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Why Do Women in Romantic Comedies Suck?


With Nora Ephron’s recent passing, I’ve been rewatching some of her films on Netflix.  When Harry Met Sally is my favorite romantic comedy. I can watch that movie anytime.  I know some love Sleepless in Seattle more, but frankly When Harry Met Sally is perfection.  Why is it perfection? Because everyone is a normal human being in that film.  They are funny and lovely but flawed. They have random conversations.  They don’t look perfect all the time.  Their jobs don’t make them more glamorous, they are just their jobs.  But most importantly, they make mistakes and screw things up, but nobody acts like those weird women in romantic comedies that can’t seem to talk to a man without running into a pole, falling over, spilling things or becoming a complete disaster. I don’t know those women.  And really, who does?

I remember reading this great article by Mindy Kaling about female archetypes in “chick flicks.”  Kaling wrote about quite a few, but the one that annoys me the most is “The Klutz:”

When a beautiful actress is cast in a movie, executives rack their brains to find some kind of flaw in the character she plays that will still allow her to be palatable. She can’t be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would pay to see that? A female who is not one hundred per cent perfect-looking in every way? You might as well film a dead squid decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours.

So they make her a Klutz.
The hundred-per-cent-perfect-looking female is perfect in every way except that she constantly bonks her head on things. She trips and falls and spills soup on her affable date (Josh Lucas. Is that his name? I know it’s two first names. Josh George? Brad Mike? Fred Tom? Yes, it’s Fred Tom). The Klutz clangs into stop signs while riding her bike and knocks over giant displays of fine china in department stores. Despite being five feet nine and weighing a hundred and ten pounds, she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society. But Fred Tom loves her anyway.”


This is such an accurate assessment, but it makes no sense to me. I’m going to ask any woman out there – the last time you talked to a cool, handsome guy did you spill your coffee all over him, fall down, fall off a bike, smash into a door, trip on the carpet, or make a fool of yourself?  I guarantee, unless you are 14 years old, I’m sure whatever you did that you felt nervous or uncomfortable about, no one really noticed.

I’m not saying we haven’t all gotten butterflies around a guy, or gotten a little giddy. And yes, embarrassing things happen to us all. I’ve tripped and fallen countless times, but I can’t think of ever doing that in front of a hot guy – okay yes, but I was in the 8th grade.  Other than that, I’m pretty good at standing these days. I’ve totally figured out walking, jogging, riding a bike, walking through doors, holding objects, and how to use my phone.  And amazingly so have all of my friends.  Even the really smart, pretty ones. And shockingly, so have all the single ones.

Which brings me to my other point about romantic comedy types of women, why if she is great at her career is she completely clueless in her personal life.  I understand creating characters that have a problem that needs to be solved in romantic comedies.  I also understand we need a woman who is looking for love so the film can find her love in roughly 120 minutes.  I got it. But when I watch the best romantic comedies, the ones I can watch over and over again (Amelie, When Harry Met Sally, Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, High Fidelity, About A Boy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, Roxanne, 16 Candles, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Four Weddings and a Funeral, It Happened One Night, Some Like it Hot, Muriel’s Wedding, Pretty Woman, Bridesmaids, The Shop Around the Corner, Clueless, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility), the women are pretty adept at being around the opposite sex.  They can do their jobs AND have a normal, even flirty conversation with a man. What?! Crazy notion.  In fact, they are quite used to doing this because they are smart, attractive, capable women, and because of their intelligence and capabilities they are quite used to talking to men – even the handsome ones.  Men in general don’t send these attractive, smart, women into a total tailspin.  Yes, Samantha in 16 Candles can’t speak in front of Jake Ryan, but she’s not a full 24 hours into her 16th birthday, so she’s excused.

Yes, for comedy, random incidents or awkward moments happen.  Yes, people get caught in funny circumstances.  But more and more I watch romantic comedies where I’m embarrassed for the actress to be forced to act in such an unbelievable, ridiculous manner. Something tells me the likes of Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Aniston, Rachel McAdams, Kate Hudson, and the rest can just talk to a man in a relatively normal way.

Take for example HBO’s new series “The Newsroom.”  I really want to like this show. I LOVED “West Wing.”  I thought the walk and talk, the plots, the characters, and the energy of that show was amazing.  CJ Craig was one of the most kick-ass female characters on television, ever.  (Then again, Allison Janney is always incredible).  Aaron Sorkin is a smart, articulate writer.  Who doesn’t want to say one of his amazing speeches? His characters get at least one awesome speech that perfectly sums up the situation while simultaneously shutting down the other person.  Sorkin must be an actor’s dream writer.  While none of us actually speak that way, it is fun to watch.  Unfortunately, two episodes into “The Newsroom” the two main female characters are so ridiculously inept and socially awkward that it’s driving me insane.

Maureen Ryan, the tv critic for the Huffington Post, said it best when she wrote, “One of the bigger problems with The Newsroom is that so many scenes involve men setting women straight, men supervising women, a man teaching a woman how to use email (and the woman getting it spectacularly wrong regardless), a hapless woman seesawing between two different men, etc.”

Mackenzie Hale, played by Emily Mortimer, is supposed to be an award-winning news producer who has covered stories in Iraq and Afghanistan and has been shot during these assignments.  Yet I’m supposed to believe she gets ridiculously flustered around her ex-boyfriend… at work.  We all get flustered, we all get turned into knots by bad relationships, but not at work.  And especially not a woman who has spent the last two years of her life in camouflage, surrounded by army personnel, heavy military combat and death. Nope, that woman doesn’t mistakenly send mass emails about her love life to the entire staff and freak out in front of her employees.

I keep hearing Aaron Sorkin talk about the films of the 1940’s and 50’s – His Girl Friday, Desk Set, Adam’s Rib, Bringing Up Baby and their rapid-fire, quick-witted dialogue.  Yes, I love those films too.  And having seen him create such strong, interesting characters before, I wish the women of “The Newsroom” would resemble the women that actually running news shows.  Is too much to ask that romantic comedies have women who want to find a great guy, but also manage to walk down the street without falling, tripping, or making an ass out of themselves on such a spectacular scale?  I recently watched Nora Ephron’s Heartburn starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.   The film was based on Ephron’s book about her divorce from award-winning journalist Carl Bernstein. Meryl Streep’s character never fell over, dropped things or was ridiculous.  Did she make mistakes, cry a lot, put up with bad behavior, and get busted checking out Jack Nicholson at a wedding? Yes, but that makes her likable. Not falling down. Maybe it takes more women writing women for movies to get it right. Thank you Nora Ephron for writing real, likable women.  Yes, they  sometimes did stupid things, but I didn’t cringe watching them.  Are all Nora Ephron’s films perfect? No.  You’ve Got Mail is pretty schmaltzy and ridiculous. But it was a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, so it’s forgiven.  As for Aaron Sorkin, I’m hanging in there watching “The Newsroom.” Although it has more to do with my favorite Sunday night shows (“The Killing”, “Game of Thrones”, “Mad Men”) being on hiatus than actually preferring it as my Sunday night viewing choice.  But Walter White and the “Breaking Bad” boys are returning soon, and mostly likely  the “The Newsroom” and it’s annoying portrayals of women are numbered on my dvr.

If only Nora Ephron wrote a television series…




2 Responses to “Why Do Women in Romantic Comedies Suck?”

  1. Anna Keizer July 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    I haven’t watched The Newsroom yet, but have heard a few times already that its female characters are ridiculous in all the wrong ways. BTW, your list of awesome romantic comedies is ridiculous in all the right ways! I love, love, LOVE every single one of those flicks! :-)

  2. Claudia Maittlen-Harris July 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Thank you. I’m a diehard rom-com fan, which I why I probably get so upset when they aren’t good. I go into each movie secretly hoping this one will be a good one. Unfortunately the batting average is about 70% bad, 30% good. I’m hoping The Newsroom gets better, and it is just figuring itself out with the first few episodes.

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