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Reel Answers

Owen Gleiberman on how to fix romantic comedies. The EW critic answers reader questions

Image credit: Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwartzbaum Illustration by Harry Campbell

Owen Gleiberman on how to fix romantic comedies

You and many other critics have panned the romantic comedy for having a set formula that rarely changes. What do you think should be done to shake up romantic comedies? -- Dan
For starters, don't let Nora Ephron near a word processor. Ephron, more than anyone, perfected the synthetic brand of imitation screwball that now rules the multiplex. We've all grown used to lining up for the latest prefab princess fantasy -- ''How to Lose a Leopold in Two Weeks Notice'' -- to the point that it often feels as if audiences are starting to prefer cookie cutters to actual cookies.

Enough with Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan as these cute spiritual virgins! Our romantic comedies, with their PG-13 couples, keep going through the motions of ''old-fashioned'' badinage, but what's missing is the spontaneity of true chemical interaction -- the very quality that, ironically, has thrived for years on ''Sex and the City.'' Taking a cue from that show, I'd say what the romantic comedy needs most is an injection of saucy, raunchy, altogether grown-up flavor, one that might jolt audiences into a delighted recognition of the way we're really living our lives now. How about the story of a fancy-free urban girl (say, Parker Posey) who's carrying on two complicated affairs with two very different men? She digs them both, but who will she choose -- and why? In a modern world, that's romance.

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Originally posted Jun 06, 2003 Published in issue #713 Jun 06, 2003 Order article reprints