There was a time when brash romantic comedies ruled the cinema screens. But now, with the likes of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary more than a decade old, it is a genre in decline.
But Sam Bern is trying to restore the rom-com to its former heights.
The Homerton-based filmmaker has just released his debut feature Dead Cat, about two childhood sweethearts who chance upon each other at the start of their thirties.
“Romcoms are important films and I think are really underrated,” says 34-year-old Bern, who lives in Homerton.
“At their heart they’re about two people who at the moment aren’t happy or aren’t functioning and it’s finding a way for them to be complete or happy again.”
Dead Cat is the story of Michael and Kristen, who have taken very different paths in life since they last knew each other.
“She’s sort of gone off and done everything and he’s sort of gone off and done nothing,” explains Bern.
“She’s got married, had a career and a kid and is going through a divorce, and he’s tried to become a photographer but it hasn’t quite been working.
“They run into each other at speed dating night so it’s like he sits down at a table and realises the person opposite him is someone he was very close to when he was a teenager, and they sort of come back into each others lives.”
With only a bunch of dysfunctional friends as allies, Michael and Kristen seek to discover whether this second bite of the romantic cherry is anything more than mere nostalgia.
The dead cat of the title is originally Michael’s hapless excuse for following Kristen around.
Much of the film is shot around Shoreditch, where Bern and the production team used to work making corporate films and music videos until the financial crisis hit.
“We were losing a lot of work so, as a group of filmmakers who had collaborated a lot before, we decided to make a feature film with people that we knew.”
Since starting work on the film in 2009, some of the cast have already made names for themselves: Sebastian Armesto was the lead in Star Wars 7 and Tom Mison has made a name for himself in the Fox series Sleepy Hollow.
“We all trained together at drama school and that’s how we knew each other,” Bern says.
Romantic comedies at their best are life-affirming, and at their worst can feel formulaic and cliché-ridden. The idea of there being a person out there who is ‘the one’ is a tired trope, Bern insists.
“It’s not that they have to be together it’s that they would be good together,” he says, explaining that each of the main characters provides the spark missing in the life of the other.
“He needs more real world and she needs more escapism and they sort of begin to find it in each other.”
“It’s like a mini resurrection you get to see these people get a second chance and find something in themselves that maybe they didn’t realise was there before.”