You don't have to be perfect to be a hero in a romantic comedy
Love, as we know, begins with eyes meeting through the swirl of a cocktail party, two immaculately-dressed twenty-somethings, one rich, the other beautiful, both single in spite of that, realising in an instant that they have found the one. There will be obstacles, of course, big dramatic obstacles, in between the candlelit dinners and poetic declarations of love, but in the end, there will be happiness ever after. Unless war or a brain tumour turns it to romantic tragedy.
No? No. That’s not how it works for most of us, anyway. Chances are that when we meet the one, it’ll be when we’ve put a jumper on over our tatty sleepwear to fetch the paper from the porch, or the day we spill coffee on our shirt: in fact, it will be the actual moment when we spill the coffee. The obstacles that get in the way of the relationship will be of our own making, our own klutziness, and we’ll argue over trivia. The big discussions will be with our friends instead of the object of our affections. But it’s entirely possible, with a little help from those friends, that we’ll find a way through in spite of everything.
In other words, real life is the stuff of romantic comedy rather than romantic drama. Or, looking at it the other way, comedy speaks the truth, if a slightly exaggerated one. And that truth is an uplifting one: someone will look beyond our quirks, our mistakes and our pratfalls and see a person they can love.
Over the years, stretching this premise, romantic comedies have served up almost every flawed personality short of a psychopath (and Bradley Cooper’s character in Silver Linings Playbook runs it close). We’ve had neurotic (Annie Hall), narcissistic (Hitch), misanthropic (Groundhog Day)… just add your favourite romcom and personality problem to the list.
And love redeems them all, or at least draws out the best in them. As the obsessive-compulsive (and grumpy, homophobic and dog-hating) Melvin Udall says in As Good as it Gets: “You make me want to be a better man.”
Don Tillman, hero of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, joins a long line of socially-awkward intellectuals, going back to Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby. The Rosie Project began as a drama, but I came to appreciate the power of the romcom as a vehicle for presenting an oddball sympathetically. The pursuit of love is a journey most of us can identify with. And it’s a tough journey: there are no anti-discrimination laws for romance.
Don will screw up in his own particular way, but we’ve all screwed up in some way in that arena. And along the way, we’ll laugh with him. How many times have we heard someone say, “I like him / her because he / she makes me laugh.”
Laughing and empathising with someone normalises them, makes them one of us rather than “other”. People have told me that after reading the Rosie books that they’d like to hang out with Don (and in some cases live happily ever after with him). I like to think that response will extend to the guy in the information technology department at work with the dubious fashion sense, and that we romcom writers, in making heroes of people on the fringe, are doing our bit to forge a more tolerant society.
As long as people don’t take us too literally. You really don’t want to marry Melvin.
You can meet Graeme at our our bookshops over March. Full tour dates below, just ask in-store for more details.
Tuesday 10th March
7pm - Waterstones Chichester, The Dolphin & Anchor, West Street, Chichester PO19 9HD.
Thursday 12th March
6.30pm - Waterstones Bath, 4-5 Milsom Street, Bath BA1 1DA
Saturday 14th March
2pm - Waterstones Nottingham, 1-5 Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham NG1 2GR
Monday 16th March
7.30pm – Waterstones Guildford, 71-73 High Street, Guildford GU1 3DY
Tuesday 17th March
7pm – Waterstones Piccadilly, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD
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