A romantic comedy that works is a pearl beyond price. Hollywood in the ‘30s and ‘40s seemed to churn out great ones effortlessly, perhaps because romance was not sneered at so much back then, and writers knew how to write it, and actors know how to play it, and most of all, great directors knew how to give it just the right touch. These days we’re more cynical, and most of the attempts at this sort of fun yet moving fluff are disasters.
Romantic comedies are also one of the most subjective genres. No two people love the same ones. Lee and I loved Fever Pitch, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle. I can’t think of another fairly recent one, right off hand. A lot of critics didn’t like this one, but we both love it … and take that for what it’s worth. It may be too sappy for you. But I love sappy, if it’s done well. One thing that makes it work for me is the story-telling gimmick worked out by writers Billy Crystal (who also stars in it and directed it) and Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. (Coolest name in Hollywood, don’t you think?) Joe Mantegna and Cynthia Stevenson, two actors I love, are engaged, and in a restaurant waiting for other guests to arrive, as he begins the story of Mickey and Ellen (Debra Winger). There is a highly original and funny and sad “meet cute.” Joe’s fiancée gets very involved in the story. Each time it reaches a seeming disaster, it is continued as each new couple arrives, putting the poor girl on a roller coaster. There is very witty dialogue, smart jokes, even well-done slapstick. This movie worked on every level, the sort of thing I can see every five years or so and discover it all over again.
One more thing: In Fever Pitch it was baseball, and here it’s basketball. This is a little odd, because though Lee and I both like baseball—but really only during the playoffs and World Series—neither of us are sports fans, and I rather actively dislike basketball. But the sports element was of course central to Fever, and it adds tremendously to the story in this movie. Billy Crystal is an NBA ref, and loves his job, though it gets him into a lot of trouble at various points. It is funny in and of itself to see him out there with these beanpoles (and I speak as a 6’6” man who would feel lost among these guys). He’d have to stand on a ladder to punch any of them in the nose. What was unexpected is that such stars as Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Kareem, who all play themselves and seem to be having a lot of fun doing it … are good actors! That is, they’re good when they’re getting in a shouting match or talkin’ trash … and I assume these guys could do both of those things in their sleep, but still …