Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival

One of the things I love watching online more than I probably should are video essays. If someone’s uploaded a 45 minute deep dive on why they did or didn’t like a movie, chances are I’m interested in seeing it. There’s a real art to it, trying to take film criticism and make something that’s about as long as your average episode of television and make it informative and entertaining. It’s a hard combination to make and only a few people really do it justice. I have this very odd feeling that this documentary is by someone who probably saw a bunch of those video essays and said “Well, I can do that… but longer and get it shown on the big screen”

Romantic Comedy is a 78-minute discussion about… well, romantic comedies. Specifically, it’s one person trying to understand not only why they love the genre, but the problems with it. Going from film to film, we slowly get asked to question why an entire genre seems to exist mostly to tell the stories of middle class heterosexual white people. We get confronted with the real world weirdness of some of these plotlines and question the impact these films have on how people form expectations regarding romantic relationships.

This might be the shortest film review that I’ll ever have to write because really, once I’ve described the plot I’ve also provided all the info you need. Do you enjoy films made up of clips from other movies that are being used as background footage while faceless people cleverly explain why certain elements of a film are problematic? Cool, go hunt this one out. It’s not really that much more than that, to go into every single point that they made would be effectively denying the film its power, and also impossible because I saw like 5 films on the day I saw this one and wasn’t taking notes as the film played so I only have so much information available in my memory bank.

I enjoyed that the film wasn’t just saying the entire genre was bad, most of these Video Essays on film aren’t doing that. It’s here to point out the flaws, the repeated storylines, the places we could do better and even offers signs that things are improving by pointing to movies that are romcoms but aren’t just about middle class heterosexual white people. As a broad overview of the genre and it’s problems we get to have a frank and honest discussion about how a genre that’s largely marketing towards women often has some pretty sexist attitudes towards the very women it’s pandering to.

There are a few people who are voicing their opinions in this movie, it’s not all the opinion of Elizabeth Sankey but a bevy of assorted critics and actors and people who enjoy this genre while also being honest about its problems. It’s kind of fascinating and a lot of fun, though I did admittedly get a little exhausted seeing nothing but clips from romcoms. Sure, sometimes they are used to make a very valid point or to provide context to what’s being said, but often it’s just filler. When it’s not context giving or just filling random airtime, the clips are part of music montages that bear a striking resemblance to those weird fandom music videos where people edit clips of their favourite TV show paired to an obscure indie song from 2009. I do wish they’d maybe broken it up with some talking head footage or animation or something because after a while I was just mentally working out how much the rights would have to cost for this to get a proper release.

It’s also very short, at 78 minutes it almost feels like the long pauses or music videos were there to bump the runtime up and justify turning this into an actual movie. I’m sure there has to be some way to expand on the topic here, go through a lot more movies and get more critical opinions. It ends up just flying by and while that can be good, I felt like there was more to be said.

In general, Romantic Comedy is a really good video essay that might not change your mind about the genre but it certainly will make you think a little more about it. It’s easy enough to follow and by the end, if nothing else you might come away with a few good suggestions for films to catch up on.

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