2012 Free Film Series

Romantic Comedy: Couples & Complaints

Although romantic comedies are beloved, or at least well-known, for their delightfully predictable happy endings, this series focuses on the complaints and frustrations that inform the couples’ conflicts and compromises. How do romantic comedies work to recognize and absorb various tensions, anxieties, and desires circulating within a particular historical moment? In what ways are certain intimate expectations, struggles, and thrills recycled across different historical contexts? The films in this series use distinct figurations of the couple–ranging from upperclass, estranged spouses to two heterosexual buddies curiously determined to take their friendship to a physical level–to engage issues of gender and sexuality, singleness and commitment, immaturity and maturity, romance, class, and parenthood.

Jenna WeinmanAbout the Curator

Programmed by Jenna Weinman
Jenna Weinman is a Ph.D. candidate in Visual Studies at UC Irvine, and her dissertation explores the surprising generic and ideological intersections between the mid-century sex comedy and the millennial brom-com. The films in this series interest her because they remind us of the romantic comedy's often unacknowledged complexity and the important cultural work the genre performs across history. Through different figurations of the couple, these films engage with the pleasures and complaints circulating within our intimate culture, and prompt us to examine our contemporary cultural expectations and struggles more closely.

Movie Date / Location Description

The Awful Truth
Directed by Leo McCarey
(1937, USA, 91 minutes, Unrated)
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June 28
7:00 pm, HIB 100

Director Leo McCarey won an Oscar for directing this classic screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a soon to be divorced couple who rediscover their love and passion while sabotaging each other’s engagements. The Awful Truth is a prime example of what philosopher Stanley Cavell calls the “comedy of remarriage,” a romantic comedy cycle that emerged in response to the soaring divorce rates and the general sense of topsy-turviness that characterized relationships and everyday life during the Great Depression. Through its charismatic central couple, an assortment of delightful secondary characters, a decadent upperclass setting, and a farcical sensibility, The Awful Truth both questions the institution of marriage and mystifies those very concerns.

That Touch of Mink
Directed by Delbert Mann
(1962, USA, 99 minutes, Unrated)
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July 12
7:00 pm, HIB 100

That Touch of Mink is arguably one of the more zany midcentury sex comedies, a short-lived romantic comedy cycle that fashioned marriage and sex (always in that order) from the vexing struggles between dapper, free-loving playboys and sexually reserved career women, who were afforded little currency in the postwar courtship economy besides their virtue, or at least a carefully guarded semblance thereof. In this film Cary Grant and Doris Day take on the above roles and attempt to reconcile their drastically different value systems and lifestyles over a short series of extravagant dates. Audrey Meadows also stars as Day’s protective, spinster roommate, and Gig Young plays Grant’s neurotic second banana who adds some surprisingly queer thrills to the mix.

Baby Mama
Directed by Michael McCullers
(2008, USA, 99 minutes, Rated PG-13)
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July 19
7:00 pm, HIB 100

This female-centered comedy starring former Saturday Night Live cast members Tina Fey and Amy Poehler marks an important, early response to the male-centered, raunchy romantic comedy craze popularized by hits like Wedding Crashers (2005) and Knocked Up (2007). Fey plays a single, successful woman whose infertility and menacingly ticking clock prompt her to hire a quirky, immature surrogate mother played by Poehler. The two form an unexpectedly close friendship that soon becomes threatened by extraordinary circumstances and misunderstandings. This smart comedy also features Steve Martin as Fey’s kooky hippie boss, Greg Kinnear as her sensitive love interest, and Sigourney Weaver as the bizarrely fertile head of a surrogacy firm.

Directed by Lynn Shelton
(2009, USA, 94 minutes, Rated R)
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July 26
7:00 pm, HIB 100

Humpday, written and directed by Lynn Shelton, is one of the more well-known comedies associated with mumblecore, a recent American independent film movement marked by its use of microbudgets, D.I.Y aesthetics, and intimate, character based stories. The film stars Mark Duplass as a contently middle-class husband preparing to start a family. One night he receives an unexpected visit from a college friend, played by Joshua Leonard, who has been living like a wandering bohemian for the better part of a decade. During a night of catching up, drinking, and smoking with a group of free-spirited artists, they come up with a concept to win a local amateur pornography contest: two straight friends having sex. Propelled by irrational competitiveness and a mutual desire to prove and defend their masculinity, both men accept the dare and deal with the unsettling messiness that inevitably accompanies the challenge.