The Best in Romantic Comedy 2011
Last year's Asta roster was fairly thin, and sadly, this year's is about as sparse. For romantic comedy, 2011 was dominated by a mere three popular hits, and two of them weren't even full-fledged rom-coms, but hybrids. We could find meager solace in the fact that the opposite end of the spectrum was similarly slight (Is this year's New Year's Eve as dismally horrific as last year's Valentine's Day? You'll have to be the judge, since I refuse to see it), but the overall diminishment by numbers in romantic comedy gives one pause.
I like to think it's a genre in transition. If the rom-com Aughts were about boys taking over (from Wedding Crashers to all things Apatow), there are heartening signs that the next decade may very well be about girl power. Hell, I'd even settle for a Let's Make It Even decade, but if any one movie announced to the world that yes, Females are Funny, and will hopefully presage more funny female flicks to come, it's obviously...
Best Rom-Com Hybrid (That's Really a Female Buddy Coming-of-Age Movie): Bridesmaids has come to seem not so much a movie as a force of nature. Logic and taste have little to do with how fervently some people, women and men both, feel about this picture, a triumph of character-driven comedy written by a pair of female first-time screenwriters. Obviously what drives the movie's appeal is its portrayal of an all-too- human, flawed but nonetheless empathetic protagonist, and the absurd quirkiness of its crackerjack supporting cast continues this theme, which brings us to:
Best Female Support: Melissa McCarthy, already an Emmy-winner and looking surprisingly Oscar-worthy (?!), arrives at 2012 with 2011 tucked in her back pocket. While Wiig and Rudolph's buddy conflict was the main event of Bridesmaids, it was Melissa, from her first appearance ("I'm glad he's single, because I'm gonna climb that like a tree") to her under-the-closing-credits foodie sex binge, who virtually walked off with the show... and leaves us wanting more.
Best Set Piece: Kind of a toss-up, since the extended Nightmare in First Class sequence on board the plane that never gets to Vegas is pretty hilarious, but come on - What other comedy set piece this year floored audiences with quite the same mix of "watch it with a hand over your eyes and jaw agape" and belly laughs, as the Bridal Shop Debacle in Bridesmaids? And after our suffering through a few decades of wedding rom-coms, what could be more satisfying than this set piece's priceless topper: the spectacle of an agonized Maya Rudolph, sinking to the street in her beautiful wedding gown and um, letting go?
Best Bellamy: Meanwhile, on the male side, this year's hands-down winner of Best Mr. Wrong must go to Bridesmaids' wonderfully dumb (and uncredited) Jon Hamm, playing Ted, a sexually challenged horror show whose delirious hamming occasionally forces Kristin Wiig to cease mugging and play it straight. More Mad Magazine than Mad Men, this and his SNL stints suggest a second career in comedy for Don Draper.
So much for the 'Maids. Meanwhile, one of the more intriguing competitions in 2011 rom-commery was between two movies with virtually the identical plot. Having read the script early on, I would've guessed that No Strings Attached would edge out Friends With Benefits in this duel, but the latter did better at the box office, and also delivered...
Best Male Buddy: No, not Benefits' Woody Harrelson as one of the unlikeliest of gay guys, but his co-star, the inestimable Richard Jenkins, heartrending as a father with Alzheimer's, who gets it together long enough to set the wobbly Justin Timberlake straight in a memorable get-out-your-handkerchief third act scene. Jenkins is always good, but here, the man is priceless.
Best Screenplay: Again, not a straight-up rom-com, it's a hybrid - but whatever you want to call it, Midnight in Paris delivered 2011's most imaginative blend of high concept and romantic comedy. Not bad for a writer in his 70s, who's been deemed over-and-done too many times to count, by now. Witty one-liners, visual gags, and conceptual meta high-jinks make this an "actually, I will watch it again on DVD" keeper that can legitimately join the best-of Allen canon.
And an honorary Asta goes to Owen Wilson as Best Woody Allen: Practically every actor (or actress; see Mia Farrow) who's taken the lead in one of his pictures has ended up channeling the Woodman, in mode of speech and attitude (for Worst Woody, cringe at Kenneth Branaugh's slavish Allen-isms in Celebrity). But Wilson made Woody his own, delivering an especially amiable amalgam in Paris.
Best Couple: It's one room-splitting issue in this year's room-splitter of a rom-com hit - you either buy them as a couple (a stretch given their small amount of screen time together) or don't, but for my money, watching Emma Stone take the piss out of Ryan Gosling (then casually fall in love with the jerk) was one of the best pleasures in Crazy Stupid Love, a romantic comedy that's a definitively mixed bag, as it also includes...
Worst Couple: No, I say, no, and no-no-no again to the icky, utsy, don't believe it for a second and utterly offensive "romance" between Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton in the same movie, which asks us to find cute and endearing a stalker-like teen's obsession with an older teen who's in no way his match, and don't get me started on this story line's just awful resolution (sexy pic, masturbation invite and all).
Best Falling in Love Scene: The Artist is a romantic dramedy, but regardless - the early sequence where the ingenue bit part player (Berenice Bejo) is supposed to briefly dance with the movie-within-the-movie's dashing star (Jean Dujardin), yet both forget themselves and get giddily caught up in each other is exquisite romantic comedy, ideally conceived and marvelously executed. And (rom-com screenwriters take note), it's done without a word of dialogue. Kudos.
A for Efforts Dept: I had mixed feelings about Jumping the Broom, but at least there was a Black Romantic Comedy this year, and while I'm not on the Young Adult bandwagon (it's another kind of black comedy), I did like the idea of its heroine being "unlikable" to the extreme.
Best of the Worst Dept: The year's nadir was the offensive-on-every-level Larry Crowne, of which the less said, the better, and 2011's Jen award (given to the star who's released too many bad movies in one year) goes to Adam Sandler. Y'know, I actually enjoyed Just Go For It, in a Guilty Pleasure way, but to have also produced Zookeeper, Bucky Larson, and Jack and Jill?! Get out of here, Sandler. No, really: get out of here.
Close-to-Sort-of-Best (in an "I Know I'm Settling" Way) Romantic Comedy: Crazy Stupid Love has a lot going for it (a mostly-strong script, though they could've cut the last 15 minutes), some first-rate ensemble work (Gosling and Steve Carrell are great together), and was clearly the year's biggest straight-up rom-com success.
But I'm going to risk reader ire (Timberlake-haters abound, and the Kunis backlash is ready to pop), by finding the underrated Friends With Benefit more consistently satisfying. Justin and Mila's repartee (courtesy of Keith Merryman & David A. Newman and Will Gluck's screenplay) - their rhythm, look, and between-the-sheets pizazz, was arguably the most watchable in a slim year of fetching match-ups, and the movie's undertone of surprising poignancy really worked - for me.
That would be all, but for an unusually strong year among the four-leggeds. A special Asta for The Best Astas Since Asta is split between The Artist's Uggie, and Beginners' Cosmo, two Russell terriers who capably put the comedy into two dramedies in 2011. Living the RomCom hopes to see a lot more of them in the future. Bark on, doggies!