The Best in Romantic Comedy 2013
This was the year the genre was officially declared dead, and while that claim has been exhaustively debated and refuted here, there’s no disguising the fact that 2013 was certainly in no way a banner year for romantic comedy. No traditional mainstream rom-com topped the box office (only The Best Man Holiday came close), and given the fact that barely a dozen wide releases in 2013 legitimately qualified as being romantic comedies, I’ve dispensed with the usual Asta categories (Best Meet Cute, et al), and have chosen instead to give props to the half-dozen or so rom-coms that were worthy of note.
As with last year’s great stealth rom-com Silver Linings Playbook (i.e. a movie many people didn’t realize was a romantic comedy until well after they’d seen it), the only rom-com to capture the zeitgeist was a film whose polyglot genre classifications make its status as Best Romantic Comedy somewhat debatable.
You may call it sci-fi, fantasy, dramedy, or even a horror movie, but according to my definition (i.e. a rom-com is a comedy whose central story question is: Will these two individuals become a couple?), and given that the ultimately downbeat Annie Hall (whose arc this movie sneakily resembles) is universally deemed to be a romantic comedy, Spike Jonze’s Her is inarguably the genre sensation of the year.
My unapologetic valentine to this instant classic can be found here, and I’ll only add to it a genre Most Valuable Player Asta for Scarlett Johansson, whose amazing bodiless performance in Her was paired in 2013 with the full-on physicality of her turn as a quintessential Jersey Girl in Don Jon.
Don Jon, ably written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, gets a Best Socially Relevant Rom-Com Asta for nailing a notion I’ve long espoused: that while pornography can exert a pernicious influence on men’s ability to sustain romantic relationships, romantic comedies (and dramas) have the same deleterious effect on women (i.e. The Notebook is merely porn by another name). The movie is also a clever and well-crafted entertainment worth checking out, if it slipped by you.
The year’s Best Classic Romantic Comedy was a no-brainer: Joss Whedon’s tartly delicious Shakespeare adaptation, Much Ado About Nothing. Made on the cheap (mostly in Whedon’s house, no less) as his version of a busman’s holiday during post-production of The Avengers, this is “modern” Shakespeare at its finest, with a uniformly sterling cast making screwball hay in glorious black and white.
The Best Indie Rom-Com, aka Rom-Com Sleeper of the Year in 2013, was assuredly Drinking Buddies, writer-director Joe Swanberg’s ode to the pleasures of hops, friendship, and romantic ambivalence, in which another top-notch ensemble made the most of what seemed like small beer (sorry) but was actually substantive, subtle and funny stuff. Drinking Buddies also earns a special Asta for utilizing the Best End Credits Music of the year: if ever a song was born to blast on when the screen went black, it was Plants and Animals’ The End of That, which made a bullseye-perfect topper for this alt-rocky ride.
Richard Curtis’s somewhat maligned About Time (though it certainly didn’t get the drubbing that his embattled Love Actually received this year) gets a Best Family Rom-Com Asta, since it’s really a romantic comedy about a boy and his dad, despite its ostensible focus on a time-traveling lad and the lady he tricks into being his love. Apparently I’m a hopelessly sentimental fuddy-dud for having thoroughly enjoyed this treacle-fest, but what can I do? See it, forewarned, with someone you’re related to.
On the other hand (and jeez, I hope this counter-balancing re-ups my hipster cred), a well-deserved Asta goes to Warm Bodies as the Best Hybrid Romantic Comedy of 2013. A zombie movie with heart, this astutely concocted horror-rom-com was admittedly no Shaun of the Dead (there is only one), but it got a good lot of chills and giggles out of its “why didn’t I think of that?” premise, and it kept the genre ethos alive at the box office in an otherwise very cold Spring, thanks.
The big losers this year were The Big Wedding and Austenland, while The Best Man Wedding was Lightly Likable, and Baggage Claim and Thanks for Sharing were Less So. The Best Romantic Comedy That Was Not a Romantic Comedy was – whether or not you subscribe to the belief that buddy movies are rom-coms in homoerotic drag – The Heat.
This brings us finally to two of the biggest (i.e. most talked-about) romantic comedies of 2013, which appropriately enough has led to a split:
The Best Room-Splitter Rom-Com (#1) Asta goes to Before Midnight, a film that many people I love and respect went for in a big way, but that I – well aware that I’m in the minority – did not get at all. Which is odd, considering that I wholly love Before Sunrise, the first film in this Linklater/Delpy/Hawke trilogy, and really liked Before Sunset, which has one of the best rom-com endings ever… And I wish they had left it at that, as this self-indulgent talkathon totally bummed out my pot trip. Whereas, to continue this theme:
Enough Said, the Best Room-Splitter Rom-Com (#2) of 2013, totally floated my boat. Enjoyment of Nicole Holofcener’s well-written, well-observed middle-aged love story evidently rests on whether or not you buy into the story’s central conflict (i.e. the “Why didn’t she just tell him?!” issue), but I went with it, buoyed by the wonderful, poignantly memorable performance of the late James Galdofini, the less than over-muggy turn by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and the good job by everyone concerned.
On the basis of all this, Living the Rom-Com would like to say that reports of the romantic comedy’s death have been greatly exaggerated, and to wish you all a very funny and love-filled Happy New Year.