Because Someone Like You Has Gotta Give The Holiday Two For the Money

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When it comes to romantic-comedies, Hollywood has finally crossed a line: industry professionals are becoming completely and totally confused by the broad, non-specific names of these projects.

by Chris Neumer

While strolling through a Blockbuster store with my girlfriend recently, I noticed several rows of a multi-generational romantic comedy starring Diane Keaton called Because I Said So. Almost instinctively, my girlfriend’s arm reached up and grabbed a copy of the DVD. I looked at her, slightly confused and asked her what she was doing; I’d already given her a copy of the movie a while back.

It was her turn to be confused.

“You gave me The Holiday,” she clarified.

I squinted at her. “The Holiday, that’s the Nancy Meyers, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton movie, right?”

She shook her head slowly. “That’s Something’s Gotta Give.”

I looked back at the DVD in her hand and said, utterly baffled, “Then what the Hell is Because I Said So?”

It was at this point in the conversation that I realized that Hollywood had finally crossed a line: film titles and posters have become so broad, non-specific and heavily imitated that an on-the-ball industry professional, me, was completely and totally confused by the different projects.

For years, studio marketing departments have been making a concerted effort to make their big releases as inoffensive as possible in order to appeal to the widest audience. This is especially the case with romantic-comedies. In order to achieve this goal, marketers will often choose titles for their releases that are the driest, most generic titles they can come up with; like Because I Said So. Helping nothing is the fact that the graphic design for a lot of the studio one-sheets is equally bland and very repetitive. The logic is that if X movie hits it big with a prominently placed bit of the Baskerville font, then that same font should work for another project too. It’s the reason that the posters of Sweet Home Alabama and New in Town look so strikingly suspicious, right down to the font, the font color and the luggage in the poster.

The reason for this is that when people talk about a generic, ultimately forgettable title – like Because I Said So – it subtly forces them to describe the movie by its most marketable asset(s): its lead actors. New in Town isn’t New in Town, it’s the new Renee Zellweger movie. Something’s Gotta Give isn’t Something’s Gotta Give, it’s the new Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton movie. And most people would be more inclined to see the new Sandra Bullock movie than something called All About Steve.

The one common thread I began to notice while thinking about the pitiful titles that Hollywood has been coining is their complete lack of focus. I’m not going to argue that every movie needs to be as specifically titled as Batman Returns, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Pearl Harbor or Killing Emmett Young, but there’s no doubting what the aforementioned four films are about.

With the pointed and memorable nature of those titles, it effectively removes the need to be given extraneous information in order to talk accurately about the project in question. There is no confusing The Last of the Mohicans with The Gangs of New York. This was the facet that got me with Because I Said So. I wasn’t looking at Because I Said So as the movie with that title, I was looking at it as that multi-generational, romantic comedy with Diane Keaton – a description that can be applied to Something’s Gotta Give as well as Because I Said So and The Family Stone.

I decided to see if I could come up with a list of the most easily interchangeable, generic and lowest-common denominator theatrical titles of the last ten years that weren’t Because I Said So or Something’s Gotta Give. At first, I was daunted by the task – which essentially boiled down to remembering movies I’d forgotten – but it turned out to be a lot easier than expected. I can thank Ashley Judd and Mandy Moore for a lot of that. The final list that I compiled is a “which one is that?” of “which one is that?” movies. Not surprisingly, not one of the below was any kind of box office hit.

10) Failure to Launch

9) Where the Heart Is

8) Hanging Up

7) How to Deal

6) Rules of Engagement

5) In Her Shoes

4) Two for the Money

3) Just My Luck

2) Talk to Me/Lucky You

1) Someone Like You.

One other interesting observation I made about the above titles was the way they seemed to almost delight in obfuscating what their plots actually were. If you didn’t know anything about the movie industry and I told that you Failure to Launch was about one of the following, I highly doubt you’d guess the correct answer.  Is it:

A) a sci/fi thriller involving commercial space travel

B) a Cold War era submarine stand-off in the vein of The Hunt for Red October

C) a romantic comedy about a guy who lives with his parents in his mid-thirties, or

D) a biopic about the rocky love life of the man who invented the trebuchet

The answer is, of course, C.

Why the hell would you name a romantic comedy about a guy moving out of his parents’ house Failure to Launch? Just imagine the press the movie would receive if it was instead titled Get The *&$! Out. Or, simply shorten that to GTFO and you’ve going something worth remembering.

How to Deal and Just My Luck seemed like they would have been movies about gambling, bottoming out in Las Vegas or something involving poker. And yet, none of these plot descriptions could be farther from the truth. Both projects are teen love stories. Interestingly, there was a poker and a gambling movie in my top ten. Lucky You and Two for the Money respectively.*

* Come to thing of it, Two for the Money would have been a good title for a romantic comedy about a guy who doesn’t want to move out of his parents’ house. So would Three to Get Ready or Go Man Go. Really though, I’m sticking with GTFO.

The most fitting piece of information that I learned involved director William Friedkin’s film, Rules of Engagement.  I found it to be a pretty interesting movie and easily the best one included on the above list.  It’s a whole lot more interesting than its bland title would suggest. The film focuses on the political fallout that occurs after US troops open fire onto a crowd of protesters in front of one of their embassies in the Middle East. Tension is high throughout film and the sequence involving the rescue of the United States’ ambassador and family one of the best directed action sequences I can remember seeing. However, as proof positive that these titles are all interchangeable, Rules of Engagement was also a CBS sit-com about three guys who are all at various points in the dating cycle. It just doesn’t seem logical that violent, intelligent political thrillers and CBS sit-coms involving David Spade should be able to use the same title, and yet here we are.

One good thing has come out of this collective marketing genericisim (it’s now a word). Indie directors like Jeff Cook and Ray Masterson have a new source of comedy material. Cook and Masterson directed an anti-romantic comedy called Someone for Everyone. The movie’s tagline summarizes everything very nicely: a romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies.

Hear, hear.

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