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Renaissance of the Dark Romantic Comedy‏

Romantic comedies are not typically my go-to genre when watching TV and movies. I’m more of a thriller, sci-fi or horror fan. But recently I’ve noticed that filmmakers and TV producers have been subversively putting the romantic comedy stamp on my favorite genres… in a very dark way.

Some possible spoilers ahead.

Take for example this year’s studio darling film Gone Girl. On the surface the movie is a twisting-turning psychological thriller. Scratch a little deeper and you get a commentary on the modern/post-modern marriage. But if you go one step further what you really have is a story about two pathologically perverted people who re-fall back in love by trying to destroy each other. Even at the end of the film, why doesn’t Nick (Ben Affleck’s character) spill the beans about what Amy’s done…? Not because he’s scared of her but because she’s scared he’s fallen back in love with her. Murder, kidnapping and lying have brought them back together. Forever…

Recent films Only Lovers Left Alive and Willow Creek also slyly use the framework of the horror genre to give a very dark portrayal of the comedy intrinsic to love. Only Lovers Left Alive follows two vampires who cannot seem to commit to anything in life except each other. They’re plagued (because love and immortality are just so existentially exhausting) by their undying love for each other and of course, blood. At the end of the film they comically feast on a young couple that looks like they should be in a typical romantic comedy.

Willow Creek on the other hand, gives us a bigfoot documentary made by an obsessive compulsive man and his agenda driven girlfriend on the surface, but just under that layer is a film about two buffoons who are so in love with each other that you’re almost rooting for them to die in the end. In essence they are the young couple that the vampires kill in Only Lovers Left Alive because in the world of the dark romantic comedy your prize for love is either death…or more love (maybe if Desi, Neil Patrick Harris’ character in Gone Girl had been a little less in love, he wouldn’t have had to die).

Even Showtime’s new expertly crafted The Affair is dark romantic comedy at its finest (it might also be a thriller but we’re still figuring that out). The entire conceit of the show is the multiple narratives, an intended wink to the dynamic any couples knows all too well… he said, she said.

Finally we have a show that can acknowledge that we all perceive love and our relationships differently. Of course the main characters are cheating on their significant others but hey, it wouldn’t be a dark romantic comedy if they were happily married sitting on the beach drinking piña coladas.

In many ways the dark romantic comedy isn’t new. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is basically about a prostitute and a kept man falling in love. The Apartment is about a man who whores out his integrity and place of residence and in return gets a woman with questionable morals as his reward.

In the past we used to gloss over the potentially dark aspects of traditional romantic comedies. Now we lay it all out there, even if we’re deep into a genre that might not be conducive to love and romance at first glance. We’ve become more honest with ourselves (and our romantic stories). The world is dark and scary. The person you love might be dark and scary too.

So what are these movies and shows trying to tell us?

Probably that love is the greatest and scariest thing that can ever happen to someone… which seems like a pretty darkly comical statement to me.

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