I have a confession to make, I only consider myself a hopeless romantic when it comes to the right romantic comedy. When I get really gloomy and upset with the state of the world, I always seem to find myself in the same place, cuddled on the couch watching another cheesy, unrealistic rom-com. I am sure, however, that I’m not the only one. The past year proved one disastrous change after another, where the light at the end of this pandemic always seems pushed that little bit further and further away. So why not distract yourself with a ridiculously unrealistic meet cute where one person spills steaming hot coffee down the shirt of a complete stranger, but they fall hopelessly in love anyways.
Perhaps a celebrity falls madly in love with a regular person like you and me; or maybe they are best friends and after fruitless attempts to find love they realise the right person was in front of them the whole time. What about running to confess undying love to someone before they catch the last train out of town? Calling off the wedding, making bets to get people to fall in love with you, pointless yet well scored makeover scenes where all the heroine or hero has to do is let their hair down (literally) and throw away their glasses. And to top it all off there can’t be a rom com without a hypothermia-inducing kiss in the rain or in the case of Bridget Jones, a snog in the snow in a leopard print thong.
Are these clichés unrealistic? Yes. Borderline laughable? Absolutely. But even when small things go wrong in my own life, I’ll open a bottle of wine and watch other people make horrible decisions on film sets that never quite simulate what real life feels like. I realise after years of growing up on this kind of light-hearted narrative that films produced in recent years don’t measure up as good, pointless romantic comedies. Are the epic rom coms falling out of relevance or are the recent Netflix’s releases sending the genre into decline?
From “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” to the likes of “Always Be My Maybe” or the “Kissing Booth” (that is currently stretching out into a trilogy because that’s exactly what Netflix’s thinks we need), I think my biggest problem with these movies is that instead of enjoying all the tropes I do when I watch a classic, I’m just filled with obvious annoyance. Netflix seems to be trying to follow an algorithm for making these romantic teen movies that used to work back in the day but just doesn’t have the same effect now. Sometimes the fact that they’re an easy watch that you can chat all the way through with your flatmates and not miss anything proves the only good bit these newer films offer.
This isn’t to say that all modern romantic comedies fall into that same overdone, high budget and throwaway category. Some successfully play within the classic rom com narrative, while others completely transformed the genre all together. “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Ladybird” for instance experimented with narrative, making us more interested in rom coms when they work from a unique or ironic angle. A few more successful entrants to the list are films that de-emphasised Hollywood movies stars and featured more racially diverse casts such as “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Big Sick”. Even the coming-of-age teen romance genre hasn’t died out and incredibly well received films such as “Book Smart” and “Eighth Grade” keep it afloat. Such films found success by layering in elements of a classic rom com without following rigid labels and character personas.
So why is it then that when people hear the words ‘romantic comedy’ they shudder as if someone just told them something horrible? I understand the urge to avoid vapid Netflix movies, especially if the content produced is based on a Harry Styles fanfiction like “After” or a film where the audience is forced to sit through what feels like hundreds of versions of the same wedding day in “Love, Wedding, Repeat”. Far worse is the undeniable horror of watching (more like enduring) James Corden’s inexcusably bad and offensive portrayal of a gay man in “The Prom”, where even Meryl Streep struggled to come through unscathed.
However, if you look hard enough there are new additions to the genre that still give that over-the-top romantic feel that makes rom coms so lovable. Sometimes we need a grownup version of a fairy tale to help us look for love around us, or just keep us believing in love until our own storyline unfolds. The genre of Romantic Comedy isn’t gone or close to extinction, I would simply say it’s in moderate crisis with some of these newer films failing to illustrate how it feels when you first connect with someone special. With the right creative minds involved and perhaps a new lease on love after these many months of reflection and isolation, we can agree there is some hope for rom coms in the future. And hey, if all else fails you can join me in re-watching “Moulin Rouge” for the 17th time.