With ensemble rom-com The Big Wedding hitting theaters in April, it's clear that the idea of "taking a bunch of famous people and putting them in awkward and touching situations", a.k.a. the giant ensemble romantic comedy, is not going anywhere.
This latest offering to the genre, a remake of the 2006 French film Mon frère se marie, features an all-star cast and a quirky plotline (but aren't they all?) for the audience: Alejandro (), the son of long-divorced couple Don () and Ellie () is marrying the love of his life, Missy (). There's just one small catch: Alejandro, who was adopted by Don and Ellie as an infant, finds out his devout and pious Catholic birth-mother is coming to the wedding. For the sake of their son and his wedding going smoothly, Don and Ellie must pretend to still be married for the weekend.
The amazing thing about The Big Wedding, Love Actually (the movie that really started the resurgence) and other giant, ensemble romantic comedies is the audience they attract. It's not just women showing up at the box office to see this traditionally female-oriented genre anymore. Men, who have generally shunned and reviled these types of movies lest they be mercilessly teased by their buddies, have also started paying money to see these comedies (or at the very least, have been dragged by girlfriends and wives, liked it, and then quietly bought the DVD or Blu-ray).
What is it about this niche genre that has been gaining in popularity? Not just the romantic comedy, which has always been a Hollywood staple, but the GIANT romantic comedy, with less a select star cast than a huge star ensemble. Gone are the simple, straightforward plotlines of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. Instead, it's boy meets girl, but then falls for her roommate, but roommate meets his cousin, then cousin realizes he's in love with the original girl, but girl is in love with her lesbian roommate, and then they all realize they're in love with other people, and more stuff happens and it's everything everywhere. Now, there is no single meet-cute moment, but a dozen of them:
See? The trailer is crammed full of A-list actors and so many different plotlines in two and a half minutes that you're never entirely sure what's happening, other than that there's a lot of kissing and a lot of Hugh Grant being, well, quintessentially Hugh Granty. For most genres, a muddy trailer and unclear story equal death at the box office. For this genre, it has spelled success. Why?
Hollywood, like anything else, has lived and died with the zeitgeist of its time. The traditional romantic comedy, as a genre, has had its ups and downs for the past 60 years: Huge in the 60s, more or less dead in the 70s, back again in the early 80s thanks to directors like and , the torch being carried by the UK and writer through the 90s, then the genre being redefined again with the growing popularity of and his odd-ball romantic comedy empire.
In the past decade alone, we have seen movies like Love Actually, He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day, and New Year's Eve. 2013 will bring the aforementioned The Big Wedding to screens, along with the upcoming Movie 43 into the mix, though it is less romantic, more R-rated comedy. Still, massive ensemble, and does make out with . Close enough.
With the rise of the internet and the ability to watch as many fan-made video clips and highlight reels as we want on YouTube, we've become accustomed to the whole "mash-up" theme. Our attention spans are shorter, our boredom greater, and the bar for what entertains us is growing higher and higher. We live in an age of instant gratification and spectacle, and anything that is not done hugely does not earn and keep our attention. Yet while our attention spans have grown shorter, our capacity to process information has grown, so complicated plots that once seemed impossible for an audience to follow are now not only understood, but expected. The micro-stories contained within the giant ensemble romantic comedy are custom made for a new generation of filmgoers who are sharper and savvier, but also far more easily bored than the generation before them.
It explains why two films with virtually the same exact theme had such wildly different levels of success at the box office: 200 Cigarettes (released in 1999) grossed just under $7 million whereas New Year's Eve (released in 2011) grossed over $54 million.
Watch the 200 Cigarettes clip:
Now watch the trailer for New Year's Eve:
It's the same movie. The difference is that the first is on one side of the 2000s and the latter is on the other side of it (Though, as a sidenote and plea to Hollywood: Please stop making movies set in the 80s. Please). Audiences want more, more, MORE now; more storylines in case one bores us, more characters, and more cameos by famous faces to get our fix.
Also, it's nice to watch a movie that reminds us of the interconnectedness of us all, outside of conversing on different sides of the computer screen. Flip on the news and it's a pretty grim state of affairs; the economy's a mess, our education's a mess, everyone is losing their homes, their jobs, their security, the Middle East is tearing itself apart, tensions are growing. It's enough to make anyone feel as if the problems they bear are unique to them and that they must bear it alone. These romantic comedies, silly and brief as they are, remind us that we all go through the same basic struggles in life, with love, with family, with relationships, and for some reason, it makes us feel better when we see a famous face making those mistakes, and enjoying those highs.
It's not just romantic comedy capitalizing upon this theme either. Other, more serious genres have used this theme of intertwining and connection. Just witness the critical acclaim garnered by films like Crash and 2012's risky and beautiful Cloud Atlas.
But sometimes, you don't want to watch a heavy movie. You just want something fun, light, full of love and laughter and characters who know and are comfortable with each other. Characters whose lives intertwine like they're all in a romantic version of Cheers. Call them silly or sappy, call them what you will, but I dare you to say there has never been a time in your life you felt like your breakup was the only one or that your love was so much more complicated and no one understood. Sometimes, we just need the warm fuzzies and love feels, man.
These movies wipe away that whole premise of having to go it alone and simply say, "Hey, we get it. Everyone wants love and no one wants to feel alone. There's someone for everyone out there, including you." And, really, in an increasingly complicated age, it's nice that this genre has offered us storylines complicated enough to keep our interest, but with themes that are universal and enduring, and this is why we'll flock to theaters to see The Big Wedding in April. And love. every. sappy. second.
It's human nature. Love, actually.
You're allowed to punch me through the internet for that last sentence. I'll allow it.
The Big Wedding is in theaters April 26th.
What do you think? Why are these giant romantic comedies so popular? Let us know in the comment section, and make sure to click [[follow]] for all the latest news.