Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meg Cabot on Why Guys Don’t Watch Rom-Coms

Meg Cabot on Why Guys Don’t Watch Rom-Coms
By Meg Cabot
 You hear it so often in the film (and sometimes the publishing) industry, it’s hardly even questioned anymore:

Straight guys won’t go see a “romantic comedy” (or any movie featuring a female main character, unless it’s Megan Fox) unless they’ve been dragged to it by their significant other (or their mom).

This is why, for every one Bridesmaids, we have four Die Hards, four Terminators, four Pirates of the Caribbean, three Transformers, and two Hangovers. I have seen all seventeen of these films (plus Bridesmaids), so I know the real reason they were so successful isn’t because men don’t enjoy a good romantic story. Strip away the roofies, explosions, and talking robots and at the heart of each of the above franchises is a hero who will do anything to protect (or get home to) the woman he loves.
Perhaps it’s simply that because these more expensively made, man-centric, special-effects heavy films (I’m counting Mike Tyson as a special effect) tend to be so widely promoted, while romantic comedies are released in so many fewer cities, on less screens, with the only pre-release buzz centering around whatever real-life romantic travails their stars are currently enduring, that makes the “guys won’t see a romantic comedy” thing a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

No one, for instance, was handing out a free promotional Bridesmaids action figure with the purchase of a meal at Burger King, the way they did with Transformers 3. Most of the pre-release buzz surrounding Bridesmaids was, unfortunately, about how funny it was . . . for a movie written by and about girls.
When the movie of one of my books was first released in August of 2001, the producers and I decided to slip into a theater the night before its premiere in order to watch the audience’s reaction.

We couldn’t get in. In the few theaters where the film was playing, every seat had been sold out, for every showing, for the entire weekend. This was pre-Facebook (it was in the days of Altavista), for a film that had had very little promotion. It was just a “rom-com,” a chick-flick. Worse, it was rated G.
On Monday, everyone was pronouncing The Princess Diaries a “surprise hit.” Wonder and astonishment was expressed by film studio executives everywhere. How could a film about a young female character who does nothing but rebel against—then ultimately learn from, and then grow to respect—an older female character, actually be successful, without the help of exploding talking robots or pirates?

Anne Hathaway did this (with the help of Julie Andrews) not once, but twice (in The Devil Wears Prada, with the help of Meryl Streep), both films based on books, not toys or theme park rides.
True, men might not be able to relate to the makeover scenes. But over the years enough of them have admitted to me that they’d seen (and enjoyed) the film that I know they related to its very universal themes.

This isn’t to say movies with exploding talking robots, roofies, or pirates shouldn’t be made. I would never say that, because I’m a fan of those films as well. I just think we need to be honest and admit that all of these stories, like all of us, have something in common: We all yearn to watch others fall in love, as we have; struggle to find themselves, as we have; and of course be publicly humiliated by an adversary, and tortured by a domineering matriarchal figure, as we have.

So why not just admit it, and give us our damned action figure?
Meg Cabot’s series and books for both adults and teens have included the “Princess Diaries” series, “Mediator,” “Airhead,” and “Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls,” “All-American Girl” and “Avalon High.” Ms. Cabot (her last name rhymes with habit) lives in Key West with her husband and two cats. Her website is www.megcabot.com.

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