It has come to my attention that there are, not just one, but two 'casual sex' romantic comedies on the horizon: No Strings Attached (trailer here), and the even more literal-mindedly titled Friends With Benefits (trailer here). This is on top of last year's Love and Other Drugs, the raunchiest mainstream rom com for some time (even if it does develop, not entirely convincingly, into something of a melodrama).
As I've said before, many (academic) critics like to characterise contemporary romantic comedy as perversely chaste, suggesting that these movies usually find some reason or other to keep couples out of each others' beds. This just isn't true, however, as the appearance of films like these makes all the more obvious.
The final couple happy ending has long been seen as a standardised, conservative end to a genre that is concerned in virtually every instance to repeat the same mantra regarding marriage and monogamy. Yet I'm more in agreement with Celestino Deleyto when he says that the main purpose of romantic comedy is
the artistic articulation of current discourses on love, sex and marriage - discourses that [are] multiple and contradictory. The apparent universality of the happy ending and its obvious conventionality have led many to defend a homology between the genre’s narrative structure and a stern defence of monogamy and heterosexuality, distorting what, in my view, is its main discursive space: the exploration of love and human sexuality and its complex and fluid relationships with the social context.
There have certainly already been plenty of romantic comedies in which casual sex or one-night stands have taken place between final couples (only to lead to something more), but these two films - taking, as they do, the parlance of our times in their very titles - make it very clear that they are concerned to explore this particular aspect of their "social context". Urban Dictionary's first entry for the phrase 'friends with benefits' seems to have appeared in 2003. Well, better eight years later than never.
Of course, it is almost certain that these movies will end with their final couples deciding that they want to try for a monogamous relationship; but meaning doesn't just reside in the ending - it's also conveyed by the beginning and middle. Equally, one final couple can mean something very different to another depending on what has come before it. For instance, once it has been demonstrated that sex can be separated from emotions outside a relationship, it follows that they can also be severed inside one. I predict tentative conclusions.
Regardless of how they turn out, though, what could make more clear the rom coms' desire to wrestle with changing sexual politics than the appearance of films with titles like these? How long until we see a movie called Fuck Buddies?