Sunday, 2 September 2012

Reinventing Romance

I'm sorry it has been quite slow on the blog recently, this is mainly because I have finally caught up on the two seasons of The Game of Thrones, but don't worry here is a new post to satisfy your need, if you have any. This post contains my case study on new and improved romance films from my year 13 Media Studies course. This is the case study which helped shape and create my short film Broken Hearts. So please read and enjoy and more posts will be coming your way soon!

Considering films such as Up in the Air and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, why is the romantic genre being reinvented?


It has been proven that in the last few years, audiences going to the cinema have declined. ‘This summer saw US cinema attendance figures hit their lowest point in 5 years. estimates that 552 million people hit theatres across the States, compared to the previous lowest point of 563.2 million back in 2005.’ [1] One of the most popular genres of film has taken the biggest hit with this decline, the romance genre. But why are audiences so reluctant to see the latest boy meets girl film romcom chick flick?


A traditional romance film is made up of a narrative that consists of boy meets girl. Is this narrative slowly becoming more tiresome and unoriginal with its audiences and therefore is the genre slowly starting to lose the audience it cares about most?


The plot of a romance runs very much like Propp’s Character Theory it runs like the perfect fairy tale love story, where at the end of the story the hero gets the princess and they live happily ever after. Though as we see in (500) Days of Summer, this is no longer the case in new anti romance films as in this film the hero doesn’t get the princess, the princess marries another man. Though Propp did state ‘The character of a genre is determined by the kind of reality it reflects,’ [2]  which may be the reason that we as an audience are turning to films like (500) Days of Summer because their characters are more believable and reflect reality.


The romance genre has a large female audience ‘it appeals to women because it relates to the sufferings they endured in patriarchal culture.’[3] Some argue that the fact it has not been doing well is that it is too unrealistic in the harsh times we are in. Theorist Stuart Hall argued that audiences can reject messages [in films] and compare representation to their own views and understanding of the world. At the moment we are going through a depression as most of the world is in economical crisis and the threat of war is getting too close to home. The Uses and Gratifications theory suggest that audience actively engage with media texts that will satisfy their needs.  Maybe audiences don’t want to sit down and watch a fantasised film that teaches them the ways of true love. Most audiences don’t buy this and many could argue there is no such thing. This view helped start the birth of the anti-romance genre.


The anti-romance genre has been the most used genre in the last 10 years, in order to create ‘original work’. For example (500) Days of Summer which advertised itself as an anti romance film and had reviewers saying ‘It looks you right in the eye and tells the truth.’[4] The film takes the boy, meets girl convention of a romance and turns it on its head by the main girl not believing in love, which goes on to end her relationship with the male lead. The film is narrated by the male character and follows his experiences with her; this goes against the normal conventions of a romance film, as it is from the male’s point of view. The film steps away from the happily ever after ending that many romance films have, and allow the audience to remember their first loves and how it may or may not have worked out. The director Marc Webb, is known for his work on characterisation and the final product allowed the audience to feel for the main characters, sometimes angry at their decisions and sometimes happy ‘Audience members could clearly feel the affection in the relationship, the affliction of the falling out and the maturing in the aftermath. The less-than-desirable ending left an impact on the audience, reminding them that while hurt exists in life, they must learn and mature from it.’ [5]


But is this the only realism that audiences wanted in the new anti-romance genre? Audiences wanted to be able to relate with characters going through the same hard times due to the state of our economy. Up in the Air best shows this. It is a social commentary about our current state. Up in the Air was released in a time where more and more people were being made redundant; the film looks at a company that are hired out by businesses to fire their employees. During the film the main character starts a relationship with a woman who he slowly learns to love, at the end of the film he turns up at her house to tell her this and when she answers the door we find that she is already married with a family. The star of the film, George Clooney said in recent issue of Total Film ‘the film is a commentary on a real and pressing issue for so many.’[6] The comment was about the themes of unemployment in the film but this shows that even the big Hollywood actors want to connect more with their audiences. The film is also a social commentary on industrialism and how it leads to misery.


Recent romance film Crazy Stupid Love, seemed to work for both male and female audiences. Containing most of the elements that make a romance film except it was also a smart, touching and realistic view on a couple’s relationship. Although this also seems to be the start of an anti-romance it is not, the main character learns the fact by the end of the story that love is hard and cannot always overcome obstacles, and what seems like true love might not be. These themes and narratives are not of your average romance film but more realistic. The film was a hit with a range of audiences and showed that the compromise between new and old romance conventions works. So is this the way forward for the genre?


Though it isn’t just reality that’s being added to the romance genre there has also been merging of genres to create a hybrid. This allows for even more originality within the narrative being told. 2011 saw the release of sci-fi romance film The Adjustment Bureau which had conventions of both the sci-fi and the romance genre. This allowed the institution to attract a wider audience. Incorporating different genres into the romance mix allowed for new audiences to watch and enjoy a romance film.  


Hybrid genres were the start of an uprising against ‘The Culture Industry’. This is a term created by theorists Adorno and Horkeimer. They stated ‘The culture industry fuses the old and familiar into a new quality. In all its branches, products which are tailored for consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are manufactured more or less according to plan.’[7] They basically argued that media institutions produce entertainment that has no originality but they know it will sell within general public. This is what can be argued has happened to the romance genre as institutions produce the same boy meets girl films like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Two Weeks Notice. Maybe this is the reason that the romance genre has been failing to bring in the audiences. It can also be argued that institutions continue to create repetitive films due to the romance being an ideology that distracts people from rebellion (Chomsky and Herman 1988). So the bourgeoisie through different media texts is forever controlling us. For the audience this also means a lack of originality in the media texts they consume.


The theorist Lyotard argues that society maintains stability on metanarratives. ‘For Lyotard, modernity is characterised by metanarratives used by western societies in order to legitimate science and the state.’[8] The metanarrative in the romance genre is the fact that there is such thing as true love and that love can overcome all obstacles. ‘In the classics, the dynamic protagonists often undergo struggles, whether due to internal or external circumstances, and battle their problems in order to obtain love.’[5] The beginning of these anti-romance films is the beginning of the collapse of metanarratives. Lyotard argues that in a post modern world these metanarratives are no longer central and therefore society is no longer stable but fluid. This argues that audiences are no longer believing in true love and therefore do not believe it in the movies either.


But the auteurs of our time are fighting back against ‘The Culture Industry’, bringing out new films of their own that mix up and redefine the romance genre. More and more directors are now putting their own signature on their movies. The improvement is that directors are allowed more freedom on the creation of their films and instead of seeing it as just a film they see it as a work of art that they want to show off to the world. Therefore more time and effort is put into the final product allowing a film to become more personal and engage more with audiences.


An example of a romance film that has been given the auteur treatment is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by previous theatre and indie film director Michel Gondry. The institution Momentum Pictures wanted a more artistic style to their film, so they hired Michel Gondry due to his previous work in theatre. Theatre is ‘thought’ to be a more artistic form of entertainment to film, so hiring a previous theatre director meant that the film would have a more abstract artistic style and a more practical approach to effects such as using frosted glass to create blurred and faded backgrounds behind characters, rather than relying on computer generated images. Michel Gondry is described as a ‘visual director’ [9] and is now known as an auteur. Bringing in a director with a ‘unique’ style proves that studios are trying to reinvent the romance genre.


Though you can also argue that sometimes we need escapism, we don’t always want to be reminded of how bad our life or relationship is. This means that in this ‘post modern world’ that Lyotard talks about, there will always be metanarratives. Society is brought up on stories of history and narrative structures and that is unlikely to change. Romance films have been a source of escapism since they have begun. “I like watching people fall in love onscreen so much that I can suspend my disbelief in the contrived situations that occur only in the heightened world of romantic comedies” [10] So if the original romance codes and conventions still work, is the ‘Culture Industry’ such a bad thing after all? Is there such thing as the ‘Culture Industry’ as Adorno and Horkeimer suggested? Every film has a different storyline doesn’t it? It’s just the codes and conventions that stay the same. Every genre needs a set of rules, that’s what defines a text as a certain genre. Dyers Utopia sees the ‘real’ world as full of negatives and that the ‘mediated’ world is one that is hopeful, one where the audience can escape from their troubles.


In conclusion I believe that this is the start of a new generation of romance genre movies. Traditional romance films are becoming too predictable and unrealistic for audiences in our current economic state. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to have a form of escapism, but not to an over fantasised world that has been used over and over again. Romance films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Adjustment Bureau, hybrid films that mix two genres together are the way forward. And finally, institutions are starting to realise that you can make romance films that appeal to males and females, with the proof being Crazy Stupid Love. As an audience we are finally starting to see past the brainwashing of ‘The Culture Industry’ and seeing films for what they are, a piece of art that auteurs take pride and care in making.


Word Count: 2007






Books and Magazines:

[2] Theory and history of folklore – By Vladimir Propp – Published by Manchester Printing Press 1984

[3] An Introduction to Film Studies – Third Edition – Edited by Jill Nelmes – Published by Routledge 2003

[6] Total Film Issue 186

[7] The Culture Industry Reconsidered – By Theodor W. Adorno and Anson G. Rabinbach

[8] Engaging Deconstructive Theology – By Ronald T. Michener – Published by Ashgate 2007



Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

(500) Days of Summer

Up in the Air

The Adjustment Bureau

Crazy, Stupid, Love
Thank you for reading! Do you agree with my conclusion? Please comment below.


  1. Brilliant!
    Loved this. Such a great read. We need more bloggers like yourself. I swear if I see one more LAMB whos goal is to 'review my favorite films and to help you avoid the bad ones' I'm gonna freak out. I tweeted this and hope to recommend it on my blog soon.

    1. Thank you for your comment, it means a lot! I'm happy my post caught your interest and I hope that my posts to come do as well.

  2. This is really well thought out. I probably fall in the minority of people who prefer the more realistic romance movies as opposed to the fluff that comes out. 500 Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine are both great examples of your argument too.

    Did you see 2011's Like Crazy? Just preview the trailer, and you'll see how it perfectly fits in this post!

    1. I did see Like Crazy, but unfortunately it was after I wrote this case study, but yes you are right it does fit perfectly. I'm glad you enjoyed this post, thanks for commenting!


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