A cynic would tell you every Romantic Comedy plays out like this: Boy Meets Girl - Boy Loses Girl + Boy Wins Girl = Formulaic Pandering to the Masses
To which we reply: So?
Formulas are good! Don’t we use formulas in developing a non-toxic lawn fertilizer? Or a cheeky bordeaux? What’s wrong with using a formula, anyway?
A formula is necessary for a romantic comedy, and we shall prove it using Scientific Methods. Our control group in this analysis consists of elements from the 1928 comedy, Show People, a loving look at Hollywood and what it take to be a Star.
In order to construct the Romantic Comedy Formula, we must first apply the Shakespeare Axiom: The course of true love never did run smooth.
We must also examine the Isometric Structure. Romantic comedies, by definition, need to have a feel-good ending. They also need a good script with heaps of witty lines, actors with perfect timing and a director who builds the story at a measured pace.
The point of the Romantic Comedy is the Happy Outcome, as symbolized in our formula:
First, we need a protagonist. In this instance, our protagonist is the beautiful, rubber-faced Marion Davies (as identified by the symbol “p”). She has come to Hollywood to be a Big Movie Star.
Next, we need a Love Interest (identified by the symbol “li”), as played by William Haines. Haines’ character is a B-movie comedian who will never be a matinee idol, but he’s a down-to-earth soul who is kind and and very amusing.
Then we need an occasion for Davies and Haines to Meet, which is nicely summed up here:
…wherein the Protagonist (Davies) meets the Love Interest (Haines) – squared, because each has their own perception of the event.
Plus pi or, in this movie, pie:
…because sometimes you just need a slice of pie. Haines also needs pies, lots of them, because that’s the kind of actor he is. (He’s called a “custard pie comedian”.) In comedy, as in life, there are infinite occasions for pie.
Back to the story! The chemistry between Davies and Haines is obvious, as evidenced in an early scene: Haines tenderly reapplies Davies’ lipstick after she’s been unexpectedly sprayed with water on her first day of filming.
Now! Into this formula we must add a flimsy, self-absorbed Distraction (Paul Ralli), as identified by the symbol “d”. His dialogue is filled with magnificent hogwash, such as: “Being a lady of quality, she chose the cinema as a medium of self-expression.”
The vain and sullen Ralli is Obviously Unsuitable for the winsome Davies, but she finds herself attracted to him for reasons of career advancement. As dull as he is, he knows all the Right People.
This growing attraction between Davies and Haines, and Davies and Ralli, is compounded by several obstacles as per the Shakespeare Axiom:
(Note: The many obstacles are symbolized by “O” to the power of 10,000 because the players are continually blindsided in romantic comedies. As one character says, “Remember, the one law of pictures is, don’t anticipate!”)
The trouble is, Ralli has wealth and connections (which are the same thing in Hollywood, no?) and he seems infinitely more capable than Haines. Haines doesn’t appear to have much of a future as a Big Movie Star…but really, does not being an A-List actor really matter? This can be illustrated as such:
…where Davies has to weigh Ralli’s wealth [w] against Haines’ foibles [1*1*1*1]. But wealth can only go so far against a charming, handsome man who makes you laugh.
Davies comes to this very Realization before it’s Too Late! Does she want an unhappy life with a well-connected fop, or does she want to have a vibrant relationship with the man she loves? She seizes upon the theory that there really is no future without Haines:
Which, of course, hastens the Davies/Haines end-of-movie embrace, as shown by a standard formula for Acceleration:
Et voilà! Here is our completed Romantic Comedy Formula:
See? Not so simple, right? This is formulaic pandering to the masses? We don’t think so.
Even if you do not agree with our scientific methods, we urge you to see the funny and delightful Show People. It is a well-crafted look at Hollywood filmmaking in the silent era – and at romantic comedy in any era.
Show People: starring Marion Davies, William Hanes, Dell Henderson. Directed by King Vidor. Treatment by Agnes Christine Johnston and Laurence Stallings. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1928, B&W, 65 mins.