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

17 responses to “Meg, Michelle and the Art of the Romantic Comedy

  1. There’s no doubt Meg Ryan was America’s Sweetheart and Queen of the romcom through the 1990s. She was really a good dramatic actress though, Courage Under Fire and I imagine Flesh and Bone points to possibilities that didn’t come to be realised this century. It’s a shame about the plastic surgery although I understand the pressure and culture that drives so many actors of both genders to indulge in it. I hold out hope that someone smart will get her back in the saddle in a big way. Dramatic or funny. We’re not there yet but if Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton can steal our hearts in a rom-com then there’s no reason Meg can’t do it with Hanks, Broderick or Baldwin etc. For me I’d be more interested in dramatic work, maybe an action film. As for Pfeiffer she became a big star regardless of genre. She also hit diminishing returns in the new century and maybe took her foot off the pedal for the family while the kids were growing up. No matter films like Cheri allowed her to segue back in comfortably, beautiful older women in character and independent pieces were open to her in a way I guess they weren’t for Meg. For the most part she’s had Mum roles in middle budget star vehicles none of which were particularly successful but it reflects she’s still well sought after. Interestingly enough she has stated a desire for doing an action film like Jack Bauer. Imagine Meg and Pfeiffer kicking ass and taking names in Bitches Be Wild.

    • Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment Lloyd. I do appreciate it. Meg and Michelle in Bitches be Wild? I’ll be dreaming about that tonight!
      As far as I can gather anyone who knows anything about acting is well aware that being convincing in a romantic comedy is one of the most difficult things to do. Comedy is extremely hard to put across well. So Meg Ryan was actually a far better actor than she’s been given credit for.
      I was one of the few people who saw nothing wrong with her stretching into more challenging and unabashedly sexual roles. I suspect the work dried up because that was not how audiences wanted to see her. The years between 2004-2007 are really a mystery. My guess is, she was so jaded/bruised/hurt by the backlash to In the Cut and Against the Ropes that she deliberately sat on the sidelines for a bit.
      Michelle Pfeiffer took an even longer break around the same time, but she was never America’s Sweetheart. She was also far too beautiful to have to worry about the need for cosmetic surgery. What’s an actress famous for playing a perky girl-woman to do?
      Whatever the future holds Meg had a very successful career for a good ten year stretch. A lot of actors dream of things like that and never even get close.
      I wish her well. I hope she gets some interesting flavourful roles in the future. However, regardless of beauty, talent or what have you, any performer out there knows that there’s a tremendous amount of competition. Any actor is fortunate to have a job. Any time. Anywhere.

      • All true Paul. I just watched Harry Met Sally… the other day with my wife. Laugh out loud moments are seldom there for me but it’s a great relationship film. Perhaps its made such an indelible mark we don’t appreciate how revolutionary it was. I will say now closer to the age of the characters I found it more involving than when I watched it ten years ago. I understand that time and place is gone now but Meg and Michelle are really good actors (as you mentioned comedy is hard) and good actors shouldn’t go to waste. It also stinks a little of Hollywood casting.

  2. Meg’s clever performance in “Serious Moonlight” in 2009, alongside Timothy Hutton, did not receive the critical acclaim nor the audience response it should have. Like “Addicted” it is a little dark, with Meg in a more mature yet sexual role. Clearly, you are right that audiences just didn’t warm to Meg as anything other than America’s Sweetheart. If you enjoyed Addicted, you might give Serious Moonlight a try.
    Michelle, on the other hand, brought a certain quality to her roles, certainly OFD is a good example, and even better is Frankie and Johnny, that extended beyond the comedy genre. I think the quality is a very solid integrity. She conveys and receives a sense of respect.

  3. Great post 🙂 Regardless of how the movie plays out, Michelle Pfeiffer is the one who always elevates the material whenever she is on screen. My favorite films in which she serves as a supporting player is Scarface and Batman Returns and even Into the Night and The Witches of Eastwick. As far as films go where she is the lead performer, I single out Married to the Mob as the strongest. Sure, it may be conventional, but what makes the film work are the outstanding performances from the entire cast including Michelle herself as Angela De Marco, Mercedes Ruehl, Dean Stockwell and Matthew Modine. I can not imagine the film working as well as it does without them.

    As for Meg Ryan, same thing applies. She did really well in romantic comedies with Joe vs. The Volcano being my absolute favorite (remember her multiple roles) 🙂 I agree with what you say about both Addicted to Love and her character. What makes Addicted to Love fascinating for me is both Meg Ryan’s character and its dark or semi-dark comedy for a lack of better word. Even If its dark or semi-dark comedy does not always work, when it does, it scores a major knockout. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

  4. Great line: “The romantic comedy genre has always relied heavily on the contrasting charms of the ice maiden and the ditz. “

  5. Wonderfully insightful piece of writing, my friend 🙂 –Paul

  6. Good posts, beautiful blog. I like Michelle Pfeiffer quite a lot and agree that she’s very beautiful, but come on! Meg Ryan’s achievements in screen comedy leave Michelle in the dust.

  7. I loved reading this. Your love for both ladies shines through. Will have to watch more of Pfeiffer and Ryan’s work.

  8. Interesting compare & contrast on Meg & Michelle!
    Why in the world would you want to take Meg to see a Michelle Pfeiffer movie???
    I agree with your last statement on how Chick-flicks are taking over, and the rom-com has come to a tragic end.
    BTW, I thought Prometheus was really bad!! Sure, Charlize Theron, is a great actress, but the film was crap!!

  9. G’day Paul, just nominating you for The Mystery Blogger Award. Have a good one mate.

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