• Emily Coogan

A case for more network and ensemble films

I’m a sucker for a good rom com, and the Garry Marshall network-style movies? Chef’s kiss.

For the unacquainted, the late Garry Marshall was the directive brain behind films such as The Princess Bride and Pretty Woman; a genius and legend in the rom com hall of fame. In the 2010s, Marshall directed an unofficial trilogy of movies which see some of the biggest names in Hollywood experience various holidays. Valentine’s Day (2010), New Year’s Eve (2011), and Mother’s Day (2016) are the quintessences of network films. While some may argue that this trilogy caused Marshall to fall from grace in his later years, I wholeheartedly support the network or ensemble film and his execution of such.

The kind of movies I’m talking about are the ones where there are multiple principal actors with equally important plotlines and screen time. Ensemble films and network films vary slightly, both with their merits. An ensemble film generally sees various characters knowingly come together as a group at some point. In network films the characters are mostly strangers to each other, and the audience is granted a unique position to recognise the spiderweb of connections between said strangers.

Both film models date back over a century and can be seen across all genres, including cinema such as The Avengers, Moonlight, Ocean’s Eleven, Magnolia, The Breakfast Club, and more. Rom coms in particular lend themselves to all-star casts – think He’s Just Not That Into You, Love, Actually, and Crazy, Stupid, Love - all A+ films following an ensemble or network style.

The familiar faces, the intertwining plots, the multi-perspective storytelling - I’m obsessed.

There’s nothing scientific about it. It’s a simple formula, albeit probably expensive. Regardless, it’s worth it. Multiple superstars portraying characters of various walks of life, carrying cheesy (although often non-PC) plotlines makes for the best viewing material.

One might argue that it’s strength in numbers. Sometimes, we just can’t stand the protagonist in a movie or TV series. We struggle to connect with the character and, with no incentive to continue watching, we subsequently lose interest in the story. That’s where the ensemble or network cast swoops in and saves the day. There are multiple storylines to engage with, and there’s choice as to which ones you invest in. You can create character maps and explore communal values. You can relish in the way the films connect the characters through passing encounters, shared circumstances, common goals, and mutual acquaintances. You can appreciate as the multiple storylines converge to represent a unifying theme. You can admire the cinematic portrayals of sonder in a way that no other narrative style can nail.

And with that, I conclude my case and petition for more ensemble or network films à la Garry Marshall.