Romantic Comedy Clichés: The Definitive A-Z Guide
Are you fed up of the same romantic clichés? Or do you just need a new DVD collection? Either way, throw away your dictionary and thesaurus, for this is the only A-Z guide you'll be needing. A: Advice from a child?: Do you ever wish you could relive your adolescence with the benefit of hindsight? Do you ever remember all the stupid things you did when you were younger and silently cringe? If you’re ever on a train carriage and see someone make a strange face, they’re probably doing the same. Children don’t know anything. It’s been scientifically proven, probably. So why in (500) Days of Summer does Joseph Gordon-Levitt repeatedly ask for relationship advice from his 11-year-old sister? Whenever I see this happen in a film, I assume it’s because the screenwriter asked his/her younger sibling for writing advice. B: Baxter: The term “Baxter” was popularised by a 2005 film that was, funnily enough, called The Baxter. The Baxter is the nice guy in the background who loses his girlfriend to the film’s lead, often at the altar. There wasn’t a sequel. C: Career: It’s become a trend that a romantic comedy is defined by the career of the female lead – she’s fast-talking in the office and she loves her job too much to be with a man (until twenty minutes from the end). D: Dance: No, I’m not talking about the Step Up films (although they are becoming a genre of their own). I’m talking about unrealistic dance numbers that seem to exist purely for the chance the clip might go viral on Youtube. There’s the flash dance of Friends With Benefits, half of Dirty Dancing, and the musical way Hugh Grant walks into a lamppost in the one with the weddings and funeral. E: Ethnic minority: Hardly ever as the lead, but as the best friend (doctor or accountant) or walking punchline. F: Friends with benefits: It’s still hard to believe that Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached came out within a few months of each other, but is it really? It’s one of the oldest plots in the book. (What is this book? Is it on Amazon? Is it long or can I read it in a day?) It’s bizarre that “friends with benefits” are guaranteed to be in love at the end, whereas “f**k buddies” in subplots are doomed to fail. It raises the question of why a “friend” is better than a “buddy”? Would Ross ever have ended up with Rachel if the programme was called Buddies? G: Grandmother with forthcoming views: If you see Betty White in a cast list, you know that she’ll be saying something inappropriately sexual about the young lead. If it’s not a grandmother, then it’s an elderly woman on the bus saying, “That young man is sex on legs, Anne Hathaway. You’re crazy to let him go!” (I hope that’s not what elderly women are thinking on buses.) H: Happy ending: Will they? Won’t they? They will. I: Island in the sun: The recent trend for romantic comedies set on islands is probably from filmmakers wanting to be paid to go on holiday, then realising they can get away with it. It’s a cliche in itself to ask why so many romantic comedies are set in Manhattan, but why are so many set in Hawaii? Did Couples Retreat really have to be set on an island? (Okay, that was a bad example.) J: Journalists: What connects Morning Glory, Broadcast News, 13 Going on 30, Never Been Kissed, Scoop, His Girl Friday, When Harry Met Sally, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Knocked Up, The Devil Wears Prada, All About Steve, Sleepless in Seattle and Definitely, Maybe? It’s unclear why so many romantic female leads are journalists, but the truth is that journalists never find love. That’s what happens when you spend more time breaking news than breaking hearts. K: Kissing: Anyone noticed how there’s a lot of kissing in romantic comedies? What ever happened to a strong, firm handshake? L: Love: Same as above. M: Manic Pixie Dream Girl: This controversial term was invented for Kirsten Dunst’s overtly kooky air hostess in Elizabethtown, when she kept reappearing to remind Orland Bloom that life is worth living. You just have to accept that sometimes male protagonists need to be saved by an upbeat Hollywood actress who selflessly devotes her life to making him feel better. After all, whose life couldn’t be improved by such an obscenely one-sided relationship? N: Neighbour: The neighbour is the most frequent deus ex machina, always there to break character to help the plot move along 30 minutes from the end. The neighbour is usually introduced from an early stage as a characterless listening device so that the protagonist can relay their emotions – so the screenwriter can convey what they’re unable to demonstrate coherently without resorting to an internal monologue. If the neighbour isn’t a sympathetic member of the opposite sex, then they’re probably a grumpy man/woman of an older generation who manages to lighten up when the protagonist needs someone to drive them to the airport before their loved one boards a plane to somewhere far away that they will never reach or see unless if it’s in a postcard. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Steve Carell drives from coast to coast, but all he wanted was the neighbour he had always ignored; asteroids tend to have that effect. O: Optical illusion: The tears when you get home and look at the mirror? And when your friends say it looks fine, but it really doesn’t and you’re just embarrassing yourself everywhere you go? Well, it’s true. A haircut can change everything. The key to being beautiful is your hair. If you don’t believe me, watch She’s All That when Rachael Leigh Cook is a friendless loser who transforms into “prom queen” by using a magical hair product. Similarly, Anne Hathaway only needed hair straighteners in The Princess Diaries to discover her royal side. Maybe all that’s separating you from Kate Middleton is a more luxurious brand of conditioner. P: Poster of Audrey Hepburn on the wall: Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just always there. Q: Quirky best friend: It’s like doing an internship before you can get a job. You play the quirky best friend for a few mainstream romantic comedies, then eventually you get to play the lead. Zooey Deschanel is one example, as she has to do paperwork and photocopy documents in Failure to Launch while only being paid expenses – but it looked good on her CV when she interviewed for (500) Days of Summer. Don’t you sometimes look at your rational best friend with their plausible hair and composed mannerisms, and wish they were a bit quirkier and frequently echoed the plot developments of your life? R: Running: This could be a reference to how you’re always running after the one you can’t have/lost/imagined. It’s actually to do with the final sprint to catch your loved one before he/she gets married or boards a plane. The earliest example from my memory is Woody Allen’s jazzed sprint in Manhattan, and it hasn’t stopped being a metaphorical staple. It’s a cliche that works because running speeds up your heartbeat, which means your love is stronger. Trust me, my parents wanted me to be a doctor. S: Sophie: It’s a really common name. T: Three acts: The three-act structure has been tried, tested and used by everyone who has at least three fingers. If a romantic comedy emulated Gravity’s Rainbow, Jennifer Aniston’s head would explode. U: Unhappy ending: The overwhelming deluge of romantic comedies has created a handful of postmodern attempts in recent years, with (500) Days of Summer being the most famous example – it tries to be realistic, yet is still as far from reality as the quirky best friend’s unpublished novel. For further research, check out the wikipedia plot summary of 1970’s Love Story. V: Very public declaration of love: Say it loud and say it proud, preferably in front of several bored extras. X: Xanax: It’s really hard to find an entry for every letter. I suppose it’s mentioned in Silver Linings Playbook. Y: You: For every cliched romantic comedy that comes out every week, there’s a guaranteed audience. It’s like a drug that fuels an insatiable need for fictional romance that doesn’t take itself too seriously, except you don’t need to meet Walter White in an alleyway for a DVD of Notting Hill. Z: Zodiac: Films are supposed to be the highlights of our fate, which is why we can’t stay away. The planets align and predict our futures, just as the two romantic leads can’t escape each other, regardless of whatever contrived obstacles they encounter. After all, you look at the sky and see the stars that represent our destiny, knowing that any one of those gaseous masses could crash into Earth and burn it all to the ground. Now that’s a romantic comedy waiting to happen.