A couple of nights ago we had a double feature rental: Little Black Book and Tiptoes. Both of these movies have been packaged & marketed as romantic comedies or dramedies... but neither one really is. Each complicated the genre in some interesting ways. I should say at the outset that I love a good romantic comedy -- I am fully capable of turning off my critical intellect and rooting for romance. So it's a genre I enjoy, but it's also interesting to see what happens when it gets played with.
Little Black Book pays homage to several earlier 80s films, including Broadcast News and Working Girl. Brittany Murphy plays a woman who dreams of working for Diane Sawyer but winds up instead working at an exploitive talk show in New Jersey, whose host (Kathy Bates) is on her way out. Murphy meets up with Holly Hunter, another of the show's producers. This is a Springer-esque show, flaunting grandma hookers, cheating mates, etc. One of the ideas pitched for an upcoming episode involves spying through your mate's Palm pilot (the new little black book) to find out what he's up to. Murphy is curious about her boyfriend and winds up doing some "research," including meeting several of his former girlfriends. I'll skip over the rest of the plot, in case you want to see it. But what I found really interesting about the movie is the way it centered around women's relationships with other women: Murphy's friendship with Hunter, her attraction to/friendship with some of her boyfriend's exes, her obsession with Sawyer, her mom's obsession with Carly Simon...the energy of the movie really isn't about the romantic plot so much as the friendships constituted in the talking about romantic relationships.
In Tiptoes (a Sundance selection for 2004), Kate Beckinsdale has been wondering why her boyfriend (Matthew McConaughey) has been avoiding introducing her to his family...she accidentally becomes pregnant and he's not excited, even though they've been talking about marriage and family. It turns out his family are all dwarves, and he is the only non-dwarf among them. She knows she wants to keep the baby even though it is likely to be a little person, but he is much more ambivalent. The movie takes some surprising twists and turns, and also features Gary Oldman (playing McConaughey's brother), Peter Dinklage, and Patricia Arquette. I thought it struck a fairly sensitive balance between exploring real issues faced by little people and trying to treat the little people characters just like any other characters -- although some reviewers lambasted the film for what they saw as its "preachy" message that we are all human beings, I think that's a significant point. The little people, like the average sized people, are complicated -- some are nice, some are responsible, some are screwed up. It's a movie that uses conventional plotting to probe issues of social acceptance, genetic technology, and family dynamics. I think on the purely visual level it does a lot of work, too, in creating acceptance within the viewer. What might seem unusual at the film's beginning loses its strangeness. Obviously some viewers will just be embarrassed or amused or disturbed to see so many little people on screen. But the film isn't really for those viewers anyway.