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I was wondering when you'd comment on Denby's article...

This opens up such a can of worms about gender. I keep writing and deleting responses...

Most of these "manly" rom coms are being written by men, who probably aren't thinking about the female audience at all when they write these heroines.

So I think most of these newer films reflect male wish fulfillment (e.g. ditsy Alba) more than anything. Either that, or they reflect a version of male reality (e.g. boring, career-minded Heigl). Though really that's wish-fulfillment too, isn't it? She's far hotter than him, makes a lot more money, and doesn't seem to mind that his greatest goal in life is to get high and start a porn site.

Maybe feminism is turning men into boys and women into mothers.

That might be bad news for the future of sex and romance, but it seems like a corrective path to me, in terms of human history. It's rational for women to be in charge, since historically we're responsible for a lot more (family, household, morality) than men. But rational doesn't really equal sexy, adorable or romantic.

Meg Ryan's characters were always a little irrational and confused, without giving up any professional or intelligence ground -- maybe that's why both men and women liked them.

Just Another Hollywood Guy

All this is just another example of the "dumbing down" of Hollywood. The youth movement isn't interested in sophistication--be it in rom-com or rom-drama--they want the eye candy of their college experience. If you can't blow it up, have some sort of spy-like adventure, or be yet another lowbrow comedy reaching out for the 18-25 demographic odds are it ain't gonna make to the screen...

Gone are he days of Elaine May and Nora Ephron, et al. Sophistication is out, cheap laughs are in. Don't dazzle us with clever, hit us with easy and reach the lowest common denominator.

Ahhhh, sweet youth.


I'm so glad you brought this up -- Where Are The Women is exactly what I was wondering when you initially linked to the Denby essay a while back. The Apatow movies have a sweet/raunchy flavor that appeals, but the women are barely there. What makes this get-aroundable for me is the sense that he likes women (unlike some women-hating comedy writers) -- I just wish that they were more PRESENT.

The bonobo thing is great. A fun mystery/comedy/caper/quasi-romance novel that features bonobos and crazy human gender issues is The Last Manly Man by Sparkle Hayter. It's one of 5 novels featuring New York television reporter Robin Hudson -- a strong but vulnerable modern screwball-esque heroine. (She has adventures, relationships, a career, is smart but screws up a lot in consistently believable ways AND is funny -- all of which make her appealing.)

I hope we don't have to wait for the culture at large to wrap its head around the new paradigm before there are dimensional modern women characters in rom-coms. I thought Hollywood creative types were supposed to be AHEAD of the cultural curve instead of trailing along behind.

E.C. Henry

I'm with the "brilliant" Kristen. (I hope she's as HOT in real life as she talks in her blog post responces) Today's rom-com's men are turning into boys, and women are turning into mothers.

Seth Rogan is doing so well these days because with his characters in "40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked-Up" he is the emodiment of a lot of men in real life. Unfortunately, I grew up with some of those slobs that Seth portrays so well. For me, many of Seth Rogan's characters are TOO REALISTIC. I don't wanna be reminded who those people are.

"Why Jessica Alba's taking pratfalls" has to do with Jessica PROVING she can sucessfully headline a romantic comedy. This is a budding actress, Billy. If you love the power of the actress, like I do, Jessica Alba is one of the most irresitable jems in Hollywood today. Over the summer, when I was working a 2nd shift job, I had the priviledge of watching Jessica Alba as a guest on ABC's "The View." She barbed with Barbara, Joy and Elizabeth. Jaw open, I couldn't believe how confident and poised she was. She acted like she owned the place.
Jessica is maturing. True, "Good Luck, It Sucks," is very forgetible, BUT Jessica's acting in it PROVES she can do it, AND do it well. She's not just an exotic looking, beautiful latina. Starting with "Fantastic 4" and now going over in to "Good Luck, It Sucks" Jessica Alba is begining to show people, she's got... (wait for it)... CHARM.

I'm not saying Jessica Alba IS the next Julia Roberts OR the next Meg Ryan. Heck, I don't think she's even up to Kate Hudson or Jennifer Garner's level yet. BUT Jessica does have an intreaging "it" factor. One I'd be willing to plop down my hard earned $9 to see at the Bonney Lake multiplex.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


Personally speaking, I am the quintessential starving artist (I write and have no other income, none from writing either btw) and I do not mind in the slightest my wife bringing home the bacon, cause like I'm starving ha


I hate to say this, but I've seen too much evidence to the contrary, that I think there lurks in the heart of even the most forward-thinking, self-professing feminist-leaning, politically-evolved heterosexual male the desire for a woman who is younger, not-too-smart, economically-challenged and somewhat emotionally needy, if only to stroke said male's ego, to make him feel sexier, smarter, richer and wiser than he would otherwise feel with an emotionally and economically secure female equal. Which of course means he's not as evolved as he it's bound to (consciously or unconsciously) cross over into popular media.

Christian Howell

No wonder I come here. It's good to hear that someone else hates female characters with no spark.

That is unless they're the hated sister (which Judd's wife does with aplomb).

I don't think it's a matter of cultural change but a resistance to cultural change. We men (boys in most cases) need to get our heads out our asses and see that women are MORE THAN our equals.
I mean, how many of us would wear a pair of short-shorts (split-skirt) during the NYC winter?

I personally am working on a few rom-coms that are the opposite of both the old and new paradigm.

I like to have strong women in every role I write as if you don't you'll have half a movie.

I personally would love to have a beautiful female boss who grabs my butt. But as usual I maybe jaded since my first superhero is female.

At any rate those were two good articles. It is a little too real as one person said. I don't want to be reminded of slackers I knew in college.

I am the farthest thing from that type of character and it shows in my stories.

I do have one though where the male suitor is far below the earning power of the woman but he's a hard worker with a plan.

Maybe next year we will see the other side. We will if I have anything to say about it.

Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul.

Giles Bowkett

"Good Luck Chuck" has a pretty funny parody of the airport cliche you wrote about recently. It included some of the exact things the original poster on that cliche mentioned, like being forced to buy first-class tickets to Antarctica at an absurd price, getting your car towed, and being strip-searched. The movie falls apart about halfway through, but it's definitely better than you're giving it credit for.

I saw it on my own. About ten minutes, maybe fifteen minutes in, it suddenly occured to me, wait, am I seeing a date movie on my own? Then I realized the only other people in my row (it was a matinee) were a pair of guys, buddies joking around. "Good Luck Chuck" might not be a romantic comedy at all. There isn't a real Bellamy, and I wouldn't take a date to that movie unless we'd been dating such a long time we were also good friends. There are definitely elements of romcom formula in there, but I think they're more like a vestigial tail than anything else. Both this and "Knocked Up" seem to have more to do with guys needing movies about growing up and becoming emotionally mature than anything even remotely connected to date movies. I think a new style of movie might be emerging there, and it just looks like a series of weird rom-coms because it hasn't fully materialized yet. These movies are probably like the archaeopteryx, which looked like a weird dinosaur with feathers until evolution proved it to be the first ancestor of the bird.

Joanna Farnsworth

SLAM. BANG. Billy's the man! He's done it again. He's pinpointed what's wrong with contemporary culture and contemporary screenplays. Macho Meltdown. Feminized males. Isn't that what today's Romp Coms are all about? The search for testosterone? By both men and women?

This does put Heroines with teeth in a rather tricky position. But I say - then, now and forever - this IS the kind of gal men really want. Sexy strong independent working girls like Stone / Pretty Woman / Sleepless.

Call me old-fashioned but camouflaging the teeth in character metaphors like these is the only way to put them on the screen. The working girl won't win her White Knight until she walks away from a deal. The romantic won't win her adventurer until she gets over needing a man to save her. There's lots of room for teeth and klutzy ditziness while Heroines grapple with character goals like these.

It's sinking those teeth into the Romance on the chase that causes the problems. Remember he's the PRIZE not the goal. And - repeat after me - he's NEVER in an airport.


I think maybe Giles is right about the new genre...


Whoops! I meant to say, "...but I've seen too much evidence that PROVES..."
Well, you know what I meant.


But, Billy, you LIKED "Knocked Up". You waxed rhapasodic about how it was the BEST rom/com (comedy) of the year. Has the bloom faded from the rose for you?

I haven't heard many woman waxing on about how they LOVE "knocked up", in fact most of the women that I've heard talking about it had the same reaction I did... why would she want to be with THAT guy? He's a boy. But, then again, that's what most of the male "leads" are these days. Some are charming boys, and some are nice sweet boys but boys nevertheless. WHy would a smart sucdessful woman want THAT?

As for the reason why people go see this tripe... I think it's because we're still bringing up our children with the same old societal mores that men are worth more than women. It's the same old the MALE heir gets everything thing. A woman can't be smart, successful and completely happy without a man. ANY man. If it's got testicles, it's a good thing. So what if he's a total schlub who's high all the time? He's got a set! You can change him. All he needs is the love of a good woman... you.

Yeah, right.

Good fantasy for the boys who are buying the scripts.

Regardless; you know as well as I do that HW is a town that is run by men. Men who will ride whatever train is pulling in the bucks, and right now, it's these kinds of characters.

Sad, that.


Kristen: Your feminist theory (men into boys, women into mothers) is intriguing/sobering. Let's hope we're in a transitional phase (it'd be nice to get to men-as-men and women-as-women).

Just Another: The "appeal to youth" factor is inarguably part of the problem. We'll have to see if the industry applies any corrective measures to woo the hefty boomer demographic back into the theaters.

Jen: There's a venerable tradition of "Hollywood creative types" warring with "studio executives" over just these kinds of issues, and I'm not sure anybody really knows just where that curve is anymore, given the steady encroachment of indie sensibilities on mainstream Hollywood. Meanwhile: Hates sparkles? Are sparkles so bad?

EC: I look forward to the day when Alba has the clout to pick smarter material for herself.

Moviequill: You certainly do sound quintessential (Has your wife tried tempeh bacon? Cheap and healthy, too!).

Binnie: Ouch. That has the gruesome ring of truth and does sound like a contributing factor. But it should be noted that Apatow, judging by "Virgin" and "Knocked," doesn't seem to fit your profile (i.e heroines Keener and Heigl are the opposite of the prototype female character you describe).

Christian: "Resistance to social change" is clearly the subtext. Let's hope the resistance is overcome.

Giles: I love your archaeopteryx theory (I especially enjoy trying to pronounce it).

Joanna: Interesting notion, the "disguised teeth" -- this does seem to be prevalent approach to such characters. And as many are saying here, we seem to be verging on a shift into new territory where such disguises may fall away...

Kristen & Binnie: Yup.

Writergurl: Yes, I did like "Knocked" and I still think it's the best rom-com I've seen so far this year. I also did voice my problems with it when I posted my review. And I don't believe there's any contradiction between enjoying a piece of entertainment and then bringing up some of the issues it raises for sociological discussion -- that's pretty much essential to what we do here.

Nonetheless, sure: the " a fish needs a bicycle" problem is still prevalent in Hollywood, as it is in the culture it reflects. I'd only take (minor passing) issue with the blanket "Hollywood run by men" idea. Certainly men are often at the reins, but a number of studio heads are women -- including the one who greenlit "Knocked Up."


True, women are the heads of several studios, which is great. But. (You knew that was coming, right?)

These female studios heads are rarely the ones who have taken the first, second, third or even the seventy fifth look at a script. When they greenlite something, they are essentially rubber stamping the selections presented to them. I'm sure there have been lots of scripts that have been giving the go-ahead based on the enthusiatic urgings of the GUYS who have brought the script up from the slush pile.

I'm sure they are just as concerned (if not more so... glass ceiling) than the male studio heads with the bottom line. Apatow has proven that he can sell tickets. I'm sure his name on a project carries a LOT of weight, regardless of the gender of the studio head who greenlits his films.

I'm not saying this is a thing that is limited to HW, I'm saying it's a cultural thing. I can't tell you how often I've been asked "How come a woman like you isn't married/ doesn't have a man?" My typical response "I'm a lesbian." Which draws more than a few double takes and at least a couple of men inserting their entire legs into thier mouths.


Knocked Up is more a "coming of age" film than it is a Rom Com. In fact, the romance happens behind our backs and one day they love each other.

It's the "jerk learning to take responsibility and act like a man" that's works for women and the "man acting like guys really act" that works for men.

abby smith

Yes...where are the strong women in Rom Coms? In the Marketplace? My head is swimming...

Firstly, Billy dear, do you really believe that having some women sitting in chairs in high places in the Hollywood Studio system Alters the fact that it's a Man's World? I believe those women get to warm those seats exactly because they mimic the views of most powerful men -- I believe that is Why they rose to power and those who get to Stay there do Not Stay there unless they do Not challenge the Boys' Club.

I look at the genre of RomComs in a similar way that I track the relationship advice in Women's Magazines. I see Both as behavioral bully pulpits (albeit entertaining ones) propagandizing on behalf of the ruling powers that be (in our case, since Ronald Reagan -- over 20 years now(!) Republicans and the Christian Right, letting us women know Where our place is (either non-existent or subservient, only there to nurture the guy); HOW we should behave with our Men/Boys (not be threatening in any way, dress like a ho and be ditzy -- and do NOT stand OUT in any way~!)
In KNOCKED UP, the fact that the "A" word was Never mentioned should confirm one of my points above. I'm sorry guys, but this subject is very close to my heart cuz I think that generations of women and men have Already been shaped by this propaganda and Skillions of girls and women have been made to feel bad about themselves for not Fitting this Non-entity Mold.

What is it going to take to change? Re-assert: separation of church and state, make feminism a culture-friendly word again (instead of that "f" word to be avoided), kick the rePubs out, model Spinal Fortitude to the Dems, Put some Truly feminist writers, directors, etc. in seats of Real Power in the industry, audiences need to Support films and culture that model examples of Strong, Fierce, Sexy Women -- Grown Ups...(not little girls)...and....and...and....


Maybe this argument is well beyond what I'm about to say but... Surely the drive of this piece of romantic fiction is the fact that these two characters are of different social status? The fact that he is a stoner and she's a career woman seems to be the central comedy obstacle. The film would simply be moot if he was a six figure earner with a six pack stomach. Unless of course they were some contrived hook ("she's really clumsy!"). The best romantic fiction crosses social class barriers as does Knocked Up.

Every issue of the believability in this romance is well addressed in the film. Does it not address the fears of modern women? Is getting pregnant by a one night stand not a realistic representation of contemporary female issues? Am I seeing the same film as other people, did it not give an infinately more realistic portrayal of pregnancy than any other Hollwood comedy I can remember?

Personally I find the writing off of the film based on subjective opinions of Rogen's physical attractiveness quite repulsive. As for him being a "looser" is he any more so than the petit criminals of a screwball comedy?

abby smith

The subject of "Where are the Rom Com Heroines?" is one that within me sets off all sorts of energized vibrations (huh?) -- what I mean to say is....Yes! When is THIS going to change? But for anyone who has any familiarity with Susan Faludi's tome of over a decade ago, we've been in a Lengthy period of blowback Against feminism.

Billy, do you really believe that because there are some women in high up positions in the studios that Therefore it is No Longer a Man's World in Hollywood? Is it possible that those token+ women got there (and get to Stay there) because they reflect the sensibilities of Men more than women?

And how do we Know what are the sensibilities of Women these days? Which women? The Women of Sex in the City? I don't know any women like that. I would like to write my own series of vital women in New York, in their 40's through 50's -- vital, sexy, smart, funny women involved with more than Jimmy Choo/Blianik and Sex positions -- women who comment on the world Around them -- my sitcom/rom com might be called "NO Sex in the City" however. I should end here...but I won't.

It's nice to be liked, but here goes....I NEVER liked Meg Ryan Nor Julia Roberts. How can they be compared to the likes of Rosalind Russell, Katherine Hepburn, et al? Not in the same galaxy, as far as I'm concerned. (the only movie of Roberts I liked was Erin Brokavich).

In the articles you cited, Billy, about women hiding the Money they have....there have Also been plenty an articile about how young women dating these days feel they have to hide their achievements and intelligence as well. I find that VERY concerning, to say the least.

(I wrote this b4 and temporarily lost it...I'm sending it on because although redundant it says some new things as well and I don't have time to edit right now.)




I am just wondering where/if the sitcom fits in this.

Not that they are slackers(some are just not, shall we say overly ambitious, others are career driven) but most of these seem to have scored very well in comparison to their own looks.

King of Queens
Everybody Loves Raymond
and even throw back to Bewitched.

On the looks side, have we been grooming women for decades to accept us schlubs? :) As there are always much more better looking women than men, maybe it is a conspiracy born out of the need to continue the procreation of the human race :)

Must admit, wife and I are 2/3 through Knocked Up. Don't know if we are going to finish it. Wife can't stand male lead character and cannot buy the heigl character even getting with him.

Must admit having a hard time buying it myself. They did a good job trying to set up the possibility but even then, I don't think she could consume that much alcohol.


Wow Billy,that's a question that could fuel a PHD,"Where are the Rom Com Heroines?
Because I'm about to write my first rom com I've been watching a lot of them.One of the things I realised is that in the 30's and 40's they understood the brain is a major sexual organ.
They couldn't show sex or speak about it so instead they seduced each other and us with their wit and dialogue. Sex on screen now is like McDonalds.
To me,it's not so much about slackers and feminists or who's on top.Besides,being on top all the time is just as boring as being underneath all the time.Being the romantict that I am,it's about about getting back to that wonderful dance between the masculine and feminine,like salsa or tango,two people who have to listen to the rhythm of each others bodies and then finding the dialogue and the situations to express that.Mmmmmmmm,now that's my dream.


Chris, it's not so much that he's got a chubby body that makes him a loser. It's that he has NOTHING going for him. Besides his perputual state of marijuana induces dullness, he not been gifted with dazzling good looks, he doesn't have enough charm (any really to bign with, besides the "being sweet" thing) to sweept a woman off her feet and no way to support the child he very carelessly helped create. Like it or not, these ARE the benchmarks that we measure "success" by. No one is saying that he has to be a "god", but he should at least have something, anything, going for him. Clearly this is not the case.


I agree with Giles' archaeopteryx theory on this one. I think these films are simply post- BrokeBack Mountain adult male coming-of-age movies.

Even though I am a hopeless romantic, I loved 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Super Bad, but not because I was swooning over the sizzling charisma of the male leads. I adored those movies for the REAL love stories -- the one between a guy and his buddies.

In most of the popular comedies I've seen, much of the male bonding is something along the lines of "we all like boobs, beer, brawls and bodily functions" variety. The Apatow films definitely have that element, but at the heart, they also have those great scenes where grown men share real, honest, clearly non-BrokeBack sort of love for each other.

Honestly, if I were a hopeless schlub of a guy and I had friends who supported me as unconditionally as the ones in these films, I'd feel like the luckiest schlub on the couch. The impossibly beautiful female love interest is just a vehicle to get the men to sit around going "I love you, man". She's the icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, the icing is pretty, sweet and not particularly deep. If I want to see compelling romantic comedies aimed at MY tender sensibilities, I can either wait for these guys to grow up or just watch foreign/indie films. Or better yet, we can all just write real romantic comedies with real women and real men in real love.

Elizabeth K. Mahon

I was just thinking about this exact same thing when I went to see the premier of "Run, Fat Boy, Run," where Simon Pegg plays the man child who must grow up to deserve Thandie Newton, who he deserted pregnant at the altar. In real life, of course, no self-respecting woman would take a man back who did something like that. Particularly a savvy, beautiful woman who owns her own successful business. But in movie land, she still somewhat pines for him, even though she has a seemingly great new boyfriend in Hank Azaria who plays the Y2K version of The Baxter, aka The Jerk.


WriterGurl: I totally agree with your cultural commentary, but sorry, have to differ on your "Hollywood studio" take.

I can tell you from up close and personal experience that both female studio heads at Universal were VERY involved in their movies down to final cuts -- there was absolutely no "rubber stamping" involved. And in terms of power (i.e. male v. female), one of these women personally pulled the plug on a hugely expensive, prestige, very male-developed project, because the movie was out of control and she didn't want to be stuck footing the bill. So gender is NOT an issue in these situations; female studio heads -- though they (as men do) obviously have to take market considerations into account -- act just as autonomously as any male studio head would.

MaryAn: So how come you were able to sum it up in two succinct and accurate sentences and it took me an overlong blog post?!

Abby: Re: all the wishes in your last paragraph, as we say -- From your mouth to God's ears!!! (She's listening, isn't she?)

Chris: The "petit criminals of screwball comedy" -- I love that! (Tho I'm not sure you mean petite, petit [French] or petty -- sounds good regardless). Meanwhile, your point about the social issue being paramount is well taken, and I quite agree.

Abby: Yes, it was that article that got me thinking about all this to begin with -- this weird and unfortunate double bind so many successful young women find themselves in... It's an issue that got subsumed by all this "Seth Rogen?!" debating in the comments, but could easily be a subject for further exploration...

Dave: As someone who's been plowed under the table by some wooden-legged women, I didn't have a problem acccepting the "how much she drank" question. Anyway, your sitcom musing is intriguing -- there certainly is a grand tradition of Lovable Shlub male leads in that neck of the woods. Maybe Apatow's features are simply cashing in/updating on a long-established tradition...

Judith: Um-hmm. And a big "mmmmmm" right back at you.

Writergurl,that's what makes horse-racing, as they say, because like it or not (prepare to be made ill): Seth Rogen is now a star. Every studio in town wants to work with him... because evidently SOME people found something to love in this character.

Giggle: I'm on the same page with you re: this whole "buddy rom-com" notion, and hope to post soon about just that. Meanwhile, your "I can either wait for these guys to grow up or... better yet, we can all just write real romantic comedies with real women and real men in real love" is my idea of the way to go.

Elizabeth: Doncha just love that about the movies?!


Billy, while I am not privvy to the machinations of studio heads (you're in front by mile in this), I'm also not naieve enough to think that Rogen is not a "star" now. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge Rogen anything. After all... it's Apatow's script and direction. Rogen got lucky, good for him. We should all be so lucky! (in my best yiddish accent)

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