I desperately want the perfect romantic comedy movie to be made. Knowing how weird that sentence might be read, let me explain.
A couple of months ago, I was watching Notting Hill for the 2nd time. I can preemptively feel the judgment of people reading that sentence, so let me explain even further.
Spoiler alert: I don’t have a girlfriend and often like to live through movies vicariously.
Even as that is the case, Notting Hill didn’t hold up like when I had first watched it as a kid, but more than it not living up to the first viewing experience, it felt “paint-by-numbers” as far as romantic comedies go. If anything, William Thacker (Hugh Grant) deserves better than preening diva Anna Scott (Julia Roberts).
All that aside, as a romantic comedy, Notting Hill is structurally and tonally flawed. In fact, it’s flawed in that it’s too perfect. Everything plot-wise as well as the characters and the dynamic between them worked out a little too easy. Yes, movies seek to entertain and bring us to another reality, however what’s another reality to escape to if it’s a bunch of beautiful cardboard cutouts following a path as visible as the floating arrows in Donnie Darko?
If “perfect” isn’t perfect when it comes to romantic comedy, what actually constitutes a perfect romantic comedy?
Many cinephiles might point to Annie Hall as what romantic comedies should strive to be while several others not so cinematically inclined might question how Annie Hall is even a romantic comedy. Actual spoiler alert: Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) doesn’t get Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) in the end. In fact, he gets “the girl” and loses her in the end.
Despite that ending going against the convention set by more than probably 90% of other romantic comedies, Annie Hall is more realistic, inspires more visceral emotion, despite its surreal imagery and tongue-in-cheek tone. It’s the predominating notion now with most other romantic comedies rely on the structure of physical slapstick comedy set pieces in extreme situations without much regard to the arc and depth of the characters and their subsequent relationships. You don’t even have to visit your local multiplex to know that.
Intrinsically, there’s something more powerful, truthful, and ultimately hilarious in examining a relationship that didn’t work out than one that inexplicably does. That’s why one of the closest thing to a perfect romantic in recent memory comedy isn’t even a movie. In fact, it’s not even completely strung together in one episode.
The closest conception to what romantic comedies should strive for is in the vignettes of the relationship between Louie and Pamela on Louis CK’s TV series Louie. Throughout two seasons, Louie futilely makes repeated attempts at flipping a friendship into a full-on relationship with Pamela. Yet, Louie pushing forward in the face of absolute failure is not what makes the dynamic between him and Pamela stand-out from the ridiculously good looking Hollywood stars at odds with each other. At each moment between Louie and Pamela, Louie says to Pamela what anyone realistically wants to say to someone that they’re desperately in love with, but won’t get. When asked by Pamela, “Why would I want to have sex with you?” Louie arrives at the answer, “I’d like to and I was hoping you’d let me.”
That line isn’t from some fairy tale romance where both characters overcome their main flaws in order to be with each other. Because of the proximity to what would happen if that situation was to play out in real-life circumstances, it’s a moment that is not only funny, but the kind of moment that sticks with you. The arc of Louie and Pamela in the series thus far is filled with those types of moments that are unforgettable, heartbreaking, and hysterical; all adjectives that should describe the perfect romantic comedy.