One of the most venerable forms of comedic movies is the screwball comedy. The best examples come from the 1930s. Movies such as Bring Up Baby, It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday
Screwball comedies by definition are romantic comedies with farcical situations. These are sex comedies that have the sexual tension brimming underneath. Physical comedy or slapstick is plentiful. There is also a component of the main characters being idle rich and a working class person breaks into their world somehow. Lastly, there is usually quick and clever banter.
However, over the years it seems as if screwball comedy has fallen off the face of the earth. Some might say it is because of the changing times, a loss of innocence and end of the Depression. After all, how easy it is to laugh at the idle rich when so many of us are now middle class with everything we could want.
A new romantic comedy has come out this week on DVD that appears it could have the elements of a screwball comedy. As much as I loved Date Night starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, I know that there are crucial elements missing to make it a true screwball comedy.
The story is about the Fosters who have their weekly date night which might be falling into a routine. Another couple they are friends with are getting divorced for no good reason, making Phil and Claire wonder about their marriage. So they up the ante for their date night and unknowingly walk into a bad situation that will keep their night action packed.
There is the element of farcical situation, the quick and clever banter as well as something of the slapstick element. But the sexual tension is all in the open and our couple works too well with each other. It is a good romantic comedy but not screwball.
One modern movie that I find that hits the screwball comedy definition is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day starring Frances McDormand as an English governess who cannot seem to keep a job. So she becomes a social secretary for a nightclub singer who has a very busy love life.
Perhaps this movie works because it is set in the 1930s or because our couple that we are rooting for is
McDormand and Amy Adams. We want both women to succeed in love and their careers. Adams defines the somewhat idle rich while McDormand is the working class woman. And there is nothing more farcical than getting rid of one lover when your gangster boyfriend shows up for a little romance.
It is these elements and a whole lot of charm that makes screwball comedies classic and so hard to create. Both of these selections are not meant for the youngest members of the family. Nor should you watch it with someone you would feel embarrassed with once the naughty parts come on screen. The latter is great to watch with girlfriends while the former is stay-at-home date night movie.
Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.
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