Meg, Michelle and the Art of the Romantic Comedy

As we transit through Venus, did you notice the garish pink aisle at your local supermarket recently? Yes it was Valentines Day. A day for hearts, flowers and romantic movies. Contrary to what you might think I’m not really a rom-com person. But then I’m in good company, because neither was Michelle Pfeiffer.Funny Pfeiffer?In her comedic work, Michelle always looks like she’s been dragged there against her will; But that’s what I liked about watching her. I didn’t just want her to get the guy she wants, I wanted her to let herself go!
pfeiffers-baby-bluesThe romantic comedy genre has always relied heavily on the contrasting charms of the ice maiden and the ditz. From Katharine Hepburn and Carole Lombard, through Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton, to Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan.meg-ryan-circa-1989Pfeiffer’s true gift is in dramatics, but she’s no slouch at comedy. Meg spent half a decade playing the definitive ditz opposite Tom Hanks and Billy Crystal, before crashing into and through glass ceilings. Addicted to Love was just a little too dark, too ambitious and too off-centre for most fans of America’s sweetheart.Baby Fish MouthRyan was gorgeous enough to be out of your league, but not so breathtakingly beautiful that you didn’t think you stood a chance, either. You could imagine sweet-talking Maggie over a couple of beers, before taking her to watch a Michelle Pfeiffer movie. Meg was charming and funny and sweet, and she didn’t seem like someone who lived on coffee and cigarettes. That was her appeal.
the-pfeiffer-smileIn One Fine Day Michelle showed that she was as adept at screwball comedy as she was at romantic classicism. All the elements of the genre are there: charm, confusion, crossed wires, wit, separation and the last minute, sudden realisation of true love – delivered intelligently by Michelle and George Clooney.
the-art-of-the-romantic-ciomedyIt would have been interesting if Pfeiffer’s filmography had more roles like Melanie Parker. She seemed a bit more human and fragile; instead of being seemingly untouchable like most of her other characters, but Michelle, ever the chameleon, had different, more dramatic gears.
this-whole-sectionUnderstandably Ryan tried to find gears of her own — as depressive good-time girls, an alcoholic guidance counsellor, and the first woman to (posthumously) receive the Medal of Honour, but it was When Harry Met Sally… and all of the many other unlikely romances to follow that lit up the world’s cinemas.
alcoholic-aliceBy the mid-1990s romantic comedies were being maligned as chick flicks. The studios had greedily begun looking for the new Michelle Pfeiffer and the next Meg Ryan, without looking for a new Billy Wilder or George Cukor. The romance had gone in a ball a flame. To paraphrase Charlize Theron in Prometheus, a queen has her reign, and then she dies. It’s inevitable.


Filed under Retrospective