But even that brand of demographics-as-destiny thinking is being retooled as huge new markets in China and beyond begin to show American movies in their spanking-new multiplexes. With the international box office now accounting for up to 70 percent of a film’s revenue, studios are looking for anything that transcends language and cultural mores. In other words, more pow, bang, boom, less kiss-kiss, blah-blah. Mike Tyson and a tiger — or Maya Rudolph relieving herself in the middle of the street — speak volumes in any vernacular.
As the veteran producer and Hollywood explainer Lynda Obst writes in her witty and wise new primer “Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales From the New Abnormal in the Movie Business”: “Humor is local. People like their hilarious indigenous customs, built around their own private jokes.” The emerging markets that Hollywood most covets might still rely on the United States for big, expensive franchise pictures. But they’re increasingly producing their own rom-coms. One of the most successful movies in China this year has been Xue Xiaolu’s “Finding Mr. Right,” a Ryan-and-Hanks-worthy tale of star-crossed romance set in — where else? — Seattle.
Historically, big stars like Ryan, Julia Roberts and Bullock have been able to overcome cinematic localism. The question is whether the next generation is up to the task. One unforeseen upshot of Hollywood’s Franchise Culture is that it’s not minting the kind of actresses who can take up the girl-next-door mantle with convincing ease or instant appeal. Emma Watson and Kristen Stewart both starred in huge franchises (“Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” respectively). But neither has the range, approachability or sunny sexiness to successfully pull off the all-American rom-com heroine.
Happily, there are glorious exceptions that prove the rule: Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games”) and Emma Stone (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) possess just the right relatability, physical charm and acting chops to have the makings of ideal romantic leads, and both have already acquitted themselves well within the genre, in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” And, like the adult dramas that Franchise Culture has made virtually obsolete on the big screen, the classic opposites-attract rom-com can still be found on television, whether by way of Lena Dunham in “Girls,” Zooey Deschanel in “New Girl” or Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels trading screwball barbs in “The Newsroom.”
Meanwhile, from the American sweethearts who remain, precious little is being heard, at least this summer. Granted, Bullock does have a new movie coming out next week. It’s an opposites-attract comedy, in which her Beatrice is a by-the-book FBI agent who pursues an unlikely relationship with a rough-and-tumble city cop. Sandy’s Benedick, it will surprise few to learn, will be played by Melissa McCarthy.