Romantic Comedy 2019 ***

Room 237, what have you done? The celebrated documentary about The Shining’s conspiracy theories had no talking heads, just recorded sound-bites of waffle laid over found footage from Kubrick’s film. Interesting stuff, but it takes a bit of nerve to charge audiences to see it as if it was a properly authored, constructed and shot film. Actress turned documentarian Elizabeth Sankey’s wander through the world of rom-com takes the same zero-budget aesthetic to heart; we have clips from many rom-coms spliced together with some film theory 101 on the soundtrack, mainly from pals of the director, together with a couple of montages set to songs by pals of the director. It’s quite self-indulgent, and more than a little confusing if you’re trying to work out who is saying what, but everyone loves a rom-com, so there’s plenty of enjoyment here just from watching the well-assembled clip reel.

So while this is easy to consume, it’s less-than-impressive as a supposedly cohesive argument. Sankey feels that rom-coms have declined, whereas everyone knows, they’ve just gone to Netflix (notably Always Be My Maybe, although there’s plenty of good stuff in the last year, stuff like Plus One or Destination Wedding, et al). She blithely asserts that there’s no rom-coms for bisexual or lesbians (there are), before admitting that she herself doesn’t actually choose to seek out such content. She ascribes all the issues with rom-coms to blinkered male producers, even when the films discussed are produced and directed by women. She doesn’t give space to pioneers like Penny Marshall, Elaine May or Nora Ephron, and her analysis of films is usually just retelling the story with a personal slant; I lost track of the time Sankey said “I recently noticed…’ – when you’re making a film, surely your observations should all be recent! And it’s pointless to talk about the absence of trans characters when Alexis Arquette’s Boy George lookalike character in The Wedding Singer was on-screen 30 seconds previously.

Sankey has some good, if obvious points; that rom-coms foster negative body-images for women, or that stalking is generally seen as a joke rather than an intrusion. But the upshot of the argument over 80 minutes here is ‘I like rom-coms even through they’re stupid’ which doesn’t exactly do the subject justice. Late on, there’s a  well earned slam on male film critics, which might have been an interesting subject in itself, it it wasn’t for the dispiritingly shipshod nature of the construction and argument here.


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