The Best in Romantic Comedy 2014
Sad but true: Roughly a year after the rom-com genre was universally declared dead, Hollywood affirmed this trope. Virtually no major romantic comedies were released by the studios in 2014, and those that were released barely made a dent at the box office, and were anything but memorable.
About Last Night, a tepid remake, was a modest success. But does it matter that the instantly forgettable Blended, an Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore re-pairing so lame it made their Wedding Singer seem positively Shakespearian in retrospect, also made a little money? If you had the misfortune to sit through the chick flick rom-com The Other Woman, you probably regretted it, and you might have stronger negative feelings about the misbegotten raunch rom-com Sex Tape.
Even the usually dependable Woody Allen had an off year with Magic in the Moonlight, despite its beautiful settings and its potentially fun Emma Stone-Colin Firth combo. And then there was That Awkward Moment, when even the most die-hard rom-com genre fans might realize that they couldn't remember if such a negligible movie had been released, let alone whether or not they'd seen it.
It's with mordant amusement that I refer you to 2013's Astas, when LRC was bemoaning the slim-pickings. But that was the year of Her, Don Jon, Before Midnight, and Enough Said, among others - a relative bonanza of genuinely good romantic comedies and dramedies. This year, I offer you a sum total of three Asta Awards. Make of it what you will.
The Bravest Romantic Comedy award goes to writer-director Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child - a rom-com that was a) essentially about the issue of abortion, and b) floated the (by current political mores) controversial idea that a woman's decision to have one did not signify a necessarily tragic or evil resolution. The movie would've been even more outstandingly courageous if star Jenny Slate didn't get guy in the end, but let's be thankful for what we got: a funny, smart, poignant rom-com that wasn't polemical in its groundbreaking aspects. The film is now Netflix-able and well worth a look if you haven't seen it.
The Best Hybrid Romantic Comedy award - given that it's also a dramedy-social comedy - goes to writer-director-star Chris Rock's Top Five. Despite generally good reviews, this LOL movie is still finding its audience, and it's evidently alienating some (If you're a Rock fan, you know what to expect in terms of raunchiness and subversive provocation, but I totally get why my 89 year-old mom and my teenaged niece, who did not know what they were in for, were bewildered and appalled by it).
In my humble op, Top Five makes a good pairing with Inarritu's Birdman, in that both films deal with the mid-life career crisis of a major celebrity. It plays a bit like an African-American version of Stardust Memories, and not just because Rock has admitted to homaging Woody Allen in interviews. I was thrilled by the good role for Rosario Dawson and the good chemistry between her and her co-star; the movie is about something, and though some of its laughs are misses, the hits are hilarious, and there are some genuinely poignant moments in it, too.
Finally, here's where I'm on a bandwagon with the culture at large, when I present the Best Romantic Comedy of 2014 Asta not to a movie, but to a TV series. As with most adult drama, most of the best comedy writing (and writing, period) is found on the smaller screen these days. And while this turf is genuinely competitive - there was sharp, entertaining romantic comedy to be enjoyed on everything from The Mindy Project to even The Newsroom (well, maybe) - hands down the most awesome rom-com moments of 2014 were to be found in the fourth season of Louis C.K.'s Louie.
I've written extensively about the show here, so I won't go on about it. Suffice to say, these fourteen episodes, half a dozen of which formed a kind of serialized feature, delivered the most moving, funny, and profound romantic comedy material a genre fan could desire. Louie's romance with a woman who couldn't even speak his language (Eszter Balint played the radiant Amia) is one for the ages, and other stand-alone episodes sparkled with rom-com gems. All this and Charles Grodin, too, so really... what does Living the RomCom have to complain about?
Nonetheless, that was the fairly miserable rom-com year that was. But since everything in Hollywood is cyclical, and - despite evidence to the contrary in what was a tough year for humans, overall - love is still the answer, I have hopes for a general romantic comedy comeback in 2015. People are still writing them, studios are still making them (albeit more cautiously, which to my mind is a very good thing) and now that the worst kind of formulaic cookie-cutter rom-com has been put out to pasture... who knows what new forms, fantasies, and farces lie ahead? Bring it on, 2015! We've got nowhere to go but up.