Variety Critic Owen Gleiberman Shows His Own Ignorance When Trying to Tell Women How to Save the Romantic Comedy
Do you have enough strength today to read another misguided Owen Gleiberman column over at Variety? You know, the guy who asked “Is ‘Green Book’ Woke Enough? Does It Need to Be?” and named the Pajiba-approved films Duck Butter and The Miseducation of Cameron Post — both about young women exploring their sexual identities — some of the worst of 2018? That fucking guy?
Well, he’s back with another hot take: That romantic comedies need to adapt to survive. WHAT? WHO KNEW? Give me a moment to recover from this revelation!
That is the wisdom Gleiberman is laying down today, tied to the release of Rebel Wilson’s Isn’t It Romantic, which I admit I quite liked. And in some ways, the reasons that I liked it overlap with what Gleiberman says in his column, “The Rom-Com Is Dead. Long Live the Rom-Com.” The genre does need to adapt to survive. It should update its storylines and narrative structures. But Gleiberman’s argument has gaping holes in it: an ignorance of female-led projects, a total blindspot regarding Netflix and what it’s done for the genre, and a misunderstanding of how women react to the genre. Like, the central idea of his piece isn’t wrong, but the way it’s presented is infuriating.
Sorry to use Julia Louis-Dreyfus again, but actually I’m not sorry, because she’s great and she gets me:
Let’s start with the fact that this Gleiberman column is very similar to another piece he wrote back in 2017, tied to The Big Sick: “‘The Big Sick’ Makes You Wonder: Where Have All the Romcoms Gone?” In that column, Gleiberman wrote about the genre in terms like “cheesy-tasty screwball knockoff,” “benignly junky, second-rate cookie-cutter form,” and “waxy buildup of kitsch,” and in particular objected to the terminology:
Even the nickname “romcom” had a guilty-pleasure pep-pill functionality about it. Take two romcoms and call me in the morning! The romantic comedy was a movie to see with friends, or — seriously, I don’t mean this to sound dated — while out on a date, but maybe the quintessential way to view it was at home, all by yourself, with the proverbial pint of designer ice cream (or something stronger), so that one could feel every bit as teary and lovelorn and cliché as the heroine of the movie.
And then he went on to praise Girls, which, you know, pass:
The shift was generational. The role model that had been in place ever since Goldie Hawn got tossed “Overboard” was starting not to connect with a generation of Tinder addicts and tattooed SJWs. Yet don’t they deserve romantic comedies too? The genre has been built, for too long, around a ritualized spectacle of feminine insecurity, when what’s needed now are movies that can tweak those who’ve mainlined a whole new style of digital confidence. You could argue that the defining romantic comedy of our time isn’t a movie at all (and doesn’t need to be); it’s Lena Dunham’s “Girls.”
The central idea of this 2017 column is that the genre needs to change to meet the demands of a new audience. Got it! And the central idea of Gleiberman’s piece this week is … that the genre needs to change to meet the demands of a new audience?
If you look, especially, at “Bridesmaids” and “Trainwreck,” two movies produced by Judd Apatow but shaped, creatively, by the force and personality of their respective screenwriter/stars, Kristen Wiig and Amy Schumer, it’s pretty clear what’s going to save the rom-com. It needs to be reimagined by a new generation, and by a more inclusive version of Hollywood — by the Nora Ephrons of the 21st century, working under the guiding hand of the women who become the Judd Apatows of the 21st century. They need to rediscover the form out of life itself. They need to find out what the new comedy of romance is.
So … the genre needs to reinvent itself by being more like Judd Apatow, the patron saint of middling white men? The man who produced Gleiberman’s beloved Girls? Cool, got it. Except for where the genre is already being transformed by actual women, and not just women who happen to be white, and also by gay men, and other members of the LGBTQ community, and come on, Gleiberman, do you even watch movies?
Nowhere in either of Gleiberman’s pieces is Queen Latifah mentioned, although we know — from the backlash Rebel Wilson faced when she proclaimed herself the first plus-size lead of a romantic comedy — that Latifah was running all over the 1990s and early 2000s being a love interest for Common and LL Cool J and Will Smith. Instead, the only actresses Gleiberman lists as starring in romantic comedies happen to be, well, mostly white; from that 2017 piece:
It might star Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger or Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Garner or Marisa Tomei, Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl, or — in what now looks like the genre’s sunset stage — Emma Stone or Aubrey Plaza.
Throughout Gleiberman’s recent piece, there is a distinct disregard for women, people of color, and the LGBT community — and all the ways those groups intersect — and what they’re doing for the genre now. Which isn’t to say that parity exists between white women and everyone else — of course, it certainly doesn’t. But the genre has made strides, and those need to be acknowledged. Yet in this week’s piece, Gleiberman doesn’t discuss Crazy Rich Asians, which was the defining romantic comedy of last year and a massive box office success …
… or Blockers, which was the directorial debut of Kay Cannon and co-starred Sarayu Rao and Geraldine Viswanathan …
or Love, Simon, which starred Nick Robinson and Keiynan Lonsdale as two high schoolers falling in love.
And Gleiberman also totally ignores the great work Netflix is doing in releasing romantic comedies that feature women of color, like The Incredible Jessica James, with Jessica Williams, or Set It Up, with Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs in supporting roles, or of course, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, with the lovely Lana Candor.
Gleiberman doesn’t mention ANY of that shit in his opus about how the romantic comedy needs to adapt to survive. Instead, he references people like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, figures who have proven themselves problematic in the past (and problematic together, as they were at the 2016 Met Gala, when they spun all that bullshit about Odell Beckham Jr.), and whose specific brand of white-girl feminism is not going to be what saves this genre. Turning to Dunham and Schumer is not appealing to a wider demographic or changing things up. It’s doing the same old crap — and interestingly, it’s exactly what Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t do. Unlike Schumer’s recent I Feel Pretty, Isn’t It Romantic isn’t fixated on a woman’s size and whether that makes her feel beautiful; it focuses on internalized considerations of beauty and self-worth in a way that is more relevant and resonant than Schumer’s rom-com that Gleiberman doesn’t even mention.
ANYWAY, I’ll leave you with my favorite part of Gleiberman’s column, in which the man who doubted whether “wokeness” mattered re: Green Book tries to prove to us how woke he actually is:
Funny thing about that? Gleiberman uses the term “chick flick” in his 2017 column. Come on now, dude. Do better.
Image sources (in order of posting): Warner Bros., Variety, Variety
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