Carole Lombard's prowess at romantic comedy was proven with "Hands Across The Table" (1935) and "My Man Godfrey" (1936), although the latter more often is placed in the "screwball" category. Romcoms, as they're now popularly known, have been an audience favorite since silent days.
But in recent years, they've largely fallen by the wayside. In the increasingly international cinematic market, comedy of any sort doesn't cross borders as well as CGI effects or explosions. (Neither need to be translated.) Add corporate Hollywood studios' continued focus on comic-book franchises and other pre-sold properties, and romcoms for the most part have become invisible.
Yet maybe, just maybe, romantic comedy can find its way back. There have been signs it may have found its niche.
"Book Club," made for a comparatively paltry $10 million, made $67 million for struggling Paramount, which has relatively little pre-sold property to fall back on compared to Disney -- now almost certain to take over 21st Century-Fox after Comcast bowed out today -- or Warners. (The House of Mouse already controls Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar characters in addition to its own; Warners has rights to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the DC Comics universe.)
Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen all have terrific acting resumes, but none now can carry a cinematic feature on their own. But as a team, given an amusing story -- women of AARP age discovering their romantic selves through reading the "Fifty Shades" trilogy -- it sparked interest from audiences of all ages, including those too young to remember any during their heyday.
Another recent romcom features younger leads in a story that could've been planned in 1938. "Set It Up" is about two overworked assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) who pair their bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs)...with unintended consequences. Here's the trailer:
What makes "Set It Up" different is its source -- Netflix. The relatively youthful entertainment colossus, known for original TV programming, now looks to do likewise with films, and this romantic comedy has drawn raves since its release June 15.
Both "Book Club" and "Set It Up" stray from the white twenty-something formula that dominated romcoms in the two previous decades, and led some detractors to conflate the genre with "chick flicks." (A major indie hit from last year, "The Big Sick," had a Pakistani lead and was similarly unorthodox.)
Next month's sleeper hit could be "Crazy Rich Asians," about a New York University professor (Constance Wu) who discovers her boyfriend (Nick Young) actually hails from one of Singapore's wealthiest families. It's adapted from a popular book, has a predominantly Asian cast, and has been well-received prior to its release.
Read more about this possible romcom revival at https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/a22104346/romantic-comedies-comeback/. The key: Creating characters who are distinctive and non-formulaic, while giving them a smart story.
I admit to having a dog in this fight, as I write romantic comedies I hope to sell, including this spin on a sci-fi subgenre (https://filmfreeway.com/projects/476988):