Though it's difficult for me to claim a heavy heart given my recent good news (see preceding post), I must admit to a least an un-light love muscle when it comes to the business at hand. As you devotees of the form know, this is the time of year when LivingRomCom bestows the annual Asta Awards for the Best in Romantic Comedy, but there's a slight problem re: 2006.
There wasn't any.
Any "best," that is. Yes, there were a few rom-coms, but not many successful ones (i.e. enduring, lovable movies that really worked) and the ones that at least made money don't qualify as a best of anything in my book.
Take a look at the sad slim pickings for this past year next to 2005's crop and you'll see just how badly it compares. 2005 delivered Hitch, Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year-Old Virgin, among others: three solid male POV rom-coms, the third of which is poised to attain sleeper/classic status. For the female POV, 2005 provided us with a pretty good Pride and Prejudice remake, plus the world’s first Asian lesbian rom-com (Saving Face). And even the interesting failures were… well, interesting (e.g. Shopgirl).
This year gave us the big box office splash of... The Holiday? And the box office bottom tanking of... Jessica Simpson and Dane Cook in Employee of the Month?!
I weep for all of us. Nonetheless, a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it, etc. and so herewith, a motley little bunch of meager, squeak-up-to-the-podium Astas for an inarguably bad romantic comedy year.
(Note 1: The Astas are named after the classic screwball star terrier, Asta, and Note 2: to define our terms for latecomers, a romantic comedy is a film in which the central question to be answered is, will these two people become a couple? and the central conflict of the story is embodied within a romantic relationship. Thus, although Stranger Than Fiction does indeed contain a strong romantic comedy subplot – to be properly acknowledged below – it is not a romantic comedy, its central question being, will Harold survive his author’s homicidal intentions and live? Note 3: Due to the meager amount of genuine candidates, I’ve been forced to give some awards to Not Romantic Comedy Movies [NRCMs]).
Best Fantasy Couple in a Rom-Com: By this I mean characters who exist in a realm of fantasy, as opposed to “real life,” and the obvious winners are G-Girl (Uma Thurman) and Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard) in the year’s best (and only) high concept sci-fi/romantic comedy hybrid, My Super Ex-Girlfriend; clearly these two were made for each other.
Worst Fantasy Couple in a Rom-Com: By this I mean characters who are supposed to resemble “real people” and do not, so Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Graham (Jude Law) totally take the cake (and eat it) in The Holiday, she simplistically neurotic and he just freakin’ PERFECT and both of them seeming to exist in some alternate only-in-the-movies universe.
Best Romantic Couple in a Non-Romantic Comedy Movie (NRCM): Harold (Will Ferrell) and Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in Stranger Than Fiction. He’s a hapless IRS agent, she’s a tax-cheating bakery owner, and you wouldn’t think these opposites would ever attract… except they do, and their charming, offbeat romance lit the most genuine sparks outside our genre proper in 2006.
Best Male Buddy in a Rom-Com: Much as I didn’t love The Break-Up, the third act comedic duet that had Gary (Vince Vaughn) trying to convince his stubbornly clueless buddy Johnny O (Jon Favreau) not to do his ex’s new beau harm was one of the funniest scenes in 2006, so Favreau wins it easily in a depleted field.
Best Female Buddy in a Rom-Com: Much as I disliked Failure to Launch, I loved, loved, and could not get enough of Kit, the lead’s best friend, even though her role was badly written. So what do I want in 2007? More Zooey Deschanel.
Best Ensemble in a Rom-Com: A family movie that really divided viewers this year (you either loved Diane Keaton as a quietly noble cancer victim or thought the whole notion was manipulative claptrap), The Family Stone, for all its contrivances, presented a well-directed group of actors delivering an unusually convincing portrait of a family w/new additions.
Best Couples Ensemble in a NRCM: Maybe I'm too L.A.-ified, but I found the entire troubled quartet of couples in Friends With Money to be more intriguing (however damaged) than this year’s lackluster rom-com mates.
Best Comedic Set-Piece in a Rom-Com: Contrived? Totally. Over the top? Absolutely. But sorry, I am still laughing months later when I even think about the bizarre great white shark attack set-piece in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (a movie I hereby dub the Rom-Com Sleeper of 2006), with its delirious slapstick and classic line from wide-eyed Anna Faris, “Why did G-Girl throw a shark at us?!” (Super has just been released on DVD w/extras, so if you missed it... hie thee there).
Best Romantic Set-Piece in a Rom-Com: It’s not romantic in a “what a swoony kiss” sense, but in a “God, have we all been there!” way – that awful, never to be forgotten moment in a romantic relationship when you realize that despite all your best efforts, it’s just never gonna happen – an experience captured in all its searing poignancy as Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) attends a rock concert with an empty seat for what should’ve been a make-up date, in The Break-Up.
Best Rom-Com Musical Performance in a NRCM: The riff of revving up a failing rom-com’s energy by having everyone on screen join in to sing some goofy pop tune from the ‘80s together has been getting more and more tired since its last effective use in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Which is why Will Ferrell’s shaky, just-learned, movingly earnest live performance of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” won over more than merely Maggie in Stranger Than Fiction.
Best Romantic Comedy Dialogue (in a NRCM): Again, no witty banter to write home about in a real romantic comedy, but Pirates of the Caribbean II delivered what was to my ears the most witty but-seriously-charged-with-emotion two syllables heard on screen this year, when Johnny Depp identified his would-be paramour Keira Knightley as the rogue-betrayer she’s just proven herself to be: “Pirate,” he called her, in rueful admiration… and millions of hearts went boom-boom-boom.
Best Romantic Comedy Documentary: Real-life romantic comedy doesn’t get much more pithy and peculiar than this – go rent Cowboy Del Amor.
Best Potential Rom-Com Star Debut in a Non-Romantic-Comedy Movie: Every now and then one comes out of a movie going, “who was that?” and this year everyone I know who saw The Devil Wore Prada was asking about Emily Blunt, playing Meryl Streep's marvelously sarcastic British assistant. Ms. Blunt has the delivery, looks and sensibility to do the Rom-Com proud, so the good news for ’07 is that she’s in one, called Dan in Real Life.
Biggest Romantic Comedy Missed Opportunity: We need only write the title, and the rest, blissfully, is silence: Date Movie.
Best Cautionary Romantic Tale: If there was ever a romantic dramedy to demonstrate the downside of falling truly, madly, deeply in love, Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep lays it out for us, as the laughs between Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg turn to tears.
Most Thankless Role in a Romantic Comedy: Scoop is by no means the aging Woody Allen’s best, but what had me giggling afterwards was the notion of the actor who was cast as Death – a character who goes through the entire film featured prominently… but masked and absolutely silent. The poor guy doesn’t even get a credit on Imdb!
I imagine the phone call he got from his agent: “Dude, amazing news! You’re in a Woody Allen movie!” “Fantastic! Who do I play?” “You’re Death.” “That’s incredible! When do I see the script?” “Well, the thing is, you don’t have any lines.” “Oh. Oh, well, okay, but as long as I get some decent screen time, y'know, have my face in a Woody Allen film --!” Pause. “Well, dude, that’s the thing…”
Basic rule of comedy: one man’s misfortune is another man’s laugh. And all I can say in closing is that this was a romantic comedy lover’s year of misfortune, so let’s hope there are better big screen laughs and loving in store for us ahead. In the meantime of course feel free to make your own nominations, and second or correct our choices for the Asta Awards of 2006.