According to The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, “the romantic comedy has fallen on hard times,” and so the genre is making less money at the box office than in previous years. Part of the problem, he argues, is that the plots of these movies, which are often dependent on an “obstacle to nuptial bliss,” are irrelevant in our modern world. The same would be true of “chick lit” novels — if his assumption had any truth to it.
I have no opinion on the quality of cinematic romantic comedies overall, but as a woman in my early thirties who has read a fair number of so-called “chick lit” novels, I question Orr’s assertion (which was not just related to specific movies) that there are fewer obstacles to happy relationships on which writers may build believable plots. He claims:
Among the most fundamental obligations of romantic comedy is that there must be an obstacle to nuptial bliss for the budding couple to overcome. And, put simply, such obstacles are getting harder and harder to come by. They used to lie thick on the ground: parental disapproval, difference in social class, a promise made to another. But society has spent decades busily uprooting any impediment to the marriage of true minds. Love is increasingly presumed—perhaps in Hollywood most of all—to transcend class, profession, faith, age, race, gender, and (on occasion) marital status.
(Emphasis added.) With all the progress Orr believes we have made to “uproot any impediment to the marriage of true minds,” he presumes that the only obstacles to romantic attachment that remain are too serious for “feel good” movies: “illness, war, injury, [and] imprisonment.”
In my view, there are far more “impediments” to today’s lovebirds than Orr seems to realize. Orr bases his argument on only a small subsection of Western culture, the portion with the most progressive attitudes on marriage and long-term relationships, and perhaps the people with whom Hollywood is the most infatuated (and possibly the reason why Orr’s argument is so limited).
What about families that still practice arranged marriages (such as in Courting Samira)? In my South Asian-American cultural background, parental disapproval would be fatal to many “love matches.” What about wealthy families that control their children’s lives through the promise of inheritance (such as in Sweet Tea and Secrets)? What about families and communities that discriminate against same-sex relationships? Let’s not forget that, in many states, same-sex partners who love each other face the ultimate impediment to marriage: illegality.
The list of challenges to love and marriage goes on and on, and we can see many examples in romantic comedy novels and even in case law. To the extent Hollywood fails to recognize it, shame on them. If love were as simple in the modern age as Orr suggests, then modern life would be a whole lot easier.