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Romancing the romcom

Kudos to Susanne Bier’s Love Is All You Need for reminding the world that romantic comedies don’t have to be embarrassing.

It was with great interest that I followed the Tweets coming out of Venice last Sunday morning – the Malick was hugely disappointing critics, but there were raves (even from the cranky types) for Susanne Bier’s romcom Love Is All You Need.

Just a few weeks before it premiered, I was editing a preview of the film, wondering if it was detrimental to describe it as a ‘romantic comedy’. The fact that the very genre label itself is so loaded with bad connotations tells us a lot about the level of respect for most romcoms these days. That’s for good reason mostly: there have been a string of formulaic, lazy, cynical, unimaginative and frankly unfunny and unromantic projects in recent years.

So well done to Bier for not being afraid to follow-up her Oscar-winning dark family drama In A Better World with something altogether lighter. Coming from a certain independent filmmaking crowd, it’s actually a braver move to do something crowdpleasing than something depressing. But why should serious filmmakers have to only make films that are dark? There’s room in the cinema world, even in the world of auteur-driven cinema, for crowd-pleasing films that take on lighter topics without embarrassment.

Screen’s critic Dan Fainaru, not someone I’d immediately peg as a romcom guy, wrote that the film was a “natural born winner, a romantic comedy that pulls out all the stops, uses all of the genre’s classic formulas…certain to become one of the crowd pleasers of the season”. His review continued: “By the end of it, there will be just one or two tears shed, just enough to justify the rules of the genre, and finally the great big hug that everyone expects from the very beginning. What audience will resist that?”

Indeed there are audiences out there starving for films that are thoughtful and well made, but provide an enjoyable night at the cinema on a Friday night.

I hope Bier’s film can be another reminder to good directors that this isn’t a genre that needs to be avoided. The romantic comedy doesn’t even have to be reinvented as ‘smarter’ or ‘edgier’ to be successful.

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