Neo-Traditional Romantic Comedies

Neo-traditional romantic comedies are the dominant romantic comedy type today. They are said to be popular because they follow the traditional boy meets girl, boy loses, girl boy gets girl back structure, but are more realistic. The couples in neo-traditional romantic comedies have problems, but they still get their happily ever after. Neo-traditional romantic comedies have also been popular for so long because popular culture is tied in, making them accessible to the audience years and years later. The de-emphasis of sex makes neo-traditional romantic comedies more family friendly, which could add to popularity. These personal connections draw the audience in, if they audience is engaged they will keep watching.

Neo-traditional romantic comedies follow the typical romantic comedy structure; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. However neo-traditional romantic comedies are more realistic than the romantic comedies of the early 1930’s. The couples in neo-traditional face what seems like insurmountable barriers or problems. In Sleepless in Seattle (1993) the couple faces a geographical barrier – Sam is in Seattle and Annie is in Baltimore. They also have a few problems to overcome – like the fact that Annie is engaged to Walter.  In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) the barrier is emotional. The couple enters the relationship with ulterior motives – Andie is writing an article about how to lose a man and Ben is trying to win a bet about making a woman fall in love. Since Ben and Andie are trying to get the opposite result a real relationship is very problematic. People love seeing real relationships with problems, our own lives are filled with both – relationships and problems – so films about relationships and problems are easy to relate to.

Happy endings, or as McDonald calls them the “Love Santa”, are huge part of the neo-traditional romantic comedy. Though couples in neo-traditional romantic comedies have problems and barriers to work through they always end up together. Sam and Annie’s relationship faces many problems, but they still end up together, hand in hand at the top of the Empire State building. Andie and Ben want opposite things from their relationship motives, but end up kissing on a bridge in the rain. In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) the audience is left with the feeling that the couples are happy and will be together forever. People prefer happy endings. Why? I don’t know, but I can’t think of a person on earth who doesn’t want their own happily ever after. Is it because life is so full of problems we like the idea that things always work out in the end? Maybe.

Neo-traditional romantic comedies have a tendency to reference popular culture. In When Harry Met Sally (1989), Harry and Sally watch Casablanca. Sally also talks about how marriage and kids is different for men, as she said “Charlie Chapin had kid when he was 60”. In Sleepless in Seattle (1993) Annie watches An Affair to Remember numerous times, and the other women in the film talk about their love for it. Old movies and old movie stars, if those aren’t popular culture references; I’m not sure what is. You’ve Got Mail (1998), has to do with find the right person online. Kathleen says she and her are talking about cyber-sex to make someone go away. Online dating and cyber-sex started in the 1990’s, and only grew in the 2000’s. These references much like movies and stars carry over time. In Kate and Leopold (2003) when Kate first meets Leopold she calls him Sargent Pepper, because he’s in 19th century garb, and looks like one of the Beetles from the cover of the album by the same name. In Sweet Home Alabama (2002) Andrew proposes to Melanie by taking her to Tiffany & Co after hours to choose any ring she wants. Nothing quite says romantic proposal than the blue box with the white bow. By referencing popular culture the film becomes more accessible to the audience. With popular culture making the film enjoyable and accessible, it is no surprise that neo-traditional comedies remain popular today.

In the 80’s and 90’s with the AIDS outbreak and Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign people began to be more cautious about sex than they had been in the 70’s. Neo-traditional romantic comedies parallel the de-emphasis of sex. In The Proposal (2009) it is implied that both Margret and Andrew have had sex, and Gertrude looks down on Andrew when she hears he’s been sleeping around. Though they are the romantic leads Margret and Andrew never have sex with each other; they don’t even share a bed.  In fact when Margret and Andrew see each other naked they both freak out. In Sleepless in Seattle (1993) Annie and Walter never have sex, even though they share the same bed and are engaged. Annie’s mother talks about having sex with Annie’s father and Annie blushes and says she doesn’t want to know. The lack of sexual activity and the fact that sex is hushed or looked down upon shows that sex in neo-traditional films is de-emphasized. This conservative representation of sex makes it more family friendly, which means more people, can and will watch the films. If more people watch these types of films the more likely it is that they will continue to be made.

Real relationships, happy endings, the de-emphasis of sex, and references to popular culture make neo-traditional romantic comedies accessible and enjoyable. Because they are accessible and enjoyable more people watch neo-traditional romantic comedies. The more people watch them the more they are produced. And if they are being enjoyed – like so many people who enjoy the typical Hollywood Three Act Structure – why change it?


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