Long live the rom­com. By Randi Bergman


IHAVE BEEN fan­ta­siz­ing about my soul­mate for as long as I can re­mem­ber. He has taken many forms in my imag­i­na­tion over the years, from a sworn en­emy who’s sud­denly drawn to me to some­one I met over a decade ago who has been try­ing to track me down ever since. (I’m Bri­tish in the lat­ter ver­sion, btw.) And, sure, he’s to­tally un­real, but he must also sound pretty fa­mil­iar, right? Be­cause, like me, you were prob­a­bly raised on a steady diet of Meg Ryan­andTom Hanks meet­cutes and JLo as a re­la­tion­ship un­der­dog (as if) and the prospect of im­pos­si­ble yet im­pos­si­bly charm­ing cin­e­matic love.

Ro­man­tic come­dies have been a Hol­ly­wood main­stay since the early days, and, put quite sim­ply, they are the best, even when, some­times, they are to­tally the worst for set­ting up un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions about re­la­tion­ships, re­in­forc­ing age­old gen­der roles...

the list goes on. They are mind­lessly pre­dictable yet end­lessly sooth­ing—like the com­fort that washes over you with your first bite of Grandma’s cook­ies.

De­spite all that love, though, this genre has never got its due. (The last time a ro­man­tic com­edy won a Best Pic­ture Os­car was Woody Allen’s An­nie Hall

in 1978. Nuff said.) Since then, the rom­com has been rel­e­gated to “chick flick” ter­ri­tory, a place most men never deign to en­ter or take se­ri­ously de­spite ticket sales. What’s more, af­ter a rom­com-filled ’90s and early aughts, the genre seemed to fade into the back­ground of a Marvel- and think-piece-dom­i­nated decade. But all that shifted last year.

Crazy Rich Asians was a crit­i­cal and box-of­fice suc­cess, her­alded for its knock­out per­for­mances by the first all-Asian cast in over two decades, not to men­tion its more mod­ern ap­proach to ro­mance. Mean­while, Net­flix sin­gle-hand­edly es­tab­lished the resur­gence of the teen rom­com

(To All the Boys I’ve Loved Be­fore, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser) and the so-bad-it’s-good Christ­mas rom­com (The Princess Switch, A Christ­mas Prince). To top it all off, Ari­ana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” video paid homage to early-aughts clas­sics like Legally Blonde and 13 Go­ing On 30.

So, why the sud­den flurry of the warm fuzzies? “When the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal worlds be­come dire, we look to es­capist fan­tasies,” says Francey Rus­sell, a phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor and film critic. You’d have to look no fur­ther than your Twit­ter feed to con­firm Rus­sell’s the­ory—we need joy more than ever right now. We’re also feel­ing a bit more sen­ti­men­tal these days. “There seemed to be a mo­ment of cyn­i­cism that struck 10 years ago— an ex­ces­sive self-con­scious­ness, both about gen­der roles and about love,” she adds.

Lim­ited plot lines have also played a role in our love-hate re­la­tion­ship with the rom­com. When the genre started tak­ing form in the 1930s, the fe­male leads were ballsy ca­reer women with oo­dles of what Eli Wal­lach’s char­ac­ter in

The Hol­i­day so aptly de­scribes as “gump­tion.” But in the next decade, as men re­turned from war, more tra­di­tional gen­der roles were en­forced, thus pro­duc­ing the Doris

Day era of prim hero­ines who were sim­ply count­ing the days un­til they could drop every­thing for mar­ried life. And while over the years we some­times de­vi­ated from the for­mula— think Ju­lia Roberts’ an­ti­hero in My Best Friend’s Wed­ding or An­gela Bas­sett’s di­vorcee in

How Stella Got Her Groove Back—the rom­com recipe more or less stuck: Thin, white, beau­ti­ful cool girl—who most likely works at a mag­a­zine—meets boy know the rest.

That’s some­thing El­iz­a­beth Sankey, the U.K.-based di­rec­tor of the forth­com­ing doc­u­men­tary

Ro­man­tic Com­edy (which ex­am­ines the im­pact these flicks have on our per­cep­tion of love and re­la­tion­ships), strug­gled with. “When I started mak­ing my doc, I just wanted to drag rom­coms,” she says. She’d re­cently got mar­ried, some­thing she’d never seen rep­re­sented in rom­coms (beyond the big white wed­ding in the fi­nal scene, of course), and was feel­ing be­trayed by her favourite films. “That sent me on a spi­ral of all the other things they’re ter­ri­ble for, like lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, that they’re pre­dom­i­nantly made by men and that they have these very tra­di­tional values in­struct­ing women how to be­have in or­der for men to find them at­trac­tive,” she says. But, she adds, “I car­ried on watch­ing them and still loved them. I’m still moved by them. They are amaz­ing for mak­ing peo­ple see the hu­man­ity in char­ac­ters be­cause the rom­com is one of the only gen­res that’s sim­ply about re­la­tion­ships.”

The key is to rec­og­nize the is­sues and for film­mak­ers to ad­dress them. “The for­mat of ro­man­tic come­dies is in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful and still works—we

“They are amaz­ing for mak­ing peo­ple see the hu­man­ity in char­ac­ters be­cause the rom­com is one of the only gen­res that’s sim­ply about re­la­tion­ships.”

just need to be putting dif­fer­ent kinds of re­la­tion­ships in these sto­ries,” says Sankey. This year prom­ises to do just that, with films like Isn’t It Ro­man­tic, which stars Rebel Wil­son as a cynic who, af­ter years of be­ing told she wasn’t wor­thy of ro­mance, finds her­self trapped in­side a rom­com, and What Men Want, star­ring Taraji P. Hen­son, which flips the gen­der script of the 2000 orig­i­nal. “The fact that there’s this [rise] in rom­coms that are rein­vent­ing the genre but also be­ing un­apolo­getic about be­ing rom­coms sug­gests that there’s a new in­ter­est in earnest­ness and love in movies,” says Rus­sell.

So maybe the fu­ture of rom­coms lies in their du­al­ity—their strange abil­ity to make us root for love while also broad­en­ing the scope of who that love can hap­pen to. “The way we feel about You’ve Got Mail we could feel about a trans woman fall­ing in love with a man—and that could be some­thing that changes the world,” says Sankey. I know I’ll be watch­ing.

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