Romantic yes, but also ironic.
September 15, 2008 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest self-aware romantic comedies. (Rather lengthy explanation sheepishly included.)

Here is a list of things I like in a movie, with examples. The basic genre is "smart romantic comedy", but there is a specific list of attributes I'm focussed on.

1. Can you suggest more movies that fit into this genre?
2. Can you succinctly name this genre?

The major conflict is realistic & interpersonal (no chainsaws, no sharks, no murders).
The stakes are not "life v. death", they are more like "fulflling, challenging love v. boredom & loneliness" (eg, Annie Hall)
The plot is logical and simple, although it can be quirky.
The plot is possible- it could happen to almost anyone in the audience.

The tone is irreverent, ironic, and modern (although I'm very interested in classic movies that fit this genre, too).
The music is important and carefully chosen, and maybe even performed live by a character at some point (the final duet in Juno).
The locations are romanticized (Paris in Amelie, the record shop in High Fidelity, the quarry in Garden State)
I like quirky, but we don't need to go overboard (Garden State goes overboard: Juno is pushing it in a few scenes).

The characters are charming, detailed, funny, self-aware, and ironic.
Females are smart, funny, and genuinely equal matches for males. Men are not slacker cads who resent growing up, and women are not shallow bridezillas (eg, not like Knocked Up).
Not everyone is the same race, sexual orientation, social class, etc., and yet these differences are not a big deal and don't drive the plot.
There is a sense of friendly competition and fraternity between the characters, especially the lead couple (Pam & Jim in The Office).
The characters enliven their days by playing games with themselves, or indulge in small, private ceremonies (Amelie skips stones; Cusack makes lists in High Fidelity).
The characters have a high reference level- they are up to date without seeming too trendy or topical (Woody Allen knows his McLuhan in Annie Hall, Tina Fey in 30-Rock).
There are comedic "bits", plum roles, and/or killer scenes that may be somewhat tangential to the main action but add a lot to the tone. (Jack Black in High Fidelity, the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally.)
The romance is quirky- people give each other Pepto Bismol and comic books, not roses and chocolate.
The characters tend to be a little dry, cynical, or self-conscious, but there are parts where we see their genuine sweetness and love.

At the climax, the audience reaches a soft, open, innocent emotional state where they smile a lot and cry a little at the same time. A big, swelling, satisfying feeling (Amelie when the music swells as they ride the scooter through Paris, Wall-E when he & Eve hold hands).

** I'm interested in movies that only fit the above criteria- but, major bonus points if you can suggest films with the following trait as well:

The main characters are occasionally aware of the viewer and look or speak directly to camera at times.
(as occurs in The Office, Annie Hall, High Fidelity, Amelie.)

That's about it, I guess.
So, how to pithily describe this genre?
What movies should I rent in order to research it?
I also welcome general comments about the genre if you think my list of its traits is flawed or incomplete,
and resources for learning more about how best to write this specific type of movie.

Thanks for your help!
posted by pseudostrabismus to Media & Arts (64 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
When Harry Met Sally
posted by jdroth at 8:40 PM on September 15, 2008

You are insane.

But you might love Me and You and Everyone We Know, which meets and exceeds the majority of your criteria.
posted by rafter at 8:40 PM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Perhaps try a combo of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The comedic bits are kinda understated. No breaking of the fourth wall. Still fits most of your criteria.
posted by squorch at 8:41 PM on September 15, 2008

D'oh. I thought I'd made sure you hadn't mentioned WHMS, but now I see you did mention it. sigh Sorry.
posted by jdroth at 8:44 PM on September 15, 2008

Assuming you're looking for movies that have some number of those qualities, but not necessarily all: Stranger than Fiction; also Down with Love.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:45 PM on September 15, 2008

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I would call these Hipster Romantic Comedies, if we're being allowed to make up genres.
posted by Science! at 8:47 PM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Kissing Jessica Stein? Go Fish? Next Stop, Wonderland?
Turtle Diary?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:47 PM on September 15, 2008

Maybe Once as well - again, understated comedic bits and the fourth wall is intact, but still, good, mature romantic flick.

On preview, hipster romcoms sounds like a good genre.
posted by squorch at 8:48 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hipster yes, but certainly doesn't have to be hipster. I would include When Harry Met Sally & Annie Hall- I mean, I guess they were the hipsters of their day, but you take my point. I'm very film illiterate about Rock Hudson & Doris Day, but from what I've heard, I have a feeling those movies might fit too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:54 PM on September 15, 2008

It doesn't hit many of your points, but I wonder if you would like Le Million.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 8:57 PM on September 15, 2008

Run Fatboy Run might fit the bill.
posted by Camel of Space at 9:01 PM on September 15, 2008

You mention classic movies, but some of these aspects are pretty contemporary. Still, I'd suggest a couple older titles for you to examine that have many of these qualities:

His Girl Friday

Desk Set
posted by j-dawg at 9:05 PM on September 15, 2008

Love Actually? Fits most, though not all, categories. Intelligent characters, romaticized London, great use of music, emotional ending. Not very quirky, but that was sort of a relief.

Also, I think Say Anything was one of the first and best of this genre.
posted by lunasol at 9:09 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah - if you're not squeamish, Secretary has some iconic things in it, is funny, has the main character stare into the camera knowingly. Some might not be a fan of the psychological stuff in it, but eh.
posted by squorch at 9:15 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Apartment.
posted by misozaki at 9:18 PM on September 15, 2008

Punch-Drunk Love fits more of your criteria (and, as I understand it, the spirit of the inquiry) than any other movie I can think of.
posted by churl at 9:22 PM on September 15, 2008

In Good Company stands out in my mind as having an excellent soundtrack, intelligent/quirky characters, and a not totally implausible plot.

You should definitely check out Once, too... it doesn't meet all of your criteria (it's not really much of a comedy, and there aren't any hysterical "bits") but it's an extremely sweet little romance with killer music.

And, since it sounds like you liked Amelie, try The Science of Sleep. Quirky with a capital Q.
posted by arianell at 9:26 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's The Baxter. It's not bad as far as these things go, though it certainly leans more towards "comedy" than "romantic."
posted by nasreddin at 9:36 PM on September 15, 2008

The Real Blonde. The sidestory about the old woman and her dog always make me cry a little with sadness and with joy. A little parallel love story going on there.
posted by Heretic at 9:36 PM on September 15, 2008

Maybe The Valet? Okay, the premise is pretty impossible, but it's simple, quirky and adorable.
posted by hopeless romantique at 10:06 PM on September 15, 2008

why don't you just watch high fidelity over and over.
posted by docmccoy at 10:14 PM on September 15, 2008

Seconding The Apartment.
Bringing Up Baby
Rather than Doris Day movies, try Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Top Hat maybe ...
posted by gudrun at 10:16 PM on September 15, 2008

posted by Exchequer at 10:26 PM on September 15, 2008

Can't get more classic than It Happened One Night -- probably the first screwball romantic comedy.
posted by xil at 10:55 PM on September 15, 2008

"Blue Velvet".

Sorry, just kidding. "Italian For Beginners" has some nice twists on the romantic comedy conventions, and it classifies as Dogme.
posted by philip-random at 11:08 PM on September 15, 2008

Best answer: probably the first screwball romantic comedy.

I don't see where anyone's mentioned that in this thread before, but I that's pretty much your genre right there. Maybe "modern screwball comedy"; or if you're breaking the fourth wall and the movie is self-aware you might try "postmodern screwball comedy". Wikipedia has a description of the genre, as well as classic and modern lists of films; many of the films mentioned in this thread show up there.

My own recommendation would be Joe vs. the Volcano, but that doesn't break the fourth wall.
posted by LionIndex at 11:38 PM on September 15, 2008

Definitely, Maybe was surprisingly smart and hits a lot of the reqs, if a bit sappy at times.
posted by nave at 12:38 AM on September 16, 2008

Harold and Maude.

No, seriously. It fits about 95% of your criteria, but the fourth wall does stay intact.
posted by carbide at 2:06 AM on September 16, 2008

Seconding Love Actually ..... one of my favourites.
posted by vaneska at 3:05 AM on September 16, 2008

I think you might like Serendipity, it meets a lot of those qualifications. Also seconding The Science of Sleep-- though it seems you really prefer a more "realism-focused" film, a lot of the weird quirkiness and unbelievable scenes ares dream/ imaginations of the characters, so I think it still works.
posted by potatopeople at 3:53 AM on September 16, 2008

how about In Search of a Midnight Kiss? which came out recently. Some of the other mumblecore stuff might fit as well.
posted by tallus at 3:54 AM on September 16, 2008

You are insane.

Totally bonkers but I empathise to some degree. nthing His Girl Friday which is the greatest film comedy.

Just vaguely in this vein, I have great memories of Into the Night although it is insubstantial and may not have aged well.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 4:14 AM on September 16, 2008

Frankie and Johnny
posted by idiomatika at 4:32 AM on September 16, 2008

Seconding Stranger than Fiction. Also Eternal Sunshine.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:39 AM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Neither of those are, er, "realistic", per se, but they're internally logical, so I think they qualify.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:41 AM on September 16, 2008

what about Say Anything? I know Cusack is already well represented here, but I think it meets the criteria.
posted by mustard seeds at 4:51 AM on September 16, 2008

From what I remember of Keeping the Faith, I think it fits most of the bill. Seems a bit more "mainstream" than other recommendations, but it works.
posted by joshrholloway at 5:28 AM on September 16, 2008

At the risk of sounding like a Willy Russell PR machine, Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita meet many of your critera.

I'm sure you know that Katharine Hepburn made a lot of films that would interest you too.
posted by ceri richard at 5:34 AM on September 16, 2008

Hollywood, Bollywood is a lot of fun and hits all of your criteria (plus it's got music). Hindu romance in Toronto.

I'm really here to recommend Whit Stillman's Metropolitan and Barcelona (watch 'em in that order if possible). Ensemble comedies that later things like Love, actually wish they could be.
posted by bonehead at 6:42 AM on September 16, 2008

Love and Other Disasters
posted by barrakuda at 6:45 AM on September 16, 2008

The Very Thought of You, told in a kind of in medias res style when the main character goes to his neighbor of three years he's never met for counselling to work out the whirlwind of the last 3 days and to decide if he sticks with his 2 life long friends or goes for the girl and loses his friendships.
posted by jrishel at 6:51 AM on September 16, 2008

I really dug Say Anything and Love Actually.
posted by PFL at 6:57 AM on September 16, 2008

Seconding You and Me and Everyone We Know. I'm not into romantic comedies, but I loved this movie. The characters are quirky, imperfect, mixed-up people—realistic people—fumbling their way through the awkwardness and insecurity and frustration (and ultimately triumph) of dating and romance. There's some dark humor, and some charming underdog heroes, and a happy ending.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:05 AM on September 16, 2008

Say Anything..., as much as I love it, probably flunks both legs of the OP's test for protagonists: in Lloyd Dobler, Cusack pretty much created the slacker-struggling-with-growing-up template occupied by (among many others) Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, while Ione Skye's Diane was pretty clearly a bridezilla in training (assuming bridezilla = conventional beauty who struggles with her inclination to fold romance into a broader path towards mainstream overachievement and acclaim).
posted by MattD at 7:33 AM on September 16, 2008

The French Lieutenant's Woman?
posted by plinth at 7:47 AM on September 16, 2008

Speaking of ironic, Reality Bites -- though I can't really remember if it ends happily. Chasing Amy might also fit some of the criteria, again minus the "swelling".
posted by libraryhead at 8:20 AM on September 16, 2008

speaking of Chasing Amy, you might want to give "Jersey Girl" a look-see. It does that that swelling at the end.
posted by jrishel at 9:37 AM on September 16, 2008

Eagle vs. Shark is very quirky hipster comedy, but surprisingly touching.

I have pretty much your same taste in movies, and I loved all of these previous mentions:
Eternal Sunshine
the Science of Sleep (same director)
Definitely, Maybe
Love Actually
Stranger than Fiction
posted by kidsleepy at 9:42 AM on September 16, 2008

Catch and Release fits the spirit of what you're looking for, I think. Also 13 Going on 30, which, although it contains Mark Ruffalo, does not have a slacker boy.
posted by cereselle at 9:43 AM on September 16, 2008

Simple Men, Trust, The Unbelievable Truth. All by Hal Hartley, all probably approach the quirky threshold you set, but they aren't cutesy or twee like Juno or Garden State. They are formally stilted - like if Mamet did romantic comedies, sort of.

I guess maybe they are an acquired taste, but I love them, and I think they would be worth watching in the context you are talking about.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:03 AM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you like High Fidelity, you'd have to like Grosse Pointe Blank.

And definitely try Lars and the Real Girl.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 10:59 AM on September 16, 2008

You are going to loooooove "500 Days of Summer" that comes out in 2009. It fulfills all your requirements. I've only read the script (a friend wrote it) but it should be exactly what you're looking for.
posted by np312 at 12:21 PM on September 16, 2008

Dan in Real Life fits your criteria so exactly I had to reread the question three times to make sure you hadn't already mentioned it.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:33 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by stoneegg21 at 2:19 PM on September 16, 2008

Playing By Heart
posted by Salamandrous at 5:15 PM on September 16, 2008

Anything with Carole Lombard or Veronica Lake or Jean Arthur and yes, I saw where you mentioned ironic and assumed you meant that at points in the story the lovers felt - and said - that love was not for them, and yet there it was.

Anything this is truly funny is going to be self-aware. That's how it works.

Give Hal Hartley a try. Those films are charming and I never understood why they weren't more of a thing.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:21 PM on September 16, 2008

"He died with a falafel in his hand".

which is awesome.
posted by gmarceau at 4:27 AM on September 17, 2008

Lesser Shrew's comment made me think of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na.
posted by suncoursing at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2008

The Graduate fits all your criteria.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:50 AM on September 18, 2008

Some great suggestions. Also try Spanglish - slightly less ironic/quirky/hipsterish, but very real and sweet, awesome female characters, very funny at times.
posted by puddleglum at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2008

Mallrats does not romanticize the locations, but it fits most of the other criteria.
posted by ye#ara at 12:57 PM on September 18, 2008

How about Preston Sturges comedies like "Palm Beach Story" or "The Lady Eve"? Also anything Ernst Lubitsch made - for example, "Trouble in Paradise." They might not necessarily fit all the aspects listed above, though, except in tone. But they also happen to be really great movies!
posted by estherbester at 12:32 AM on September 19, 2008

Perhaps The Princess Bride?
posted by Four Flavors at 3:06 PM on September 19, 2008

Response by poster: Oooh, so many good ones! Thanks, guys!
Y'all mentioned some I've seen that I really like:

When Harry Met Sally
Punch-Drunk Love
Eagle vs Shark
Stranger than Fiction, Grosse Point Blank & Eternal Sunshine (although the plots of these three are more bizarre than I was looking for, in these instances the romantic subplots are pretty much perfect)

and Hitch- I didn't actually like Hitch but I'm so glad I watched it- it totally fits my criteria and yet it felt very unsatisfied at the end, and I had to think about it for three days before I figured out why. Very educational.

Other than that, holy heck what a great screening list. So many interesting suggestions-
Thanks, hive!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:05 AM on October 14, 2008

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