? But then the movie shows its true colors.

JD pulling a gun on bullies literally out of nowhere in “Heathers”. Source: Internet Movie Firearms Database

JD gets harassed and called a “fag” by jocks because one of the most popular girls in school just talked to him, a prime example of the absurd logic bullies use to target others. He in turn brandishes a gun out of nowhere and shoots them (with what we later learn are blanks). What?

This scene is a prime example of the unique power of black comedy by being subservive on two levels. For one, suburbia is known for having low crime-rates, which makes them appealing to move to in the first place. This establishes the magnitude of how dangerous JD is to this community from the very first time we see him, and it is both fricking hilarious and fricking horrifying at the same time. But on a broader level, this disrupts our expectations of what a high school movie is like. It is a good introduction of the very dark and twisted view of high school presented in “Heathers”. I had zero idea the film is rated R, but I wish I had.

I had the complete opposite emotional reaction when watching “The Truman Show”. It is unexpectedly sweet and tender at its core, following 30 year-old Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey, “Bruce Almighty”) on a quest to find his high school crush who he loved but had whisked away, as he realizes something is very off about his hometown. I did not expect such a touching driving force for a movie about a man who is the star of a crazy successful reality TV show with everyone knowing it but him.

One of the darkest aspects to the film, in my opinion, is the idea that we do not really know the intentions of other people because we do not know what we do not know. It made me sad to think that Truman, who is kind, has intimate relationships with those he considers loved ones that are actually all actors. A notable example is when his closest friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich, “The Americans”) holds back tears after Truman says he is his best friend. I felt that.

After seeing that Jim Carrey was the lead and that the film was about a 24/7 reality TV show, I was concerned that “The Truman Show” would take a turn for the grotesque regarding sexuality and violence. Yet surprisingly, there is not any sex or violence. When Truman’s sexuality is addressed, it is to show how artificial his marriage to his wife Meryl (Laura Linney, “Sully”) is. When Truman is shown to have a habit of buying ambiguous magazines “for the wife”, I assumed it was porn. But instead, the magazines are shown to be full of close-ups of women’s faces, which he uses to construct a portrait of his love interest in high school whom he still misses dearly after so many years. It is sweet and shows a pure and romantic side to Truman that makes him a very sympathetic hero.

Meryl promoting hot cocoa to the camera after her husband Truman shares he believes his world is a lie in “The Truman Show”. Source: YouTube

In contrast, his relationship with his wife Meryl is dull and full of repetition, with scenes of them together focused on mundane daily marital life like saying goodbye before going to work or uniting at the end of the day. The fact Meryl is only acting like his wife is palpable, but she never misses a beat despite her regular advertising of sponsors’ products. But the injustice that Truman faces by having everything he knows be fiction is brought to the forefront when he finally confronts Meryl that something is very fake about their city and that he must go follow his dreams of travelling. She becomes visibly panicked, no doubt well-aware of all the anti-travel messaging he received to keep him on set, and tries to dismiss his ideas. And out of nowhere she pulls out hot cocoa and offers to make him some as she advertises the specific brand. While it is funny that she would stick to the script at such an inopportune time, it is also very depressing to see how she and all the other actors on the show value their professional relationships with Truman over their personal relationships with him. This makes his genuine, albeit short-lived connection with his love interest Lauren (Natascha McElhone, “Californication”) so charming. They are able to recognize their chemistry in spite of all the obstacles between them, making the movie a lot more heart-warming and fairytale-like than I anticipated.

When I found out the film was rated PG, everything clicked into place. The 1950s-inspired clothes and decor lent a sense of authenticity to the sanitized world that is supported by sponsors and the average Joe watching. I’m glad I didn’t know that, however, so I could feel firsthand how disarming it was for Truman to take to heart the idyllic artificial life his show’s creator Christof (Ed Harris, “Mother!”) made in an effort to shield him from the real world’s horrors. I would have expected the family-friendly PG rating to detract, not enhance the movie centered on the unfiltered human experience. And yet by showing how unnatural it would be to live in a world that is monitored and approved by the masses, the plot rises from science fiction thought experiment to social commentary, with a lot of heart added to the mix.

In conclusion, I found it very refreshing to see age groups redefined in “Heathers” and “The Truman Show” through the use of comedy. The movies take the stereotypes of the teenage bad boy and the wholesome adult everyman to extremes, which lends itself perfectly to critique the societal norms that allow these figures to emerge in the first place in an original and memorable way.

Happy Mean Girls Day

“On October 3rd he asked me what day it was” said Cady Heron from the hit 2004 movie Mean Girls.  Ever since this movie has come out October 3rd is the official Mean Girls day. This year is more special in particular because October 3rd is a Wednesday, and even if someone hasn’t seen the movie it is a well known fact that “On Wednesdays we wear pink” – Karen a.k.a a plastic.

Mean Girls has been a phenomenon since its release in 2004.  It stars Rachel McAdams as the villain Regina George and Lindsay Lohan as the protagonist Cady Heron who just moved back to the United States from Africa with her parents.  This movie is a classic teen movie because it shows some truth to high school while also exaggerating everything in the funniest possible way. Mean Girls quickly expanded by adding a much less popular sequel in 2011.  This one starred Camp Rock star Meghan Martin. A Mean Girls musical was also created in 2017 and is now playing on Broadway.

Mean Girls quotes became common knowledge after its release.  Some of the most popular are when Regina George yelled to Cady “Get in loser, we’re going shopping”, when Regina George told the other plastics that she “wants to lose 3 lbs”, when Janis and Damon described Gretchen saying “Her hair is full of secrets”, and when Gretchen repeatedly tried to make “fetch” happen.  It seems as though every other line of the movie is now a popular quote that most millennials know.

The mastermind behind Mean Girls is Tina Fey.  She wrote the movie and the musical. Fey was a writer on the tv show SNL and then she began to act on the series as well.  She then went on to create and star in her own tv series separate from SNL called 30 Rock. Tina Fey has a famous friendship with Amy Poehler.  The two of them were actors on SNL together and have starred in each others productions since then. They have become a famous dou by hosting award shows together as well.  Poehler had a role in Mean Girls as the “cool mom” of Regina George.

“Threads” is Surprisingly Relevant 33 Years Later

Finally released on Blu-ray, the warning given in the visceral 1984 apocalyptic film “Threads” feels all the more life-threatening in the midst of our political climate after Trump negotiated the denuclearization of North Korea with the DPRK’s leader, Kim Jong Un. The film holds back no punches as it spends the first half hour depicting the normal daily life of working-class Sheffield, England. Warnings of escalating tensions between the United States and USSR over Iran are reported through the television sets and radios everyone seems to be plugged in to, but it is easy for me to ignore the over-whelming presence of danger in favor of the true drama of the film’s premise: the marriage of young couple Jimmy (Reese Dinsdale) and Ruth (Karen Meagher), who is pregnant. However, by the time the conflict has gone nuclear Sheffield has already emptied its grocery stores in an attempt to prepare for the worst, as it is a NATO center that would be a prime target for the Warsaw Pact if war ensues.

And it does, as the city is bombed. It is horrifying to see how little time passes between when we first learn of the conflict and when the absolute worst case scenario occurs. I, in spite of myself, was hoping the entire time that the escalations of the conflict between the two world superpowers would either resolve itself or spare outside nations. It was incredibly cruel and nihilistic to see how despite the citizens’ protests as the country comes closer to war, they are ultimately not listened to by the actual countries fighting. The film does an excellent job of painting the world of Sheffield by having a plot with a wide scope, focusing on Jimmy and Ruth but showing preparations of their families and emergency coordinators of the local government. It is so, so sad to see to how little regard the superpowers end up having for poor Britain despite Sheffield’s efforts to make their voice heard. It made me feel that the world would be a more peaceful place if only we would engage those we disagree with more often.

The vivid depiction of the impact a nuclear bombing would have on a city made my heart drop and my stomach hurt. It is evil, Hell on Earth, and I believe no mere human dispute could ever merit such extreme measures. It was eye-opening to see the fears of people around the world during the Cold War brought to life. As I was born after the conflict, I will never know what it was like to live wondering if my own powerhouse country would disregard any shred of humanity to use such weapons. But I worry that my generation is getting a taste of that fear with Trump’s taunts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last August, promising “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea does not comply with the United States. I am not saying that everyone should watch “Threads”, a piece of well-made fiction, in order to inform their real-life decisions. However, I believe that a movie like “Threads” serves as a testament of the fears of a time that can allow future generations to understand better, synthesizing parts of history that define our country’s master narrative. Trump, being an adult by the time this film came out, was surely aware of the Cold War happening. I think it is impossible that he would want to invite so much destruction of humans lives to provoke a hostile nation threatening nuclear missiles. But based on his belligerent language, I bet he doubts such a threat could one day be serious. “Threads” is a strong example of how art plays an important role in forming public memory in the hopes of learning from it.

Scores

Some of the most famous songs across the world are not pop songs, or classics from the 80’s, but the film scores to some of the most popular movies around the world.  Film scores help to create a feeling for the movie and they add another level of emotion for the audience. One of the most successful film scorist is John Williams. Some of William’s most famous work is the scoring for Superman, ET, Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Star Wars.  These tunes are things that most people can recognize and hum along to after hearing just 3 or 4 seconds from the songs.

John Williams has been writing film scores for many years and in many different genres.  He knows how to evoke audience emotion with only music. Most, if not all, of his scores do not have words.  An example of the emotion that the audience can gather about a character from the scores is the Imperial March from Star Wars.  The Imperial March is what plays every time Darth Vader steps on to the screen, or is about to appear on screen. This composition is very deep, letting the audience know that the character that they are about to see is intimidating and powerful.  It also gives the audience a clue that he is a villain because the music is very dark.

Scores of movies are not only used to add another dimension to a character, but to address the overall feeling of the movie.  The scores for fun and action packed movies like to Star Wars, Superman, or Jurassic Park were designed to make the audience have fun.  The opening composition in Star Wars is an upbeat and exciting song that make the audience giddy to watch the movie and see what is in store.

John Williams also worked on the scores for very serious films like the Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and the Book Thief.  These movies the goal of the music was to show the seriousness and intensity of the film. In the Schindler’s List, and the Book Thief, the goal is also to show the fear of the people who went through the experiences shown in the movies.  These movies were not to have a fun and light atmosphere to gear audiences for a fun couple of hours.

Lastly, the scores of movies can be used to emphasize a situation that the characters are in.  Even in a fun movie, a specific composition can be lower and darker if the situation that the characters face is intimidating.  On the other side, if the situation is fun, then the composition is bright and exciting. An example of this is the action scenes in the Indiana Jones movies.  These scenes are a little intense, but are more so fun for the audience to watch, and the composition reflects that with exciting music playing in the background to tell the audience not to worry too much about the character.

Scores of movies help to tell the story and the feeling of the movie itself.  They help the audience to know what to feel and can help to enhance their original feelings toward the movie, character, or scene.  One of the most famous and successful score writer is John Williams. Williams has done all of these things throughout his long and diverse career with films like Harry Potter, Home Alone, the BFG, and Catch Me if You Can.

Technology in Entertainment

New technology can change an entire industry.  In the entertainment industry, the invention of the camera, and then the video camera changed the way that people consume there entertainment.  The most popular form of visual entertainment used to be plays, until the video camera came along and people became fascinated by movies. Technology has changed the way that people consume media throughout time.

For a long time the most popular form of live entertainment was plays, and operas.  People would go to a theater to have a day of entertainment of long plays by Shakespeare or other famous playwrights.  Once the video camera was introduced, plays and operas declined. The general public was fascinated with the new medium of entertainment that the video camera brought.  Plays and operas eventually found their niche audience, and have stayed in the spotlight. The niche group that plays and operas found was an elite group of people. Plays were for the highest class of people and not very accessible the general public.  This stigma is still attached to plays and operas, but it is smaller than it once was. Now plays will travel around the world so that everyone has an opportunity to enjoy their work.

Video cameras were a huge development in the entertainment industry.  Movies became very popular for the entire public, not just one demographic.  Movies popularity grew with the number of movie theaters that were added around the world.  Movies were much more accessible than plays were because people only had to travel to their local movie theater and not the nearest performance theater.  Movies were also much less expensive than plays so all types of people had the opportunity to enjoy them. With the innovations of video cameras also kept movies in the limelight.  From silent films to speaking films, then from black and white to color, and then the video quality continually improving, and finally with the introduction of the 3D movie. These innovations kept the movies new and exciting for everyone.  The theater didn’t have as much innovations as movies, which could contribute to why its popularity did not grow like the popularity of movies did.