I love going to the movies. And renting movies. And flipping through the channels, stumbling onto an old favorite, and then watching a movie that I can practically recite from memory. I may not have seen your favorite movie or many of the movies on any “greatest movies ever made” list, but I really do love movies.
And while I pretty much only see animated movies and action films in the theater these days, my all-time, go-to, forever-and-always favorite genre of movies is . . . SURPRISE! . . . the romantic comedy. If a movie’s got Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in it, I’m THERE for it. Matthew McConaughey in his pre-car commercial (and pre-serious act-or) prime? Yes, please. Movies with eye-roll-inducing lines like, “So I can kiss you anytime I want to,” “I was hoping it was you,” or “I’m just a girl standing in front of a guy”? I will watch them over and over and over and over.
I mean, I pretty much have to watch those old rom-coms when I have a craving for sappy soundtracks and ridiculous romantic speeches, right? It’s not as if Hollywood is cranking them out like they used to.
Oh, remember the glory days? The days when a new romantic comedy premiered every few months? The days between Jennifer Lopez’s career as a dancer and her career as a dance judge? Remember…THE EARLY 2000s?
We might be in a golden age of entertainment (so say the entertainment people), but we are facing a big gap in movie options. We’ve got no shortage of sequels and superheroes, but meet cutes and grand gestures are few and far between.
Now, you might be saying, “Who cares?” (Although, I’m guessing not, since you’re here and still reading…) But it’s a valid question. Why DO we love romantic comedies so much? We’re reasonable, grown-up people here. We get that romantic comedies are not realistic. We know that real love is way harder than two beautiful people shot in the most flattering light make it seem. We understand that expecting our actual lives and relationships to resemble romantic comedies is asking for trouble — and disappointment.
I think we love romantic comedies because they represent our best, and they offer hope. Our rational brains know that no relationship is perfect and that loving someone is hard work. Real hard work. But maybe that’s why we need these sweet stories. They’re a glimpse into what’s possible when we do the hard work and someone else does the hard work and just for a moment, sometimes a moment that’s even shorter than a movie trailer, we see exactly how beautiful and lovely and delightful this person and this relationship is.
Our reasonable selves are well aware that what comes after the declaration of love, the amazing proposal, the beautiful wedding is what truly matters — and what takes all the gumption and grace we’ve got. But maybe romantic comedies help us remember those simpler times, the flirting and flutters from those early days — and maybe that helps us dig a little deeper today, in the trenches, in the middle, in the passing-ships, dry spell, rough patch, feeling like strangers or just plain tired days of a relationship after the credits roll.
Maybe we need movies to help us through the harder times, the lonely times, the times we’re not sure romance is even a thing outside of the screen. Maybe they give us hope or help us remember, even as our practical brains caution our hearts to take it all with a grain of salt. And maybe that’s okay.
If you love romantic comedies, if they’re your preferred brand of comfort food, I am with you. And in an effort to find a new romantic comedy we can all fall in love with, I’ve watched a few recent movies. For you. It’s a hard job but somebody’s got to do it, right?
Now look. I am not saying these rival my beloved Two Weeks’ Notice. But in all fairness, nothing does. I’m saying that out of the movies from the last year or so, these were kind of romantic and sort of comedic. Let’s break it down…
Bridget Jones’s Baby: If I remember correctly, the scandals surrounding this one had everything to do with punctuation and plastic surgery. Which is interesting, considering my questions were more along the lines of “Why can’t McDreamy be a smidge less smarmy?” and “Why does anyone, ever in the history of love stories, ever root for Mr. Darcy?”
Yes, that’s right, I’m the one person you know who isn’t in love with any iteration of Mr. Darcy. But let’s face it, neither of the guys in this movie end up being super awesome. I’d like to think Bridget didn’t need to settle for either of them, but that’s not what this movie is. This movie is a love triangle and who’s-the-daddy mystery, and it’s mildly funny and sweet. What I’m saying is that it’s fine. IT’S FINE. My favorite part was the soundtrack, which is outrageously on the nose in multiple scenes, so at least we have that.
Home Again: I’ll admit I had high hopes for this movie. I was not a fan of Reese’s weird attempt at a rom-com with Tom Hardy and Chris Pine, but Sweet Home Alabama is one of my very favorite, top of the list romantic comedies. So I was hoping for a return to those heights of romance and comedy here.
That’s not exactly what happened.
But I did like this movie. I liked it a lot, actually, but not necessarily for the romantic relationships. I found it a fascinating look at relationships in general and the idea of community and it (parenting? living? being a human?) taking a village. It made me think about how different people approach responsibility and the expectations we have for responsibility. And it had one of the most realistic romantic scenes slash pickup lines EVER, when one character just about loses her mind because another one fixes a cabinet door for her. When he jokingly asks if she has any IKEA furniture he could put together as a prelude to a kiss, I laughed my head off. Because UM YEAH that is absolutely what is attractive to a mom turning 40!
So I would recommend this movie, but I’m afraid it’s not going to meet your need for a true romantic comedy. What might, though…
The Big Sick: Oh, how I loved this movie! It is funny and realistic and smart and sweet and, GET THIS, based on a true story. Kumail Nanjiani stars as himself in the story of how he met his wife, Emily (who does not play herself but helped write the movie). The short version is that they meet and date, but eventually break up when she finds out his parents don’t know anything about her and are still trying to arrange a marriage for him to a Pakistani woman who shares their culture. Before either of them can move on, though, Emily becomes very sick and spends a long stretch of time in a coma while Kumail deals with her parents and his feelings for her.
Guys. It’s so good. I really loved this movie! Now, if you are opposed to movies where the two leads spend much of the on-screen story apart, this might not be your favorite. But these characters spend a lot more time together than Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle. You have plenty of time to see how adorable they are together in the beginning, to understand why Kumail would keep visiting the hospital and her parents, even though they aren’t technically together, and to root for these crazy kids to make it somehow.
I’m not sure we’ll ever get another movie that’s solely about two pretty people meeting, overcoming mild obstacles, and falling in love. At least, not outside the Hallmark Channel. The newer approach seems to offer a slightly less polished, slightly more realistic perspective on relationships that exist not in a vacuum but in the context of family and culture. And I think I like it.
Sure, I will always return to my standards when I need a simple escape, a glimpse of optimism or hope, a reminder of my own “good ol’ days.” But if Hollywood wants to make more movies about relationships that make me smile and make me think? I’m good with that.
What’s your favorite romantic comedy? Why do you love it?
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