Even the sturdiest and most stable institutions can fall prey to the inexorable march of time. Who would've predicted that we'd see the demise (or at least the severe shrinkage) of so many seemingly rock-solid constants like bookstores, music stores, printed newspapers, and point-and-shoot cameras in such a short span of time? But as technology advances and our knowledge accumulates, some ideas just don't make as much sense as they used to and are relegated to novelties or objects of nostalgia.
I think it might be time to add the standard romantic comedy to this list of obsolete institutions. One cause is predictability -- even before you start watching a romcom, you already know that the couple that butts heads in the beginning will end up together at the end, and that all misunderstandings, subterfuge, and obstacles will be tidily resolved. But I think the bigger culprit in the romcom's demise is reality. When it's increasingly unusual for someone not to have divorced parents or be divorced themselves, it becomes harder to accept a triumphant "happily ever after" when we know that there's a lot that can (and probably will) go wrong in the unseen world "after" the credits roll. Perhaps that's why films that address the more sobering complexities and realities of love (like (500) Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) have resonated so deeply with younger audiences.
Maybe that's why we've been getting more romcoms that seem to claim that they aren't really romcoms, which might be evidence that the romcom is in either the Denial or Bargaining phases of Kübler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief. The latest example of this is This Means War, which attempts to hide its romcomness behind an action/spy veneer as two best friends and CIA agents (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) battle for the affections of a woman (Reese Witherspoon) who doesn't know their real occupations. But despite what its ad campaign would have you believe, This Means War exhibits all of the stale, overused conventions that have put the romantic comedy genre on life support.
Watch my ReThink Review of This Means War below.