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A type of theater, film, and television that focuses on heightening the emotions of the audience. The word "melodrama" derives from "melody [in] drama" (like opera); melodrama at its finest aspires to have the tone and the repetitive, building emotion of an opera or a symphony.
It's usually associated with everyone acting like a Large Ham, but it's actually about specific emphasis on any dramatic situation. This is done by amping up the perceived scale and emotional response on everything. Basically, every little hurdle becomes a mountain, every setback a Tragedy of Greek proportions, and the official couple will be Star-Crossed Lovers over the tiniest things, usually thanks to outside interference and Poor Communication Kills.
Note that this isn't the same as stage actors speaking loudly and making broad movements. That's just a necessity of stage acting. This is when the actors portray the characters (or the characters are written as) being akin to teenager with a very small, Soap Opera scale world. Every success, kiss, and snub will carry the sting of a legendary story. Essentially, what to us would be a pinprick gains the pathos of a rending wound.
Also note that this can be done right. Melodrama can quite easily hook viewers into becoming emotionally invested in the characters, something every story needs to survive. It helps if the stories are such as would produce large emotions -- and if the characters are depicted with proper motivations. Only occasionally does it fall into the Anvilicious Narm-fests we associate with them. Which is why nowadays it's more of a pejorative term for gratuitous drama, and something writing books today urge people to steer clear of.
Contrast Dull Surprise.
- Basically Any Anime/Anime Characters and Manga/Manga Characters has lots of Melodrama elements/behavior in it.
- The anime version of Heidi fall easily into this.
- A lot of Shojo series, from the 70's to today, have these in spades. In fact, it would be easier to list those Shojo anime/manga titles in which melodrama isn't a central element of it. Some examples:
- Rose of Versailles is loaded with this. In one scene based on historical events, Marie Antoinette just had to say a few words to Madame DuBarry, and Marie then runs away in tears, and even tosses her Ermine Cape behind her to show the princess is beaten. Episode 03 of Rose of Versailles Abridged discusses the importance of this and Rule of Drama.
- Aim for The Ace, which is even more noticeably overblown in the live-action adaptation. It's an early shoujo series, so it's only natural.
- Candy Candy.
- Kaze to Ki no Uta.
- Hot Gimmick.
- Peach Girl.
- Oniisama e..., which not so coincidentally is by the same author of Rose of Versailles, and inspired lots of Yuri Genre (mentioned below) series to come.
- Saint Seiya, considering the action-to-drama ratio.
- Code Geass. It wouldn't be half as awesome if it weren't.
- The works of Leiji Matsumoto have melodrama written all over it.
- Melodrama plays a vital role in most Yuri Genre anime. As with most shojo anime and manga, it would be easier and shorter to list those Yuri Genre shows which aren't all about melodrama.
- Death Note, especially the dub. Major plot twists are accompanied by mundane actions and hammy dialogue - see the famous "I'll take a potato chip... AND EAT IT!" scene.
- Chris Claremont's work is often seen like this now.
- From Hell bears the subtitle "A melodrama in sixteen parts", though it's probably more subtle than most.
- Many silent movies were melodramas by necessity, as they couldn't rely on spoken dialogue to convey emotion. D.W. Griffith was a master of the art, and his epic films (The Birth of a Nation, Way Down East, etc.) were pure melodrama.
- But, as with all things, there are exceptions. Part of the trouble is which films and performances have survived and remained well-known, which were often the most popular/successful ones of the time. And let's face it, melodrama sells.
- Kenji Mizoguchi was the foremost practitioner of Eastern melodrama, such as Osaka Elegy.
- Hong Kong was rather fond of melodramatic cinema in its heyday. John Woo and his Heroic Bloodshed melodramas are a prime example.
- King Vidor's Stella Dallas (starring Barbara Stanwyk) is a heartbreaking film, which shows melodrama at its finest.
- Any big-screen adaptation of a stage play (or in the case of The Producers, film adaptation of a play adaptation of a movie).
- Titanic, especially the second half.
- Speaking of, The Legend of the Titanic (not to be confused with the one with the rapping dog) is heavy on this in the second half.
- The Star Wars movies are adventure melodramas.
- Pick a Bollywood film. ANY Bollywood film. The recent ones are slightly better about handling this, though.
- Johnny would like you to know that "you are TEARING me APART, Lisa!" It's amazing how much drama Wiseau attempts to put into the minimal amount of things that actually happen.
- The Wizard of Oz. Everyone puts intense effort in showing their emotions (worried, happy, frightened, angry...).
- Douglas Sirk did other films, but his most well known are his 1950s Hollywood melodramas, featuring titles such as All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life.
- Gothic and Romantic literature -- The Castle of Otranto and Wuthering Heights certainly count as melodrama, which doesn't mean they're bad.
- The standard Romance Novel is purely and unabashedly melodrama by design.
- Twilight. When you think about it, there aren't that many obstacles keeping Edward and Bella apart. They just like to think that there are.
- Hwang Sun-won's 1959 short story Sonagi (Rain Shower in English) is an enduringly popular melodrama in Korea that is often referenced in contemporary Korean culture, which is a culture that is very fond of melodrama.
- One of the complaints of George Eliot's Silly Novels by Lady Novelists:
In the same way very ordinary events of civilized life are exalted into the most awful crises, and ladies in full skirts and manches à la Chinoise, conduct themselves not unlike the heroines of sanguinary melodramas.
- Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Used quite a lot. For the most part, it's done right. On occasion, it does fall into Narm.
- More than a few plot lines in Stationery Voyagers could have been avoided for heroes and villains alike, if they'd stopped to think of a rational solution instead of acting on seething hatred. If Astrabolo weren't in such a mad rush to Kick the Dog every chance he gets, his plans could have been even more successful. Same goes for Liquidon's incessant Heroic Self-Deprecation over how his killing Astriliad doomed the Whiteout race. Astrabolo probably would've developed his genocidal plans happened anyway, and for a lesser reason, had Liquidon simply done nothing at all. Katrina's Pre-Mortem One-Liner and Bond One-Liner moments show that she enjoys her Roaring Rampage of Revenge a bit too much.
- Soap Operas, of course.
- Lifetime Movies of the Week are these in spades.
- There was one, called Her Married Lover, which is actually a Deconstruction of those melodramatic movies.
- There was a Saturday Night Live sketch from the early 1990s, "Those Proud Pattersons", where everybody was an overdramatic actor.
- The Colbert Report is already very emotional about everything, but occasionally it ramps it up to eleven. Even The Daily Show did it once.
- Even though it's a reality show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition seems to be chock full of melodrama.
- Scrubs exists to invert and subvert this trope. The show is about low-ranking, everyday doctors who realistically acknowledge that one third of their patients are old farts about to die and most of their day is spent disimpacting people's bowels. This is in direct contrast to medical dramas such as House, ER and Grey's Anatomy where every single patient leads the cast on a roller-coaster of emotional torment and soul-searching. Although it should be noted that the doctors on Scrubs have, on occasion, been put on a rollercoaster of emotional torment and soul-searching (by their patients or otherwise) anyway.
- A commercial for mail-order eye contacts had an "overly-dramatic recreation" ("But Mary, our eyes are different!").
- Korean Drama. Oh my god. The ones labelled Melodrama will get you but the the comedies and romantic comedies can sneak up from behind and hit you with a lead pipe while you are still laughing at that last comic bit.
- This is often the very essence of yellow journalism.
- Final Fantasy Series, and many other JRPGs.
- One of Metal Gear's claims to fame/notoriety (along with the weird bosses, playing with the fourth wall, beefcake, homoeroticism, the creator's desire to mess with players' heads and lots of talking). The first Metal Gear Solid alone features several tragic death scenes, conversations about the nature of love, and a Big Bad who turns out to be a vengeful, hitherto unknown relative of the protagonist.
- A significant number of visual novels appear to have no purpose other than to make the player (reader?) cry uncontrollably. See Utsuge for details.
- The original Terrytoons Mighty Mouse series. Not only did it feature an Ace hero, a Distressed Damsel and a Card-Carrying Villain, but all the dialogue was sung, Opera-style.
- Princess Sissi, the German Animated Adaptation of Elizabeth of Bavaria's life. This isn't suprising, as most historical drama isn't low-key.
- Later episodes of South Park often go in that direction, thanks to Cerebus Syndrome. There are 3 ways that it's used: intentionally (i.e. "Raisins"), Played for Laughs (i.e. "Over-Logging"), or both (i.e. "The China Probrem").
- Rarity from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic has her moments, and out-hams everyone around her: "I VANT TO BE ALO-HO-HO-ON I WANT TO WALLOW IN... WHATEVER IT IS PONIES ARE SUPPOSED TO WALLOW IN! (aside to self) Do ponies wallow in pity? (back to the melodrama!) OH, LISTEN TO ME! I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO WALLOW IN! I'M SO PATHETI-I-I-IC"