With no particular rhyme or reason, we find ourselves now looking at the greatest of the romantic comedy genre. The only applicable parameters are that the film must be both a love story and a comedy, and if that wasn’t obvious, then I don’t know how to help you.
Billy Wilder tackles love, work, and neighbors in this dark comedy about a man, Jack Lemmon, who loans his apartment out to his bosses for their extramarital trysts. His world begins to fall apart when he falls for the big boss’ Friday-night girl, played by Shirley MacLaine. The Apartment succeeds because it is Billy Wilder doing what he does best: dark humor and spot on satire. Credit also to long time Wilder collaborator and co-writer, I.A.L. Diamond for his contribution.
Charlie Chaplin’s greatest achievement, and arguably the greatest film of the silent era, despite coming out well after the advent of sound cinema, is a picture perfect love story. It is quite literally picture perfect. Told entirely without dialogue, save for the interstitial title cards, the film relies on the wonderfully expressive faces of the actors to convey all of the pain, longing, and hope in every moment. It all comes across beautifully, and the final curtain for Chaplin’s famous tramp couldn’t have been more apt.
This is perhaps the least romantic romance on the list and the darkest comedy. Truly, if The Apartment is dark, then this film is pitch-black. But, it is also pitch-perfect. Dustin Hoffman in his first big screen role is a generation-defined as Benjamin Braddock. Despite its frat boy fantasy aspects (the hot mom and the coed), Mike Nichols’ bleak depiction of aimlessness and ambivalence is as honest as they come.
His Girl Friday
Razor sharp, briskly paced, and beautifully acted, His Girl Friday perfectly exemplifies screwball comedy, something at which director Howard Hawks excelled. This is a near flawless feature film. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are in top form as newspaper people and ex-lovers who were made for each other, neither of whom can resist the lure of a big scoop. Drawn together by their love of action, they are held together by their love for one another.
It Happened One Night
Before Frank Capra became known for his distinctly Americana way of photographing the world, he was reinventing film genre. While the aforementioned His Girl Friday may have perfected screwball comedy, It Happened One Night started the whole thing rolling. Clark Gable is brilliant, doing what he always does: winning the girl through his own strange brand of suave aloofness. And, Claudette Colbert is a firecracker and half, playing off of Gable beautifully.
Outlandish. Nonsensical. Preposterous. Brilliant. All would be accurate descriptions of this Steve Martin comedy vehicle. The paper thin plot is mostly an excuse to string together one hilarious Martin gag after another, but it all unfolds nicely, and it is never really a concern that story is secondary. However, anchoring the romantic story line is Bernadette Peters, whose performance so perfectly fits the film that it would be unimaginable without her or the romance.
Beautiful and earnest, yet supremely funny, Woody Allen’s 1979 film is as much a love letter to New York as it is a Dear John letter to love. As always with Allen’s films, neuroticism is that key element that drives some of the more unseemly actions of the characters in the film. It is, however, the performance of Mariel Hemingway that keeps the audience from discounting all of these people. She is the sweet naïve voice of sanity and clarity that offers redemption to even the most hardened heart.
Cameron Crowe’s first film is sweet and melancholy but never too sappy for its own good. The story is heartfelt and honest, and the characters feel like real people. More importantly, they feel like real people whom we might want to know. Lloyd Dobbler, irreplaceably played by John Cusack, is a loveable loser for whom you can’t help but hope. The boom box, “In Your Eyes” scene alone is enough to want to see the whole film.
The Science of Sleep (La Science des Rêves)
Criminally underappreciated, Michel Gondry (one of the collaborative masterminds behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) gives the audience a world of fantasy and escapism that is both recognizably real and utterly indescribable. A film about a man trying desperately to communicate with the world and with the woman he loves, it is sweet and whimsical in the best possible ways
When Harry Met Sally…
Picking up where Woody Allen left off with Annie Hall, this Nora Ephron comedy carries the torch for romance films that try to be fair to both sides of the argument, and it succeeds brilliantly. The trick here is that both characters, Billy Crystal’s wonderfully cynical Harry and Meg Ryan’s micromanaging optimist Sally, are both immensely likable. They deserve to be together because they deserve to be happy, and we, as an audience, couldn’t be more enthralled and entertained.