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Romantic Comedies for All Occasions
by Karma Waltonen

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Before Johnny Depp, there was the Dred Pirate Westley.  He was cleaner.

Before Johnny Depp, there was the Dred Pirate Westley. He was cleaner.
V-Day approaches. I have a complicated relationship with this holiday, as I have a complicated relationship with romance. Like pornography, it doesn't have an exact definition—I just know it when I see it. I don't see much of it on V-Day, though. Romance isn't buying flowers and candy on the day everyone expects you to. I've had romance—it's someone sneaking across a border for you. It's that month of passion right before you move away forever. It's someone fixing your breaks to save you money even though you're being pissy about it. It's someone putting up with you and all your b.s. every day.

Whenever I think of romance, I think of my grandparents, and not just because they've managed to stay in love. My grandmother's idea of romance comes from her romance novels—my grandfather is pretty good about remembering to live up to these ideals. But what I admire are the completely romantic things he does that aren't acknowledged that way. For example, when she complained about her phone cord getting tangled and he found her one that wouldn't tangle. When he makes her breakfast on mornings she's too tired. My grandfather would move the heavens and the earth to make her happy for a moment, to make her more comfortable for a day.

Having a day marked with cookie-cutter romance takes away from the real romance all around us. Or maybe, for me, it throws real romance into stark contrast. Here are my three conclusions about the holiday:

1. Being romantic one day a year does not excuse you from 364 days of not doing the dishes or cleaning up after yourself. There aren't enough flowers and candy in the world for that.

2. On some level, beware romance. Love doesn't mean two people can be together; it's not always enough. I'm especially wary of "chivalry"—I've discovered that men who always hold the door open for you (and other women) might well be holding their flies open just as indiscriminately.

3. V-day is sexist. If this is a day about celebrating love, why has it turned into the day the guy has to go broke and the girl doesn't have to do anything? It takes two, people. And a guy will always revere the woman who remembered that he has a sweet tooth, too.

Speaking of not going broke, here's Dr. Karma's all-purpose gift idea. Get a basket. Put stuff in it. Do not put more in it than you can afford. A sample: bottle of wine, chocolate, massage cream, and a romantic comedy on DVD*. For V-day, make your partner dinner (or make it together),** have dessert, and watch a romance***. For this to be successful, it has to be a romantic comedy you'll both (assuming there are only two of you) like, so you want to steer away from whatever tacky chic-flick first comes to mind. Here are some options:

1. SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Have I lost you already? It is, as the poster tells us, a romantic comedy. With zombies. If your partner likes British comedy and can stand the sight of blood, try it. Maybe s/he won't notice that it's actually more about friendship and that the woman in it compromises her dreams by the end. The zombies are a distraction, after all. Let me put it this way—if this movie is
Forget an expensive dinner; if you kill zombies for her, she has to put out

Forget an expensive dinner; if you kill zombies for her, she has to put out
your partner's idea of V-Day, you've got the one. In other words, me.

2. BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY. As far as chick flicks go, this is one of the best. It's exceedingly funny. And Colin Firth is all Mr. Darcys—for all time. In fact, Colin Firth saying his last line in this movie is enough foreplay for me. It invariably leads to my standard seduction line—"come here."

3. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. I'm not going to hide the fact that I love this movie. It's quirky and silly and . . . romantic. And I'm happy that when the girl changes from ugly duckling to swan, she does it for herself—and part of it is going to school. Smart is sexy.

4. ROXANNE. I'm not usually a Daryl Hannah fan. In fact, I agree with Paula Poundstone that there's a reason why her iconic roles are robots, fish, and cavewomen. But Steve Martin covers a multitude of sins. Very few classics are rewritten with this much skill. My favorite moments—the insult contest and "Earn more sessions by sleeving." Don't know what that means? Watch the movie.

5. SOAPDISH. I told my grandmother she should watch this once because it's a satire of soap operas. She thought the movie could have less swearing. But it couldn't have a better cast—Kevin Kline, Sally Field, Elizabeth Shue, Robert Downey Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Najimy, Carrie Fisher, Terri Hatcher, and Cathy Moriarty. It's over the top (as satires tend to be), but I always feel better after I've watched it. Isn't that what comedies are all about?

6. THE MUSIC MAN. As far as musicals go, this wouldn't make most people's lists of the most romantic. But you've already figured out that I'm not other people. Musicals**** traditionally feature characters with opposite traits who become more like each other as they fall in love. That their love is ordained is confirmed by the duet. This musical is no exception. The duet here is special, in that we discover that the "theme" songs of the protagonists (that they've been singing all along) are in fact the same song. I'm drawn to the understatement in this film. Marian wants a man who can read Shakespeare, but there's no "reaction" moment when Harold parses a Shakespearian phrase in conversation. And Harold may fall in love, but he never stops being a salesman, which is why his declaration of love is "I got my foot caught in the door."

7. MOONSTRUCK. Anybody else remember this Oscar winner? As much as I personally loathe Nicolas Cage, I love this movie. Maybe it's because Cher slaps him. I love it because it's about choosing love over convenience and safety. I love it because Olympia Dukakis is amazing in it. I love it because it's a meditation on fidelity. I love it because the last love scene takes place over a bowl of oatmeal. Like so much of life.

8. THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Okay—the title is horrible. I didn't want to watch this film at first. Even as a young girl, I didn't watch anything that was so obviously going to be about fancy dresses and ponies. Luckily, I was immediately confronted with my on-screen avatar—the young boy (Fred Savage) who is suspicious, too. And, like him, I fell hard for this story.
the couple of my idolatry

the couple of my idolatry
Note—if you ever get tired of saying "Yes, dear," substitute with "As you wish." So hot.

9. JEFFREY. Tired of heteronormative suggestions? Me, too. Try this movie and be convinced that swearing off love is the sure way to find it. At least in the movies. I watch this movie for the humor and the romance and to watch Patrick Stewart parading around in pink shirts.

10. PAT AND MIKE. It was really hard to choose only one Katharine Hepburn movie here. I think the reason this one appeals to me so is because it contrasts the love of equals so well with the conventional gender roles of the time. Kate's character wears pants and she's good at sports and that's why Spencer's character loves her. And that's why she comes to love him back.

11. So maybe you've read the whole list and you're thinking—"This is all great, Dr. Karma, but what about a movie that will seem romantic, but won't actually result in copulation? I'm looking to get out of it on V-Day." Well, you could always present your beloved with the entire SEX AND THE CITY collection and suggest watching it in its entirety. You might still have to consummate a lot later, though. If you really want to raise the mood and then kill it (in a way that won't even allow it to zombify), try LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. The first half is endearing and funny and romantic. The second half is the holocaust. Just play it cool and say, "Wow, I didn't see that coming. Did you?"

In two weeks, it will be the thirteenth. I'll be posting a column about V-Day movies for those of us who don't want to think about V-Day. The anti-love, anti-romance (or at least romance indifferent) comedies. Stay tuned.

* Try to actually figure out what the other person likes first. Does s/he prefer dark or milk chocolate? Or would s/he prefer crème brulee? Knowing the other person is the part of the thought that counts.

** If the other person is the one who always cooks, make dinner yourself or take him/her out. Men: you are notorious for overestimating your contribution around the house. If you opened a can of soup for someone one day when he or she was sick, you do not cook half the time. Be honest with yourself. We know exactly how much you do, cause we're doing the other 95-99 percent (in most cases).

Don't know how to cook? Contact me and I'll give you my recipe for EASY crock-pot lasagna and a rum cake and you'll be set. These are so good, they're the only things you'll ever be asked to make again.

*** I'm not interested in arguing about genre, but I do find the history of both romance and comedy intriguing. A comedy traditionally ends in marriage and might have many tragic things happen before the misunderstandings are overcome. A romance is somewhere between a drama/comedy in terms of what happens before the marriage (or remarriage) in the end. The woman is traditionally the one who suffers (sometimes for decades) until the guy gets his shit together. Check out some Billy Shakespeare for examples.

**** Musicals are one of the few "American" art forms; tell your friends.

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Comedies with Dr. Karma
Every other Wednesday

Dr. Karma discusses all things comic, from the classics to what may become classics. Laugh with, but not at, her, please.

Other Columns
Other columns by Karma Waltonen:

Goodbye -- Dr. Karma

The Dictator and Dark Shadows

Pirates and Whedon Movies: In Theatres Now!

A Touch of Cult

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Karma Waltonen
Dr. Karma is a silly, nerdy know-it-all, but in a good way. She brings all her overeducation to discuss that which truly matters: comedy. As some famous guy once said: “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis that I may not weep.” Or something like that.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Karma Waltonen by clicking here.

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