Sundance in love with romantic comedies

Fresh takes on genre turning up heat at festival

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PARK CITY -- Sundance historically has been known for heart-wrenching dramas.

Romantic comedies? Not so much.

But this year has brought a slew of romantic comedies and dramedies offering new takes on the form and even giving rise to a new subgenre.

"There's been such innovation in really simple love stories this year," fest director Geoffrey Gilmore said. "For 20 years, everything stayed the same, and then suddenly we have a half-dozen films dealing with different approaches to being in a relationship."

One of those movies, the Rose Byrne-Hugh Dancy starrer "Adam," found itself center stage when Fox Searchlight unexpectedly bought the film in the hope of turning it into the little romance that could.

But there are a host of other pictures in Park City offering fresh takes on twenty- and thirty-something love.

There's Jay DiPietro's "Peter & Vandy," which tells the story of a couple's conjoining and dissolution using a fractured, "Memento"-like structure; "An Education," an offbeat romance involving a young girl and older man in tumultuous 1960s London; "Paper Heart," a quasi-documentary about Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera's search for love; and "Adventureland," Greg Mottola's look at 1980s absurdism and love triangles at a Pittsburgh theme park.

And one of the most talked-about movies of the festival is "500 Days of Summer," Marc Webb's meditation on the emotions of a man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who falls in love with, but eventually splits from, an ethereal beauty named Summer (Zooey Deschanel).

These new dramedies -- in some cases focusing as much on the break-up as the coupling -- vary in tone, era and character. But they also share several important traits: They're sometimes funny or melancholy, frequently musical and rarely simple -- much, in fact, like relationships themselves.

The films do still turn some tricks Sundance-style. The darker side of human emotions, for instance, is still explored. But the setting has shifted from broken families or underprivileged environments to the potentially more commercial realm of youthful love.

Most of these films are from a new generation of directors reacting to sugarcoated romances they've been inundated with since they were young.

"What I think we're seeing, and what I was trying to do in '500 Days,' is show the sweet side of relationships but also show how they're really lived," Webb said. "Characters are still hopeful, but they're also realistic. Hollywood hasn't really shown us that, and I don't find a lot of the movies that pretend that everything always work out as you hope to be very interesting, or useful."

It's hard to say how many movies in this vein will continue getting made. Much will depend on how the current crop fares at the boxoffice, but for now Sundance is enjoying its fling.