Coming up this year is an updated version of Neil Simon's classic "The Heartbreak Kid," starring Ben Stiller as a guy who falls for another woman on his honeymoon. There's also Chris Rock's remake of Eric Rohmer's "Chloe in the Afternoon," "I Think I Love My Wife," about a happily married man inexorably attracted to a free-spirited young woman, and "Dan in Real Life," in which Steve Carell plays a widower who falls in love with his brother's girlfriend.
None of these movies feature a major female star as a love object, because why not save money by using a beautiful young ingenue?
Studios are leery about plunking down a huge amount of money on a female movie star to top-line this genre, unless she's named Roberts. In the last two years, many female stars -- including Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and even Reese Witherspoon -- failed in putatively commercial ventures such as "Fever Pitch" ($42 million gross) and "Bewitched" ($63 million at the box office). After buoying the 2003 hit romance "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days " to more than $100 million domestically, the ebullient Kate Hudson fizzled in such clunkers as "Alex & Emma" and "Raising Helen" and was subsequently sent to movie jail, where she played the barely written wife role in "You, Me and Dupree," about yet another guy (Owen Wilson) struggling with the dilemmas of adulthood.
Indeed, a theme that runs through many of the recent male romantic comedies is male ambivalence about maturity. Here's a news flash: Men are scared of growing up.
Conversely, another subset of the romantic comedy that appears to be flourishing is the "mom-edy," in which the impediment to true love is Mom, or in the case of "Meet the Parents," Dad, in the form of a psychotically controlling Robert De Niro. The last two years have brought forth "Monster-in-Law" and "Prime," and now there's "Because I Said So." The subspecies is attractive from a business point of view because it allows studios to burnish the star quotient with some powerhouse actresses, including Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. It also taps into a recent phenomenon, which JWT ad agency trendspotter Marian Saltzman has termed "adultescence" -- or the now-extended period from the ages of 20 to 30, where young adults are still relying on their parents.
"It's infinitely relatable," says screenwriter Karen Leigh Hopkins, about the mom-edy. Co-writer of "Because I Said So" with Jessie Nelson, Hopkins notes that maybe "there's a rise of therapy" in the culture. "Perhaps with a little self-awareness, people are wondering what causes these patterns to begin with. Who made you this way? If I can love, accept, embrace and tolerate somebody's family, and still go on loving.... If a man stood up to my mother, I wonder where I'd be right now. Not as a single mom."
Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote the screenplay for last year's sparkling comedy "The Devil Wears Prada," quit writing romantic comedies about three years ago. "The romantic comedy can seem a little mechanical to the audience," she says. "When the audience sees the two stars, they know what is going to happen. The really concept-y romantic comedy seems a bit out of fashion. It's sort of a shame because the amazing tradition of romantic comedies is what inspired me to become a writer to begin with."
"Prada," says McKenna, is a love story of sorts, but the relationship is "between Anne [Hathaway's character] ... and Meryl." McKenna is now in the midst of turning another female-driven bestseller into a movie: "I Don't Know How She Does It" by Allison Pearson. "That's very real. It doesn't have a lot of concept to it. It's how to stay in love on a day-to-day basis when you have children and are working. It has a low level of contrivance."
The Farrelly Brothers are rebounding from some less-inspired outings such as "Stuck on You" and "Shallow Hal" by returning to their raunchy roots with an "out-and-out sex comedy," the aforementioned remake of "The Heartbreak Kid." In the original, Charles Grodin married a shrew, and fell for a shiska goddess-sociopath played by Cybill Shepherd on his honeymoon; now Stiller is married to the knockout and learns "there's no woman on the planet whose physical attractiveness, and only her physical attraction, could keep a man happy," says Peter Farrelly. "It's our first R-rated comedy in seven years. We really had a ball, and busted out. This thing is quite adult -- I think Europeans are going to love it."
While some writers are attempting to expand the genre, others are simply bailing for the sunnier climes of TV, where they have more power, heftier paychecks and where women carry such major hits as "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy." Indeed, the small screen seems well-suited for the intimacies and foibles of modern love. "I think the genre's been a little bit kidnapped by television," says Meyers, echoing a widely held sentiment.