Once upon a time, every movie was good, apparently.

I just read an article by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott about the state of romantic comedy in Hollywood today. A lot of what he says makes sense. It’s true that the romantic comedy genre in general isn’t given the respect it once was, and that romantic comedies are short in the A-list talent department compared to decades past. Most of them now are just bad. But I feel like I have to talk about something that Scott never mentions as he waxes nostalgic about the era of Rock Hudson and Doris Day. It might sound a little weird coming from me, since I spend half my time talking about how much I looooove old movies, but here goes.

A lot of those old romantic comedies suck too. Like, really suck.

The reason why it seems like everything from days gone by is so great is because nobody talks about the crappy stuff. I’ve watched some truly bad movies just because they feature a star I’m fond of. Ever tried to sit through the romantic comedy Bus Stop, starring the lovely Miss Marilyn Monroe? Holy god, that movie is awful. There’s a reason why it’s not mentioned much. Same with the Jack Lemmon vehicle How to Murder Your Wifeyikes.

Let’s take a look at the imdb page for a man mentioned several times in the article, the incomparable Cary Grant. Yes, as Scott notes, he was C.K. Dexter Haven, one of the greatest characters of all time in one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, The Philadelphia Story. But he was also involved in several projects that seem highly dubious, and that, of course, no normal person has ever heard of. Something called Every Girl Should Be Married that sounds terrible. Another one I suspect is deplorable, Dream Wife, apparently involves him falling for “a princess trained in all the arts of pleasing men.” And I’ll go ahead and give my opinion about two other Cary Grant movies Scott mentions: That Touch of Mink is not good, and Bringing Up Baby is overrated.

The point is, it’s not really fair to compare the product that’s being made today to that of Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” because our view of the past is so skewed. When we talk about the classics, we really are talking about the classics. The best of what was made back then, not the dreck no one cares about anymore. Hollywood today may not be producing anywhere near as many quality romantic comedies as it once did, but it was hardly a perfect track record back then. I think it’s irresponsible to talk about film history the way Scott does in this article, as if everything was uniformly wonderful for years until a steady decline began that brought us to where we are today. Let’s not forget that the whole system is different today, and that the most talented writers, actors, and directors often don’t make many studio pictures at all, because they’re too busy with their HBO series or their independent films. Sure, I wish there were more contemporary romantic comedies reaching the level of quality of those old ones we still remember (that is, more movies like Bridget Jones’s Diary or About a Boy or The 40-Year-Old Virgin, less like The Wedding Planner or Must Love Dogs). But it’s pointless to insult all of Hollywood by holding it up to a model of perfection that never existed.


7 Responses to “Once upon a time, every movie was good, apparently.”

  1. 1 Becca February 6, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    That Touch of Mink and How to Murder Your Wife are both watchable (if only to enjoy the period clothes and raise your eyebrows at the misguided misogyny), in my opinion, but in the same way that vitamins are palatable. I don’t dislike Bringing Up Baby, but really, if you’re in the mood for that movie you might as well watch A Philadelphia Story. Frankly, if you’re in the mood for any movie, you might as well watch A Philadelphia Story, seeing as it is one of the greatest movies of all time.

  2. 2 Chelsea February 6, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I just read this article about bad romantic comedies…


    I actually like most of the ones on the list. Is there something wrong with me for liking The Way We Were??

  3. 3 celeberrimous February 6, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with you for liking The Way We Were. That article pretty harsh, though I agree that Pretty Woman is terrible. Love Story is not great either, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding is sorta dumb. But I genuinely like the rest of the movies on the list:

    -Sleepless in Seattle, harmless and enjoyable.
    -You’ve Got Mail, silly but funny. I seem to watch it whenever it’s on cable.
    -Ghost, love it, cheese factor and all.
    -While You Were Sleeping, GREAT movie. So underrated. The script is full of really funny lines and all of the actors are so lovable in their roles.
    -Four Weddings and a Funeral, lovely movie.
    -Dirty Dancing, come on! It’s so fun.

    That chick needs to lighten up.

  4. 4 Chelsea February 6, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I love the imdb plot summary of Every Girl Should Be Married:

    Anabel Sims is determined to find the perfect husband. She thinks she’s found her man in Madison Brown, a handsome pediatrician. She then prepares an elaborate scheme to trap him into marriage.

  5. 5 Carly February 6, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    is The Way We Were really listed as a comedy? that seems kind of perverse to me…i actually really took issue with the statement that “they just don’t make them like they used to”, followed directly with examples of “juno” and “knocked up” as smarter, funnier, more challenging fare than hollywood is currently serving up. those 2 movies take direct and extreme advantage of the modern audience’s broader (and more explicit) palate – which means A.O. Scott likes it when they do not, in fact, make them like they used to.

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