Four Steps to Being a Romantic Comedy’s Ideal Guy (Without Being Totally Lame)

Last week, Box Office Magazine‘s iPad Edition published my article, “How much is that boyfriend in the window?: Four steps to being a romantic comedy’s ideal guy (Without being totally lame).” If you have an iPad, I urge you to read the article on that version, as Box Office‘s graphics department did an excellent job illustrating my words (and got me one step closer to Matthew McConaughey, Texas’ very own sun god). If you lack the Tabletnacle, you can still read the article below.

What do women in romantic comedies want? To join the ranks of vaunted dreamboats Matthew McConaughey, Luke Wilson and John Krasinski, I Don’t Know How She Does It‘s Greg Kinnear needs to know to hold his own in what’s really Sarah Jessica Parker’s vehicle. Although female-centric romcoms focus on, well, females, a great responsibility rests on the stalwart shoulders of the male love interest—they have the power to make or break the romance. But too often, the romcom man is just another blandly tasteful accessory, like the Prada dress or Louboutin pumps the female protagonist snatches up during a makeover montage en route to her happy ending. Other times, the man is so noxious (ahem, The Ugly Truth) that you start wondering if the rancid romance at the film’s heart is an Andy Kaufman-esque meta-comedy. For an appealing love story, these men must smoothly distinguish themselves as interesting people with flaws and quirks while letting the lady soak up all the attention.
Following these rules will help these guys earn “Awws!” instead of “Ewws!”

1. Don’t be a jerk. There is nothing more depressing than a giant schlong getting a happy ending (no, not in that way). The biggest romcom downer is the sinking realization that the movie you just watched wasn’t about two deserving people who finally find someone they love and respect, but about a desperately lonely, borderline masochistic woman who learns to settle for a morally questionable man with serious empathy issues. I’d rather sit through a movie called The Thirty-Year-Old Woman Who
Adopts a Bunch of Cats than rewatch the pathologically forgiving Carrie marry Big in the first Sex and the City movie.

2. Don’t be James Marsden. With his high cheekbones, pillowy lips, and big blue eyes, Marsden is a walking, sweet-talking Ken doll—in Enchanted, he plays a guy who chooses to be a cartoon prince. As a pretty boy with the sex appeal of a wet noodle or Justin Bieber, Marsden is the male counterpart of the perfectly pleasant blond girl-next-door that populate most romcoms. The problem with Marsden and his ilk is, only little girls and extremely repressed women want to marry a plastic doll with no manparts. As Bridesmaids demonstrated earlier this summer, it’s okay for a guy in a romcom to look schlubby, sound perma-drunk, and have a personality.

3. Respect the job. In the female-centric romcom, the classic dilemma is career versus romance. (For male leads, it’s choosing between the smart brunette and the ditzy blonde.) In most cases, the only acceptable resolution to a romcom lady’s career or romance problem is that she Have It All. For better or for worse, it’s almost impossible to imagine a female lead in a romcom keeping the audience’s sympathy while quitting her job for her man. Thus, woe be unto any man who gets between a woman
and her career, as Adrian Grenier does to Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. (For obvious reasons, Pretty Woman is the one exception to this rule.)

4. Wear glasses. Seriously. Glasses suggest a guy has read at least one book in his life, and is probably sensitive to boot. As Paul Child in Julie & Julia, Stanley Tucci totally rocked his glasses—and apparently the marital bed as well. (I’m guessing that’s where Julia Child’s signature squealing originated.) Greg Kinnear sports an expensive-looking hipster pair in I Don’t Know How She Does It, which elevates his all-American handsomeness to the level of polished and urbane. Plus, it’s the smirky, macho guys who would never wear glasses—Gerard Butler, Ryan Reynolds, Ashton Kutcher—that women know to avoid. Well, at least if they want a happily-ever-after, and not just a happily-this-Saturday-night.

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