Hitch & Fever Pitch: Sex & The Fine Line of Romantic Comedies

As a genre, romantic comedies have always been audience pleasers and they helped boost the careers of actors like Cary Grant, Doris Day, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

The successful romance involves a good story, centering on endearing and believable characters that is romantic.

Modern versions like “Sleepless in Seattle,”” “Hitch” and “Fever Pitch” are good stories (a young boy calls a talk show seeking help for his dad in Seattle which is heard by a prospective love interest in Baltimore; a matchmaker inadvertently matches himself in a romance where everything goes wrong; a die hard Red Sox fan is faced with a choice between baseball and the woman he loves), their characters are endearing and believable, but their romantic charm is tested in the way they deal with the sexual relationship of their central characters.

They face a dilemma when they try to reach a wide audience. The more sexual content the more their rating will limit the age appropriateness of their story they walk a line. “Sleepless” played the safer route (PG) while “Hitch” & “Fever Pitch” went the PG-13 route. PG-13 in both cases meant more overt sexual innuendo and “adult” language.

All contemporary romantic comedies make decisions about whether or not the central romantic couple will engage in premarital sex or not. In “Sleepless” Hanks confided to his son about his earlier pre-marital sexual exploits, but because he didn’t meet his new love interest (Meg Ryan) until the last scene, their romantic attraction was developed without the “complication” of sex. In “Hitch” the assumption is that matchmaker Hitch’s couplings will likely be sexually active, but Hitch and his love interest (Eva Mendez) are not and get married after they declare their love. In “Fever Pitch” the sexual attraction of Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon is an early and ongoing part of their relationship. This should not surprise those who know the work of writer Nick Hornby and the Farrelly brothers (producers).

Let’s not be naive–premarital sex is as old as, well, as old as …sex. Storytellers have always walked the line on how to balance romance and physical passion (Shakepseare is an obvious example in classic dramtic literature.) In my opinion romantic comedies are strengthened when they spend their time and energy developing the characters and their maturing romance without introducing sex or introducing it in an illusory, subtle way. Such an artistic decision also reflects the emerging conservatism of today’s teens. Hollywood may assume all or most teenagers are sexually active, but a number of recent studies indicate teens are seeing the value of deepening friendships with the opposite sex without prematurely introducing sex into the relationship.

Therein lies the film producer’s dilemma. In each of the romantic comedies we’ve mentioned the central characters are in their 20’s (or 30’s), yet the filmmaker wants to appeal to teenagers along with the film’s more natural connection to those in their 20’s and 30’s.

Most filmmakers cannot conceive of a dating scene of twenty-year olds that does not involve sex as an early step in a progressing relationship, so they feel their characters MUST be sexually active to seem authentic so they include the sex at the risk of offending teens (and their parents). I think there ARE plenty of 20 year olds who are not sexually active and I think some who are sexually active wish they weren’t. I also think most 20 year olds are still capable of separating romance from sex and would not be offended with romantic comedies that deal with characters who are not sexually active.

“Hitch” and “Fever Pitch” had some wonderfully funny moments, but in my view both were weakened by their sexual humor. Tenderness, kindness, good-heartedness will always be at the heart of romance and sex will always belong in the context of a fully committed relationship called marriage. Since study after study is showing that films with family appeal are stronger in the box office, one can argue that economic incentives favor going the PG route (like “Sleepless”) rather than PG-13 like “Hitch” & “Fever Pitch.”

So what can you do about the dilemma of sex in romantic comedies?

1) Be aware and make discerning choices.
2) Talk to your kids.
3) Support advocates to Hollywood: Ted Baehr’s Movieguide and Larry Poland’s Mastermedia are two good ones.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Movies, Staublog in April 18, 2005 by | No Comments »

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