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.
Hollywood has a knack for putting actors who are successful in one or two productions within the realm of a particular genre, and keeping them there for what feels like a long time. In some ways this is perhaps a form of typecasting in itself, but if the box office bucks come in, why tinker with what seems like a winning combination of actor and genre? Romantic Comedies have frequently lent themselves to a lot of long-running associations with certain actors and actresses: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Hugh Grant, and – for a large chunk of the 2000s – the name Matthew McConaughey went hand in hand with the genre.
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In truth, I could have written about any one of Matthew McConaughey’s many romantic comedies that he starred in during the decade; they all seem to blend into each other and a lot of them were propelled by a character that would start off as a somewhat egotistical or lazy person and then be redeemed by the possibilities of love that were afforded by whatever leading lady he was partnered up with during the course of the narrative. Although the films are vastly different in terms of storylines, for some reason this film, The Wedding Planner, Failure to Launch and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past feels as if they blend into one, where the actor’s charm begins with a high level of disdainful smarm but which is lessened and filtered through a more charming redemptive prism by the time the end credits roll.
Of course, there are so many more genres that the actor has played within other than rom-com, but the 2000s felt like a decade where he starred in nothing but films that combined laughs on the way to a romantic happily ever after. A quick look at his filmography shows that he also appeared in Frailty, a dark and critically acclaimed character-driven horror film directed by the late, great Bill Paxton, and the sports drama One for the Money, not to mention his attempt at launching an Indiana Jones-style franchise with the Clive Cussler adaptation Sahara, one of Hollywood’s costliest ever box office duds.
When he starred in such award-winning and nominated fare such as Dallas Buyers Club, for which he won his Academy Award, Christopher Nolan’s superb Interstellar, and William Friedkin’s incredibly dark Killer Joe, which felt like a self-aware subversion of the nice-guy act that the actor had perfected over the previous decade, there was a feeling that he was mounting a large scale resurgence, half-jokingly referred to as a Mconnaissance.
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For all the mixed-to-negative reviews the likes of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past received, they were sizeable box office hits. And in terms of commercial appeal, the actor was doing nothing wrong – although you got the sense that he was maybe not fulfilling the early promise that he showed when Joel Schumacher cast him in the adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. This was a performance that suggested the launch of a Paul Newman or Robert Redford-type; that mixed a sense of grit with handsome compassion, the style of serious leading man Hollywood traditionally adores. The comedic timing got an extensive workout in Ron Howard’s EdTV, an entertaining reality TV satire that got somewhat overshadowed by Peter Weir’s ingenious masterpiece The Truman Show, but come the 2000s the actor became deeply synonymous with films like Donald Petrie’s 2003 box office hit.
Interestingly, the film was the first of two productions to bring together McConaghuey with Kate Hudson, the other being Fool’s Gold, a romantic adventure that owed more to Sahara than this film, and if you didn’t know any better might have been forgiven for thinking it was a Steve Zahn-free sequel to 2005’s box office disaster. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is a none more 2003 romantic comedy that is glossy and silly, and puts a deep emphasis on comedic high jinks and manipulative characters that, if they existed in real life, would lead to a deeply toxic relationship.
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Like so many rom-coms, the film appears to exist in a bubble where characters work in some way for the media, with Hudson’s character a writer for a women’s magazine who wants to do deeper and more important work, while McConaughey’s character works in publicity, which just adds to the strange fantasy world of a genre where characters are either middle class or higher, and anything resembling the lower classes is either disavowed or quite simply doesn’t exist.
In some respects, we don’t go to these movies for that level of realism; we go to revel in characters whose career prospects are seemingly journalism of some form or are rich douchebags capable of redemption simply by falling in love with the right person. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days falls very much into the former territory and joins hands with the likes of not only My Best Friend’s Wedding but a genre character type that can be traced back all the way to It Happened One Night , His Girl Friday, and Roman Holiday.
Two of those movies revelled in characters being somewhat manipulative and lying in their pursuit of a story and eventually love and romance. Here, Hudson and McConaughey’s characters are playing in that narrative realm, although the film does get points for having both characters lying to each other as opposed to one deceiving the other, which gives proceedings a comedically suspenseful edge that it has a lot of fun with. The film is far from a classic, but it would be remiss to explore the genre without one of McConaughey’s romantic films from the period being mentioned. Both he and Hudson have enjoyable chemistry, and when Hollywood wants to reunite two actors from the genre in another film, it indicates something magical on-screen.
While this and several of McConaughey’s other rom-coms are far from classics of the decade or even the genre itself, it goes without saying that since he became a considerable box-office presence thanks to these movies, then one has to admit that he has gained entry into a hall of fame that also contains the likes of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, even if the films he starred in aren’t quite up to par with those that starred his fellow rom-com icons.