[Essay] On Rom-Com — Sam Hancock

The perfect hangover cure: a romantic comedy with an undemanding narrative structure. The type of film during which you can partially engage, yet just as easily flit in and out of. It seems harmless, palpable even, but in a society overflowing with questions of “why?” and “what is the point?” it seems important to ask the same of such a genre in its contemporary context.

The 2014 film “Song One” is classified as an ‘American drama’; the only drama – in my reading – being its subversive attitude towards our generation’s eagerness to push forward, prove ourselves and get ahead in every aspect of our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I get it, the idea makes unspoiled sense. Off the back of her phenomenal success in ‘Les Miserables’, for which she won an Oscar for her powerful vocal role as Fantine, Anne Hathaway appears opposite Johnny Flynn, one of the only contemporary folk-rock singers to have made a mark in the multifaceted music industry. Tick.

The film utilises a genre pervasively accepted as popular to any audience, no matter the demographic. Tick.

Where I become impatient with Hollywood standards is the ease with which they believe they can use some modern form of subliminal messaging to coerce us, the readers, in to believing the musically inspired love story of Anne Hathaway, or Franny, and Johnny Flynn, or James. A song, one song, is what will supposedly unite both these star-crossed lovers whilst unifying Fanny’s unstable family.

In 1944 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer critiqued the “culture industry”. It was argued that we, as the passive reader, are expected to digest any visual pleasure put in front of us, with no active ability to question, or even truly understand. Mass culture, so to speak, is what eats us alive and yet evidently, we consume it quite freely too. Though some of us believe we are worth more, see more and even comprehend more than this, films such as ‘Song One’ prove time and time again to Hollywood producers that we are wrong. We are stubborn, maybe even vain about our self-awareness, but we are wrong. While it is true that the film was not an overtly profitable “box office success”, it still grossed over $30,000 and adds to a chaotic whirlpool of discussion surrounding the ‘writer’ (the director) and ‘reader’ (us, the audience). Film always has and still does possess the ability to empower, motivate and move audiences alike, whether it be through humour, laughter or recognition and mutual understanding.

Yet, in an apparently progressive society, where the term “policeman” is politically, and rightly, incorrect for its sexist connotations, the lucrative and inescapable movie industry continues to compress one’s ability to be fully innovative, fully capable, or fully existent.

Never before has there been a time as relevant to question the unfathomable abyss between a world told to be functional in conjunction with a world expected to be submissive. 2015 saw a new government elected in the United Kingdom with a campaign that leaked into every available aspect of modern-day life. Posters, Facebook reminders, tweets, news reports, advertisements, promises carved into stone. All of these eclectic formats carried one message: be active, be a part of something that matters, have your say. However, at the same time Hollywood and its counterparts continue to make lucrative profits off the back of our demonstrative indifference. How can we make rational and effective decisions in a world where the characters presented to us have no depth, no real meaning?

Yes, it is true that the arts have always and will always ask us to suspend our disbelief to a certain extent. However, it is also true, and in fact vital, that we ensure our bid to remain operative thinkers is not tainted by the ongoing ‘American dream’. This is a dream that predominantly leads us into a grey area of thoughtless abandon.

What is thinking after all when it is overseen and planned by studios creating these texts that assume that we no longer assess anything that is put in front of us? Perception is key to everyday living and it is exactly this perception that we must respect enough to uphold and constantly validate. Film is power, but so are we, so are you.


Sam Hancock is a freelance journalist. He was a researcher for The Times and writes regularly for The Independent.

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