FilmJuice have my review of Ernst Lubitsch’s classic 1930s romantic comedy Trouble in Paradise.
Set in 1930s Paris, the film tells of a pair of confidence tricksters who fall in love and decide to fleece the heiress to a large perfume fortune. However, as the male crook worms his way into the heiress’s affections as head of her household, he soon comes to realise that he actually prefers the identity he has assumed to the identity he was born with. Trapped between his growing love for the heiress and his standing relationship with a female crook, the confidence trickster is forced to contend with issues of class and ask himself what it is that he really wants from a relationship.
I must admit, I approached this film with some degree of trepidation as my experience of Lubitsch has always been tainted by Nora Ephron’s slushily sentimental You’ve Got Mail, a remake of Lubitsch’s immeasurably more elegant The Shop Around the Corner. Well… that and the wider problem that:
Most romantic comedies are rubbish. The reason for this is that the people who make romantic comedies want as broad an audience as possible and assume that the only way to reach this broad audience is to keep the subject matter simple-minded in order to make it accessible. This terror of alienating audiences has resulted in a cinematic culture in which romantic comedies tend to either be about actual teenagers (e.g. Juno and 10 Things I Hate About You) or about emotionally stunted adults who behave like teenagers (e.g. High Fidelity and Amelie). The reason why genre classics such as Annie Hall, His Girl Friday and The Apartment have endured while the likes of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and What Women Want have faded from view is because these classic romantic comedies speak of grown-up relationships in a way that ensures their continued relevance to generations of grown-up film lovers. Indeed, if the measure of a romantic comedy’s greatness is its level of emotional sophistication then few romantic comedies come anywhere close to rivaling the magnificence of Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise.
Aside from being beautifully acted, wonderfully made and occasionally very funny indeed, the film also contains some real insight into the ambiguities and challenges of managing an adult relationship. Are you with the right person? Are you with the right person for the wrong reason? What kind of person would you be if you were to spend your life with a different person than the one you have? These are not the types of questions that appear in most romantic comedies as most romantic comedies are focused upon the adolescent adrenaline rush of first love. However, as anyone who has been in a long-term relationship will tell you, those early months are really very different to the emotional and intellectual landscape of genuinely long-term relationships. Trouble in Paradise is a real joy to watch as it speaks directly to the nature of adult relationships in a way that adults can understand.