Pop Culture Academy

What I learned from Romantic Comedies
by Alison Bruce

Pop culture is not just a source of entertainment and trivia answers. Sometimes it can teach you a thing or two about life. Watching the old Rom Com movies on TV as a teen certainly shaped my romantic fantasies and even imparted some practical lessons.

Forty Carats

Based on the Broadway play, which was in turn based on a French play, this 1973 movie is about a forty year old business-woman who is wooed by a twenty-three year old tycoon. Liv Ulman and Edward Albert star as Anne Stanley and Peter Latham. Gene Kelly plays the ex-husband Billy and Binnie Barnes steals the show as Anne's kleptomaniac mother.

Here's what I learned. There are advantages to age gaps. This lesson, learned when I was fifteen, may be why the father of my children is sixteen years younger than me. Like Anne, I questioned how other people would see us. Fortunately, I had Billy's words of wisdom to answer that: "Picture yourself without him."Well, I can now because we're separated. But that has less to do with our age difference than our temperaments.

However, the part I learned the most from was almost a throw away and had nothing to do with romance.

If you want an employee to take more responsibility, give them the title to go along with it. One of the excuses Anne uses not to go away with Peter, is that she has a business to run. No stranger to management, Peter suggests she give her assistant a small raise and a large promotion. I've been on the giving and receiving end of that principal and it works.

A New Leaf

Henry Graham, played by Walter Mathau, is a middle-aged, mostly useless, trust fund child who has run through his trust by living above his means. Since he'd prefer suicide to gainful employment, him valet suggests he repair his fortunes the old fashioned way - marry an heiress. He discovers in the very useful but totally naive Henrietta Lowell the answer to his prayers.

Henrietta, played by the director and writer Elaine May, is a female absent minded professor. Her house staff takes gross advantage of her with the help of her lawyer, who wants her for himself. Lawyer and staff set themselves to break up the engagement, but the totally useless Henry rises to the occassion.

There's a easy lesson here, one that can be picked up in many comedies. Often it's more work to avoid a job than to actually do it. Even better though, the story beautifully illustrates the maxim "Fake it till you make it."

Henry fakes competence and achieves it. He fakes love and begins to feel it. More comedy than romance, Henry and Henrietta still have one of the sweetest happily ever afters in a movie.

I've picked two old RomComs because I saw them as a teen when they could have the most effect on me. What is your favourite romantic comedy and what did it teach you about life?


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