Screwball comedy shows irreverence for love associated with childish. For instance, comments such as, “Stand still, Godfrey. It’ll all be over in a minute,” as Carole Lombard says to William Powell as their characters are about to be wed in My Man Godfrey demonstrates the ridiculousness and childishness of the upper classes. She seems almost his mother, chiding an impatient and antsy child, and neither of them seems to understand the gravity of their situation, a fact that would not escape the original viewers.
It is almost as though they were children playing at getting married, not thinking about the fact that marriage comes with commitments and responsibilities. Many times the adult thing to do is talk about your feelings, no matter how hard that is, and in Love Crazy, if Steve just told Susan exactly what happened at Isobel’s apartment and what they did, all the craziness could be avoided. Similarly, in The Awful Truth, if Jerry just told Lucy what he did in California and both discussed their strong doubts and feelings, they would have never jumped to erroneous conclusions as to each other’s faithfulness and ended up divorced.Order now
In His Girl Friday, if Walter just admitted that his love for Hildy was stronger than his love for his work, Hildy would never have left and they’d been together before the movie had even started. All their troubles could be avoided if they were just honest and spoke out about what went on inside them instead of playing such extravagant games and expecting themselves and others to jump through ridiculous hoops. “In the world of Screwball Comedy, such actions are triggered by an association with the freedom of childhood. ” (Gehring, p.38) It is their inherent desire to be selfish that keeps them from doing the greater good.
Childish behavior would coincide with Steve being impatient about getting his anniversary sex at the end of the night and therefore ruining the night by convincing Susan to do it in reverse, Jerry demanding answers about the Lucy’s relationship with her teacher but not feeling any responsibility for his actions in California, or Walter’s concern for making money and getting his girl but complete unconcern with the greater good of society or Hildy’s feelings.
It can be seen that childishness is their inability to contain their composure and retain control over their own desires instead of letting their desires controlling them. Byrge and Miller compliment Gehring in his attempt to capture the characteristics that would describe a childlike nature to the Screwball comedy characters by describing them as, “The innocently aggressive, noisily silly, endearingly defiant, and happily destructive way that little children at play repeatedly disturb the peace and boredom of adults’ vain attempts at domestic tranquility” (2).
This childishness and inability to accept adult life is one of the most marked elements of a screwball comedy. Romantic comedies take the exact opposite approach to this question. Instead of reverting to childish antics, such as in a screwball comedy, they hold that adult behavior is a more desirable way to live by. Elements such as careers, morality, truth and the feelings of others play into the decision making.
For instance, in My Best Friend’s Wedding, the heroine Julianne and her gay best friend lie on her bed and discuss the moral and ethical ramifications of stealing a groom from his bride and thus destroying another couple’s wedding in order to satisfy Julianne’s selfish desires. This kind of rational discourse is nonexistent in the screwball world. In fact, in the screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, Grant must make the decision between a normal, safe relationship from which he is already committed to or the zany, unpredictable life with the comic anti-heroine.
In the end, Grant drops his marriage commitment to the normal woman in favor of the screwball heroine. In a direct contrast, in the romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding, Michael decides to stay true to his prior marriage commitment with his fianci?? e despite Julianne’s confession of love, breaking the screwball mold and making the obviously the more responsible course of action. However, even Julianne’s confession of love is a direct contrast to a screwball comedy’s course of action. In a screwball comedy, important issues are swept under the rug and are not discussed.
An example of this is The Awful Truth, in which the issues in Jerry and Lucy’s marriage and their reasons for suspecting each other of infidelity are not truly discussed. Julianne’s profession of love to Michael, fruitless as it ends up being, is a much more adult response to an emotion than Lucy and Jerry’s reaction to their emotions. Another major difference is that within romantic comedies, the career and responsibilities play a major role in the lives of the characters. Everyone in the romantic comedy has a career and is actively involved within that career.
However, in screwball movies such as The Thin Man, detective Powell is happy just spending his wife’s money and experiencing the most pleasure he can in his settled down state. At one point, everyone is enjoying cocktails at a party when the joyful singing on the radio is interrupted by a report describing a developing criminal investigation and Powell’s response is to turn it off saying “Does it always have to be business? ” When confronted about the investigation by his friends his response is “I’m a gentleman now” implying his lack of concern for his responsibilities and career.
However, in You’ve Got Mail, the hero and heroine clash over their businesses. Joe’s book “Superstore” threatens to destroy Kathleen’s smaller bookstore, and they clash continuously over their careers. This can be juxtaposed to The Awful Truth in which there is no attempt to establish an occupational cover for Cary Grant. In fact, there was a point in filming “When Cary came to that scene he stopped and laughed, ‘Where am I supposed to have gotten any money? ‘ He asked. ‘I never work, you never show me doing any sort of job'” (Gehring, 31).
This is an obvious contrast to the fact that in a screwball comedy, the career of the main character is anything but important. The adult concerns of those in a romantic comedy are very different from the childish nature of the screwball comedies’ characters. One of the most essential elements of the screwball comedy is satire, and this comes through heavily in the reversal of gender roles in screwball comedy. While in most films, the male pursues the female of his dreams and then controls the relationship, in the screwball genre, the roles flip.
Gehring makes the point that the comic antihero suffers from basic male frustration (especially in relation to women), and thus, in the screwball marriage, the questioning of the conventional marriage becomes evident in the fact that, “The traditional hero can control his woman and doesn’t stick his neck out for no one” and the screwball male has an inability to control his wife, resulting in a true satire of a traditional marriage (Creese).
For instance, in “Love Crazy” Steve Ireland desperately wants to make love to his wife on his anniversary and ignore everything else, but because of his inability to control the situation as a man in a traditionally portrayed marriage would, the entire situation becomes nothing more than a parody of marital conventions. He is weak and fleeting and does not at all fulfill the role of a conventional man. In another example of the reversal of gender roles, the conventional man, such as Ward “Manly Man” Willoughby, becomes irrelevant.
While he does the right thing according to society, yet he is still always wrong. No one remembers his name and in the very end he gets locked up in the asylum with no one to save him. In a traditional film in which traditional marriage and gender roles were maintained, the husband would not be weak and the strong men in the film would end up well, not in a mental institution. The last questioning of conventional marriage comes in the form of a strong, assertive woman. All the power in the film lies with Susan, Steve’s wife.
In a completely satiric reversal of roles, she is an uncontrollable force, and, rather than being passive in the stereotype of women at that time, she moves the entire story along by herself. Everything is done according to Susan’s word; she asks for the divorce, she hooks up with Ward, and she sends Steve to the insane asylum. Screwball comedy is entirely female driven, with an eccentric heroine saving an antiheroic leading man from a rigid lifestyle. A classic example is when Hepburn’s love rescues Grant from his mundane career and equally sterile fianci?? e in Bringing Up Baby.
In addition, the inevitability of the screwball heroine’s victory is nicely summarized in Lady Eve, when Henry Fonda learns the moral of the screwball comedy: when you think, consider or try to understand, you lose. By considering the morality of being with Barbara Stanwyck, he ends up unhappy and sets himself into a wacky cascade of screwball moments brought about by our heroine’s thirst for revenge. Every time Fonda throws a quote such as “The difference between man and beast is the ability to understand,” he learns facts he didn’t want to know, such as how many men Stanwyck had been with before him.
Fonda doesn’t truly learn his lesson until at the end where he finally says, “I don’t want to understand. ” Still, the genre also has room for the antiheroic screwball heroine who wins despite herself. In Bringing Up Baby, Hepburn ruins Grant’s car, ruins his golf game, and loses his opportunity at getting the million dollars grant, and even destroys the brontosaurs exhibit (symbolically the last vestiges of his academic rigidity), but in the end Grant still falls in love with her.
Eventually, she both loosens up the classically rigid male and frees him from a domineering, deadening fianci?? e. This female dominated relationship is not so apparent in romantic comedies The screwball heroine has lost some of her allure. Sleepless in Seattle borrows from screwball comedy without really becoming a part of the screwball genre itself, because it lacks double entendres, fast talk, and the mock adultery. Despite having zany situations and a romantic plot, Sleepless in Seattle is an addition to the romantic comedy genre (Shumway).