It might be Kate Hudson, or maybe Mandy Moore, or possibly Rachel Weisz, Lindsay Lohan or a Jennifer. (Lopez? Aniston? Garner?) But if it's February, you can be pretty sure that some pretty, plucky actress will be traipsing around some glamorous and photogenic American city (or its Canadian double) in search of the dimple-chinned fellow who embodies her one true love.
Katherine Heigl, the star of 27 Dresses, has already rushed to the altar - or rather the beach, which is where so many movie weddings take place these days - ahead of a crew that will include Hudson, Uma Thurman and Paul Rudd. (Not all of them are getting married; some are avoiding divorce.) A few specimens of the genre, usually the better ones, can be counted on to sneak in during the summer or fall, as In Her Shoes or The Devil Wears Prada did.
But in general, the trough of late-winter and early-spring is Hollywood's designated season of mediocrity, a time for predictable, unchallenging genre movies. Horror and action for the teenagers, sappy family comedies for the kids and for grown women and their companions, stories of dating and mating decked out with tame Mars-and-Venus jokes and preordained happy endings.
Does that sound cynical? Perhaps, but I don't think the cynicism is mine. And for all I know there may be some gems sprinkled in with the seasonal dross. But the dispiriting, uninspired sameness of romantic comedy strikes me as something of a scandal.
This is not because the plots are predictable, though goodness knows they are. A single woman, courted by two eligible men, will be drawn toward the man who is superficially right but ontologically wrong for her before choosing, in the final 20 minutes, the man with the opposite qualities. Or more rarely, a single man will face the analogous predicament. Or an incurable skirt-chaser will be cured, usually by a lady who at first had seemed to be repelled by his irresistible manly charms. Or a couple on the verge of splitting will discover that they were meant to be together after all.
Depending on the sophistication of the picture or the number of credited screenwriters, these blueprints will be mixed and matched, with various decorative elements (delicately handled ethnic or class differences, workplace issues, exotic locations) added in. If the protagonist is male, his best friend will be either a geek or a boor; if female, her sidekick will be either a prude or a slut.
But as I was saying, predictability in itself is not a bug but a feature of the genre. The marriage plot, after all, is one of the oldest in literature, flourishing in Roman comedy, in the plays of Shakespeare and Moliere and in the novels of Jane Austen. More to the point, the obstacle-strewn road to discovered or recovered bliss was heavily traveled in the old studio days, from the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s to their loopy Technicolor descendants of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Our parents and grandparents had Rock Hudson and Doris Days or Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Or Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Or Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Or even, in That Touch of Mink Cary Grant and Doris Day. But you get the point. We have Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey.
Who are perfectly charming. Don't get me wrong. You remember them in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, don't you? Neither do I, even if a search of the New York Times' archives indicates that I saw it.
If you have seen 27 Dresses, -- or last year's Because I Said So let's say, or the other Mandy Moore wedding-theme comedy that came out in 2007, or any of the dozens like them disgorged by the studios in the past decade or so - you will know what I mean. How did this genre fall so far, from one that reliably deployed the talents of the movie industry's best writers, top directors and biggest stars to a source of lazy commercial fodder?
There are several possible answers. The most obvious one (and to me the least persuasive) is just that they don't make them like they used to, that the history of American cinema since its classical era has been a sorry chronicle of decline. It may be true that you rarely hear the kind of sharp, sparkling dialogue that used to animate the films of Ernst Lubitsch, George Cukor and Preston Sturges, but it would be hard to look at movies and television today and conclude that there is a shortage of funny writing or sharp storytelling.
With a few exceptions, though -- Juno being the current and somewhat controversial example -- the rituals of heterosexual courtship no longer provide as flexible or adaptable a framework as they once did. The sexual revolution, of course, had something to do with this, since it dented the symbolic prestige of marriage and thus challenged the realism of plots that ended with wedding bells.
And movies, after the 1960s, were able to deal more candidly with matters that had previously been addressed through indirection and innuendo.
That's one theory, at any rate. But the movies made under the old taboos of the Production Code are far more sophisticated, and far less timid, than what we see today. The standard PG-13 romantic comedy nowadays treads so delicately in fear of giving offense to someone somewhere that it wonders into blandness and boredom. Its naughty R-rated sibling, meanwhile, will frequently wallow in coarseness at the expense of subtlety or wit, mistaking grossness for honesty.
Yes, there are exceptions: explicit movies that are also sharp and insightful, and more decorous ones that disarm with their sweetness. But Knocked Up and Juno are hardly the norm. The norm, sadly, is 27 Dresses or Dan in Real Life or Good Luck Chuck: movies whose notion of love is insipid, shallow and frequently ludicrous.
And yet, while the romantic comedy has almost always trafficked in happy endings, that happiness is rarely accompanied by a sense of risk or exhilaration. When you think of, say, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn - or even Doris Day and Rock Hudson - you recall the emotional combat of two strong-willed, independent individuals ending in mutual conquest.
Love, in those old pictures, was a dangerous and noble sport that required skill and cunning as well as commitment. It required movie stars whose physical appeal was matched by verbal dexterity and a vital sense of idiosyncrasy. They were not real of course: Who ever met anyone like C.K. Dexter Haven and Tracy Lord, the central pair in The Philadelphia Story? They were better.
Which brings me back -- apologies to both; it's nothing personal -- to McConaughey, Hudson and their photogenic ilk. They are, for sure, better looking than the rest of us, but in their screen incarnations almost programmatically less interesting.
The actresses are spunky and sweet, but lacking in the vinegar that made Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve or Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night so definitively sexy. Those ladies were not always nice, and neither were their gentleman counterparts, who could be sarcastic, brutish and domineering when the mood struck.
By contrast, the romantic comedy leading men of today are the kind of nice guy - the Ralph Bellamy type - whom these earlier heroines would have triumphed by rejecting. The vision of love they embraced was not comfort and affirmation but a kind of grand, spirited struggle, what used to be called the battle of the sexes.
There have been a few skirmishes in more recent times: the oil-and-water of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally or the Billy Wilderesque dance of Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire. But most of the time the truce has been declared in advance and scrupulously obeyed. And, perhaps more to the point, the few remaining stars who show the kind of audacity and charisma that great romantic comedy requires tend to be busy with other things.
And so the dry martinis of the past have been diluted. We emerge lulled and soothed, but rarely intoxicated.
When Auntie Su (蘇) was evicted from her apartment last Monday, locals were so overjoyed that they sent thank you wreaths to the Tainan Police Department. “Justice has been served.” “Punish villains and eradicate evil,” read some of the notes. “Thank you, hardworking police for bringing peace and quiet back to Tainan!” a neighbor posted on Facebook. Auntie Su is a notorious “informer demon” (檢舉魔人), someone who is known to excessively report violations either for reward money or — depending which side you’re on — to serve as a justice warrior or a nosy annoyance. Usually they are called “professional”
In Taiwan’s foothills, suspension bridges — or the remnants of them — are almost as commonplace as temples. “Suspension bridge” is a direct translation of the Chinese-language term (吊橋, diaoqiao), but it’s a little misleading. These spans aren’t huge pieces of infrastructure. The larger ones are just wide enough for the little trucks used by farmers. Others are suitable for two-wheelers and wheelbarrows. If one end is higher than the other, they may incorporate steps, like the recently-inaugurated, pedestrians-only Shuanglong Rainbow Suspension Bridge (雙龍七彩吊橋) in Nantou County. Because torrential rains hammer Taiwan during the hot season, the landscape is scarred by
With his sugarcane juice stall at Monga Nightmarket (艋舺夜市) floundering due to COVID-19, things took a turn for the worse for Lin Chih-hang (林志航) when he was furloughed from a part-time job. The crowds are trickling back to this nightmarket in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), but Lin is now so busy that he has hired a friend to run his stall. As the sole driver of the night market’s delivery service, established on April 12, Lin takes on an average of 20 orders on weeknights and over 60 on weekends, with his father helping out when he is too busy.
Eslite Gallery will hold an open house at their new gallery tomorrow in Taipei’s Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. The doors to the new space will open at 4pm and will feature works by local and international artists. As a nod to the ongoing pandemic and Taiwan’s handling of it, the gallery also announced a project called Artivate, calling on 12 of its artists to emblazon details from their artwork on cloth masks. Participating local artists include Jimmy Liao (幾米), whose illustrated books with simple stories about people coping in the modern urban world have become hot sellers across Asia, and