Saw two movies this last week—Made of Honor and Baby Mama—that I thought made an interesting comparison of romantic comedies. Neither is particularly brilliant, but I think Baby Mama succeeds more as a romantic comedy, or relationship comedy, and I wanted to look at why.
Although there are plenty of things to pick apart in each one, I want to focus on the primary difference—the one thing which makes Baby Mama succeed in a way that Made of Honor never does. And that’s this…
Unlike in Baby Mama, we never fully believe that our main characters in Made of Honor truly, desperately need each other.
In other words, Made of Honorfails to illustrate how much Tom (Patrick Dempsey) and Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) need/love each other in the same way Baby Mama does with Kate (Tina Fey) and Angie (Amy Poehler). Take a look…
At the beginning of Made of Honor, Tom and Hannah have supposedly been best friends for ten years. Tom is a perpetual bachelor, bedding every woman he meets; Hannah is just another single woman pushing thirty. But when Hannah’s job sends her to Europe for six weeks, Tom misses her in a way he’s never thought about… and suddenly realizes he’s in love with his best friend. Hannah, of course, is busy meeting the dashing Kevin McKidd (Colin McMurray), and when she returns with a ring on her finger, Tom realizes he must win back his best friend. But like I said, here’s the problem…
We never believe Tom really loves her... because the movie never shows us this.
Sure, we see Tom and Hannah spend time together, but we never see how much they NEED each other. Tom brings her coffee in the morning, they browse antique shops, and they go to brunch every Sunday. Yet while this is all sweet and good-natured, it doesn’t signify a super-strong BOND. In fact, a weekly brunch hardly signifies a once-in-a-lifetime relationship. I have friends I see or talk to once a week… but I also have friends I see or talk to EVERY DAY.
Not to mention: Tom’s willing to sleep his way around town until Hannah heads to Scotland… then he suddenly wakes up and he decides he loves her—which is kinda hard to swallow after the story has already established he's an impulsive playboy. Especially when he announces to his buddies: “I don’t know… I think there might be more to my relationship with Hannah than just friends,” which is quite possibly history’s most UNCONVINCING declaration of love ever.
I wish the movie had shown us a scene of them relying on each other when the chips were down. I.e., have Hannah call Tom just after her heart has been broken, and Tom races to her... maybe he even ditches a gorgeous date to go console her. Have Tom’s career be on the line and he has 24 hours to put together a job-saving proposal or presentation… and Hannah cancels all her plans to help him. Basically—show us these two characters need, want, and care for each other more than anything else on the planet.
Baby Mama does this simply and beautifully. First of all, it sets up how badly and desperately Kate wants to have a child. We see her pining after babies, trying to meet husbands, hoping to get pregnant. Ultimately, of course, she learns she’s infertile and decides to hire a surrogate mother: Angie, the world’s most inappropriate mom. But there’s one perfect little scene that sets up their entire relationship…
Kate and Angie are standing on Kate’s balcony, having just finished the interview where they’ll decide whether or not Angie is going to carry Kate’s baby. And Kate says to her (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t really remember): “I really want this. And I think you’re great. I hope you choose me, because I need you, and I think you’re wonderful, and I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my life.” And Angie says: “I think you’re wonderful, too. And I think I’d be really good at this, and doing this for you would make me feel important and valued, and that’s something I don’t have anywhere else in my life.”
So even though it’s simple, direct, and on-the-nose, Baby Mama does what Made of Honor doesn’t… it bonds those characters inextricably. They NEED each other more than anything else on the planet. Thus, we’re willing to buy all the hijinx and complications throughout the rest of the story because we’re so invested in Kate and Angie’s relationship.
So I guess the takeaway lesson is this: in a romantic comedy, the ROMANCE must come before the COMEDY. If we don’t buy the romance—or the relationship between our leads—we’ll never care enough to laugh with the comedy. And I think if you look back at some of the great romantic/relationship comedies—When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, you name it—the movies always put the spotlight on the relationship, and let the comedy bubble up behind or around it.