Friday, May 15, 2015
Book Review: Going Against Type
I’ve probably lamented before about the death of the traditional romantic comedy film. Many culprits have been accused of its murder: The changes in society that make it more difficult to come up with plausible reasons for a couple not to be together. A plethora of poorly performing films starring actors such as Matthew McConaughey, Katherine Heigl and Kate Hudson. A preference for the male-driven gross-out comedies of Judd Apatow. Studio preferences for films that appeal mainly to teenage boys. But I believe the strongest difference between the romantic comedies that came out in its 1940s heyday versus the films of the 1980s and 90s are the strength of the female characters. Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, and Claudette Colbert all played women chafing against the bit of a male-driven society. They had goals – career, travel, independence. You wouldn’t find any of them crying hysterically that they were going to be forty … someday. (Nothing against When Harry Met Sally. I loved that movie.) These women were ahead of their time, and as society finally caught up with them, on-screen romantic comedy heroines put aside their career aspirations as they became obsessed with love.
Sharon Black’s Going Against Type is a throwback to that type of 1940s romantic comedy. Sports columnist Charlotte Regan is more interested in competing with men on the sports desk of the Irish paper she writes for than dating any of them. She’s a kind sister, good friend, athlete, and volunteer. When she’s handed responsibility for the anonymous sports column “Side Swipe,” her first argument is against “footballers” who have their own clothing line. Her diatribe gets the attention of rival reporter Derry Cullinane, a fashion writer who has his own anonymous column, “The Squire,” in a competing paper. Naturally, he feels athletes have just as much right as anyone else to dabble in fashion. The two writers go head to head every week, pitting the purity of sports against the realities of athletes as celebrities, each having no idea whom the other is in real life. And in real life, they have friends who set them up. They meet cute and have an immediate attraction.
Falling in love with a stranger who turns out to be someone you hate isn’t an original concept. The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail are just two movies that utilized it. But Charlotte and Derry are well-written, unique characters, and it’s fun to read about a woman obsessed with sports and a man who knows clothing designers better than soccer players. The book unfolds predictably – this is not a complaint, as fans of the genre expect certain things and get annoyed when the material deviates from custom. However, this particular concept generally unfolds with the protagonists hating each other in real life while falling in love anonymously. By deciding to switch this around, Black kills most of the tension in Charlotte and Derry’s real life encounters. With the best jabs appearing in their newspaper columns, the dialogue between them doesn’t come close to the sparkling repartee that was the highlight of those 1940s movies. And a smaller bone of contention: As “Side Swipe” and “The Squire” continue to go after each other, the two columns build up huge fan bases on Facebook and Twitter. I had trouble believing that in this day and age, people who hang out on social media are also obsessively following newspaper columnists. But maybe newspapers are more popular in Ireland than they are here.
Going Against Type is a quick read, clocking in around the same amount of time as it would take to rewatch His Girl Friday. If you prefer The Philadelphia Story to the latest Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore collaboration, give Going Against Type a read. (You might also want to check out He Said/She Said, a 1991 Kevin Bacon/Elizabeth Perkins flick about dueling Baltimore Sun columnists who fall in love.)
Thanks to Sharon Black for the book in exchange for an honest review.