The best romantic comedies acknowledge that just as love and romance is a part of life, so is pain
Like the Hero’s Journey, the Heroine’s Journey was designed to be moved, morphed and altered to represent the diverse experiences of women.
While no formula is perfect, many romantic comedies have-directly or indirectly-developed plot structures that align with the Heroine’s Journey. The beats can be found across several genre classics and new releases. Films like Judd Apatow’s Bridesmaids (2011) and Trainwreck (2015) begin with the heroine at ‘rock bottom’-whether she perceives it as rock bottom or not. In the Heroine’s Journey, the heroine has embraced the masculine to succeed, and the beginning of the film starts with the start of her downfall. Annie’s grief in losing her bakery business, boyfriend and perceived future is explored through her constant rejection of the ‘feminine’-the offer and continual rejection of female friendship by Helen (Rose Byrne) and Megan (Melissa McCarthy). After yet more self-sabotaging, Annie’s loss is manifested through the painstaking process of creating a simple, ornate cupcake, which she eats alone in her mother’s kitchen.
Together the scenes show both the deep trauma the loss of the bakery has had on Annie’s life and identity, and also the debilitating impact her depression has on her ability to get her life back together. I love this film as a representation of loss and grief in romantic comedy because love-interest Nathan (Chris O’Dowd), while a wonderful partner, isn’t the hero, or even a hero figure; to me, the real hero of Bridesmaids is Melissa McCartney’s character, Megan. It’s easy to see the character as simple comic relief, and McCartney is hilarious in this film, but Megan consistently tries to befriend Annie, empathises with her, and gives her the reality check she needs. Megan is the friend we all need, but particularly, is the hero Annie needs to work through her problems, address her loss and move on.
Like Windsor hookup the Hero’s Journey, the Heroine’s Journey was designed to be moved, morphed and altered to represent the diverse experiences of women.
Almost all of the late Nora Ephron’s work explored loss and trauma in some way. Tom Hanks’ character is mourning the loss of his wife at the beginning of Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and her final film . Kathleen owns her late mother’s bookshop, which is threatened when a chain bookshop owned by Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), moves into the neighbourhood.
While subtle, my favourite representation of grief and loss in the genre is Kathleen’s (Meg Ryan) relationship with her deceased mother in You’ve Got Mail (1992)
Despite her best efforts, midway through the film, Kathleen is forced to close the shop. ‘The truth is, I’m heartbroken,’ Kathleen narrates over composer George Fenton’s gentle piano. ‘I feel as if a part of me has died and my mother has died all over again. And no one can ever make it right.’ As she closes the door, she pauses and, through shadows of the bookshop, she sees herself as a young girl dancing with her mother. She stays in the memory as long as she dares before closing the door, both on the bookshop and that chapter of her life.
In Trainwreck, Amy (Amy Schumer) is embracing the literal ‘masculine’ in avoiding a committed relationship as her father did, and in Bridesmaids, the ‘masculine’ concept of business ownership has failed Annie (Kristen Wiig)
It’s a gut-wrenching scene between two women, written and directed by a woman, that doesn’t forward the romance at all. Quite the opposite-though Kathleen does not realise at the time that her mystery crush is Joe Fox, her monologue plants a seed of worry that she may never forgive Joe for the closure of her store, adding further complexity to their relationship. The scene is also a literal interpretation of the mother/daughter split within The Heroine’s Journey as Kathleen reconciles her past and present experience and looks towards the future. That future, of course, ends well-it is a romantic comedy, after all, and though I don’t know I could have forgiven Joe Fox as easily as Kathleen, romantic comedies have promises they must fulfil, most notably a ‘happily ever after’. While outside of the genre this may be considered trite, I think it’s the promise of happy-and the sense of security it brings-that gives romantic comedies the ability to delve into more difficult emotions. Neither can have one without the other, and the rejection of this to create complex narratives often means the storyline falls flat or becomes unrealistic.