Film Discussion

Boomerang (1992) – Rom-Com Rewind

The romantic comedy has proved an enduring genre for the silver screen, from the screwball comedy of the 30s to its peak in the 90s, and resurgent popularity in the 2010s. Set The Tape presents Rom-Com Rewind, a series looking at the history of the genre and how it has developed over the course of nearly a hundred years of movie history.

As wonderful and frequently entertaining as romantic comedy is, appearances can be everything and when it came to so many mainstream blockbusters from the genre, it was clear that a lot of them existed in very white, caucasian worlds. That could be said of so many films from so many genres, and rewatching older films today through a lens where representation has become rightfully important, the lack of diversity in older generations of films and television shows are very noticeable. As brilliant and popular as films such as When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Moonstruck and What’s Up Doc are, not to mention golden age classics such as His Girl Friday and It Happened One Night, the fact that nearly everyone is white cannot help but be picked at.

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It was for that reason that Boomerang is perhaps a quiet groundbreaker. It might have seemed like a strange choice for Eddie Murphy to take the lead in a romantic comedy, especially given that he was a comedian more famous for more overtly comedic performances that relied on a lot of improvisation and speedily delivered one-liners, but it was sometimes easy to forget that one of his biggest and best films of the 1980s could fall into the realm of romantic comedy.

Coming to America was a film that swapped the more ferocious (although frequently hilarious) comedy that Murphy had developed over the first two Beverly Hills Cops films and Trading Places into something more gently naive, sweet and fairytale-like. It was the first time that Murphy played multiple roles in films, something he would do later on in his massively successful The Nutty Professor and sequel The Klumps, but it was a moment of pure comedy in a film that was essentially about an African prince making his way to the big bad city of New York and trying to find love. It was very funny, borderline screwball and featured so many one-liners and scenes that are amongst the best comedic moments of any film of the 80s. It proved that Murphy could play a character a world away from fast-talking cops and be a more gentle comedic lead, one that was for all intents and purposes a rom-com lead.

Boomerang initially feels like it’s going to be the most typical of Murphy romantic comedies, and in some respects, it also gets to the heart of not only the racial problems that are inherent in the genre (there are very few white characters in the film) but also just how chauvinistic male leads in these types of films are.

Male characters who play the dating field, sleep with copious women but who find their way to monogamy by the love of a good woman (and yes, these are all heteronormative concerns) are somewhat part and parcel of the genre. Marcus being played by Eddie Murphy, as opposed to a Richard Gere or a Hugh Grant, means that the film plays very differently compared to so many of the genre. Likewise, the choice of lead actresses such as Halle Berry and Robin Givens, as well as supporting roles for David Alan Grier, Martin Lawrence, Eartha Kitt and Grace Jones and is set in New York City means that we have an acknowledgement of how diverse the city is as opposed to the predominantly white worlds of When Harry Met Sally and so many problematic Woody Allen films.

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The racial component is there under the surface because of the casting choices for sure, but it’s also a film that doesn’t aim for a pointed exploration of racial politics. Certainly, gender politics comes in for some exploration given that it’s set in an office environment and the film is interesting to watch in light of #MeToo and #TimesUp, but it’s also a 1992 romantic comedy that just wants to sit back and enjoy watching Murphy, Berry, Givens and Kitt play around in a genre and story that appeared to be the whitest of genres at mainstream cinemas and the oncoming world of the multiplex up to this point.

The fact the cast and the characters are black is never something that drives the film’s themes or story. They happen to be successful at their jobs or in successful positions because they are part and parcel of a romantic comedy that’s playing in an office environment with moments of raunch and a love triangle at the centre of it.  It allows Murphy to be a smooth romantic lead in a near Cary Grant-like manner, a world away from the fast-talking, more violent world of Axel Fowley, and to be part of complex relationships with Givens and Berry’s characters.

If anything, the film is keener to explore romance and relationships in a manner similar to When Hary Met Sally, where instead of asking if men and women can truly ever be friends, is more inclined to explore if a character like Marcus Graham, a chauvinist and someone who treats women as sex objects, can change their way and how a character like that would react to being confronted by his female equivalent.

If the film were made today, it might want to throw itself more into exploring the office environment it’s set in. The relationship that Marcus finds himself in with new boss Jacqueline, played by Givens, would no doubt give HR departments a massive headache and the power imbalance would be ripe for further explorations.

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As it is, the film is a brilliantly frothy concoction, right up there When Harry Met Sally and late 80s workplace rom-com Working Girl, but the screen is lit up her considerably by Murphy and the sparkling chemistry he shares with Berry and Givens. The film boils down to a conundrum where he has to pick the right woman and in the end, and in the end love wins out. It is a romantic comedy after all.

While Murphy would go onto huge commercial success and critical acclaim four years later with The Nutty Professor, it’s a little sad that he didn’t opt to stay in the romantic comedy pool for a while. The film was essentially him playing in a genre that he rarely stepped into, but he did it so well that it seems a shame that he didn’t do at least two or three more movies throughout a decade where he could so easily have been a defining leading man of the genre. If it proves anything, it was how versatile he was as a performer and while there have been disappointing films here and there, as last year’s Dolemite is my Name proved, he is still one of Hollywood’s greatest comedy talents.

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