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Romantic Comedy

Romantic Comedies Going the Way of the Dodo Bird

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A dodo bird, and Julia Roberts. (Smithsonian/Reuters)

Everybody hates this year's romantic comedies. 

Well, almost everybody.

According to a poll on movie ticketing site Fandango, 83 percent of moviegoers say they have been “disappointed by Hollywood’s romantic comedy offerings of the year to date.”

Where American women used to eat up the quirky single gal stylings of Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston, the actresses' latest efforts to find true love have stunk up the box office big time.

Jennifer Aniston’s “The Switch” made just $8 million in it's opening weekend and Julia Roberts’ lady vehicle “Eat, Pray, Love” was a box office disappointment with an opening weekend of $23 million, low considering the fan base of for the best-selling book and the star power of Oscar-winner Roberts.

Now “Going the Distance,” Drew Barrymore’s rom com about the trials and tribulations of long distance love with sometime boyfriend Justin Long, is opening nationwide. So how is the studio promoting it?

The movie's latest commercials don't even have Drew Barrymore -- the film's lone movie star -- in them! Instead they feature her male co-stars doing gags that make "Going the Distance" look like a sequel to last year's buddy movie hit "The Hangover."

Things sure have changed since romantic comedies -- and especially Julia Roberts -- ruled the box office roost.

“Back in the ‘Pretty Woman Days’ and even ‘Runaway Bride’ days, a Julia Roberts romantic comedy was like money in the bank,” says Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com. “That’s no longer true. She can’t get women to buy tickets. There are no guarantees any more.”

Other rom coms bombs in the past year year have included Jennifer Lopez’ fertility comedy “The Back-up Plan” ($77 million) and Sandra Bullock’s razzie winning stalker comedy “All About Steve” ($35 million). Plus “Sex and the City 2” didn’t do nearly as well ($280 million) as the first "Sex and the City" ($401 million).

So what gives? 

It’s been just over 20 years since ‘When Harry Met Sally’ unofficially launched the contemporary romantic comedy genre. Are women finally ready to walk away from the tried formula of onscreen relationship hijinx that has served them for so long?

“I don’t think women have soured on the romantic comedy I just think this summer’s offerings have been pretty dismal," said Jessica Grose, Managing Editor of Double X, Slate.com’s women’s section. "The typical rom com narrative arc is still really comforting but for women but it all rises and falls on the a smart dialogue that is well written and makes us laugh. Right now we aren’t seeing that out there."

Brandon Gray, President of Box Office Mojo, agrees. He hasn’t seen audiences entirely giving up on the genre, but he does believe the industry has gotten lazy when it comes to the romantic comedy. They still believe if they have a story with a sassy female and a rough and tumble guy, they don’t need to bother with smart dialogue and clever plot lines.

“Hollywood isn’t giving it the old college try anymore. The big star isn’t enough. It has to have a good premise and good writing,” Gray says. “There’s still a lot of potential in the genre, it’s just not being mined properly.”

To get their comedy fix, women are increasingly turning to the bromance, a new breed of comedy aimed at men, and often written and constructed in a more clever way than current woman-targeted fare.

“Women like today’s bromances better than the movies aimed at them. They’re funnier. They’re smarter. Especially Judd Apatow’s movies. He understands women. ‘I Love You Man’ and ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ did really well with women,” Dergarabedian says.  “We’re selling women short just thinking they want traditional romantic comedies.”

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