“Work-Coms”: They’re Rom-Coms, Only Light On The Romance

The discerning female film viewer has long trained herself to separate rom-coms from reality when it comes to her love life. He’s probably not going to win you over with a grand romantic gesture, he’s probably not going to beat up some loser just to impress you, and he’s probably not going to have Matthew McConaughey’s abs. But that’s why we watch those flicks, isn’t it? It’s like porn for women’s emotions — or at the very least, something light and fluffy to entertain you when you’re lying at home on a Saturday night with cramps.

Romantic comedies about romance will always be made. Hey, something’s got to keep Jennifer Aniston working. However, in recent years, a new breed of romantic comedies has come around: work-comedies. Instead of McConaughey’s abs, we’re lusting after the woman on the big screen with the great hubby, the cute kids, and the important job. The vanguard of this new genre is the screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, who penned “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Morning Glory.” Her latest flick is the Sarah Jessica Parker film “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” based on the novel by Allison Pearson. In a profile this weekend in The New York Times Magazine by Susan Dominus, McKenna jokes that the latest film should be called “Blackberry 3,” because all her movies involve women who see their Blackberries more than they see their own families.

It never occurred to me until the Times pointed it out, but films marketed towards women that portray a fulfilling job as central to the lead female character’s happiness do seem to be on the upswing. “The Help” (which McKenna didn’t write) is one example, as are recent flicks like “Country Strong.” The reason, of course, is that Hollywood tries to tap into the id of America. (As Dominus wrote, referring to the crap economy, “where there is scarcity, there is fantasy, and where there is fantasy, there is Hollywood.”) And thought Hollywood is often unsuccessful in their depictions of average women’s behavior, finding a fulfilling job in addition to a fulfilling life partner and/or family is high up on all of our lists.

My hope is that work-comedies don’t just give us with slightly-more-nutritious fluff movies. I also hope they spurn serious discussions for women (and men, of course, if they’re watching these films) about work-life balance, both on the individual level and the societal level. We have always struggled with how to balance a job or a career with a family; we’ve tried over the decades to make the workplace more flexible to allow for working and for parenting. We’re not there yet — we are not even close to there yet — and that’s sincerely something that I wish made the average person angrier. I’ve yet to see “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” but I know I’ll be cringing inside if it just depicts Sarah Jessica Parker as a frazzled mommy because ha ha isn’t that funny. Not that I’m expecting her to all of a sudden become Norma Rae, but it would be great to see some real dialogue about work-life balance come out of it.

[NY Times Magazine]

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