As was the case with many celebrities, I first came to know who Dudley Moore was because he appeared on The Muppet Show. The short in statue Brit was practically a Muppet himself, yet he became the somewhat unlikely go-to guy for many romantic comedies in the late 70’s and early 80’s. In 1983 he even stopped beating around the bush and starred in a romantic comedy that was simply called Romantic Comedy.
Moore plays Jason Kramer, a Broadway playwright who has just gone through a brutal breakup. Not with a woman, but with his writing partner. His agent Blanche (Frances Sternhagen) ends up arranging a meeting with a teacher who aspires to write plays. Jason, however, is surprised when this new partner arrives two weeks early, as he getting ready for his wedding…and that she is a woman, Phoebe Craddock (Mary Steenburgen). Despite an awkward introduction, the two decide to work together.
The first play the two create bombs, but before long the team begins creating hit after hit after hit. Over the years, Phoebe even becomes somewhat a member of Jason’s family. She often spends time running Jason’s kids to school and other activities, especially the more Jason’s wife, Allison (Janet Eilber) becomes caught up in her own political career. All the while, Jason and Phoebe are clearly each fighting off their own feelings for each other, trying to keep things professional. Things become strained, though, when Phoebe becomes involved with a reporter and Jason can hardly contain his jealousy. He even ends up having a fling with an actress he despises in retaliation…pretty much dooming both his marriage and his writing partnership. After time passes, though, a new opportunity for the team to reunite, both as writers and as lovers, presents itself.
At one point in this film, the character of Allison comments on how she didn’t really like one of Jason’s plays because it wasn’t really about anything. That’s a dangerous line to stick in a movie like this because it really drove home the realization that what I was watching wasn’t really about anything either. This is a movie that is just kind of there and doesn’t really make any effort to have its story progress in an interesting way. The film is based on a play by Bernard Slade and unfortunately the lack of cinematic sensibilities employed here screams “THIS WAS WRITTEN FOR THE STAGE!!” The bigger problem, though, is that we have a film with the word “comedy” right there in the title…but I couldn’t even manage a generous snicker for this film.
The one bright spot of the film is Mary Steenburgen, who is absolutely adorable in this role. Her character is at least relatable. She’s a simple teacher with dreams of writing for Broadway. We see her go through rehearsals with confidence, then be crushed by bad reviews, then recover next time out with a hit. That part of the story is kinda sweet. I just wish that Moore, and for that matter the script, had given her more to work with. The chemistry between Steenburgen and Moore is practically non-existent. The two never really talk about anything interesting and we never really get a good picture of the dynamic of their partnership as writers. It’s just a whole lot of nothing!
Having never seen the play this was based on I don’t know how true the film is to the source. I admit, though, I have little patience for what has to be one of the most tired premises possible…plays about playwrights. I mean I know you’re supposed to write about what you know, but come on…stretch yourself a little! Ultimately, though, the biggest problem is that despite a likable female lead, this so-called Romantic Comedy is actually devoid of anything that could remotely be considered “comedy.”