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Romantic Comedies

A Genre Study

By Alexandrea CallaghanPublished 10 months ago 8 min read

Rom Coms were once a wildly popular genre and though they are fewer and farther between now they still are easy, comfortable watches for many. Rom Coms, or romantic comedies are at their core love stories. Essentially in order for the movie to be considered a romantic comedy it needs to be more funny than emotional and the entirety of it needs to hinge on the love story, meaning that if we take the love story aspect out of it the movie collapses.

Now it has been pointed out by many that romantic comedies sometimes have unrealistic plots but more than that the relationship that we are watching is more toxic than not. The point of conflict isn’t always a misunderstanding but sometimes something actually majorly wrong and we as the audience are supposed to ignore that and just accept that this relationship is going to reach a happy conclusion.

As with all film genres there are subgenres and one of Rom Coms comes from their original setting a comedy of manners, screwball comedies and then films that are just deemed chick-flicks meaning romantic female oriented movies that aren’t necessarily lighthearted or funny.

Timeline

My favorite example of a comedy of manners is also the first real definer of the genre with It Happened One Night in 1934. The movie won five Oscars including Best Picture.

The 1950s were filled with fun, sweet, romantic movies, many of them brought to us by Marilyn Monroe. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 1953, 7 Year Itch 1955, Some Like it Hot 1959.

Audrey Hepburn was also a queen of romance around the same period. Giving us Roman Holiday 1953, Funny Face 1957, and Charade 1963.

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a romantic comedy though romance does play a part, and it draws more film bros then women. But as we talk about romantic movies Annie Hall 1977 is a part of the conversation.

Meg Ryan lit up the screen with When Harry Met Sally 1989, Sleepless in Seattle 1993, and You’ve Got Mail 1998. More traditional romantic movies would be Sleepless in Seattle, it's a very calm, quiet movie that references yet another romantic story in An Affair to Remember.

Now the entire rom com genre would not be possible without Shakespeare and his work continues to be relevant today through film adaptations like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man.

Opposites attract storylines are also wildly popular in the romantic genre, whether it be opposite temperaments, personalities, classes whatever it is. People want to see different personalities on screen, that’s how we got 5 Cinderella Story movies.

Kiss Queens

Much like horror movies have scream queens, rom coms have kiss queens.

The leading ladies of romance have been many but few have reached the status of Julia Roberts. Giving us Pretty Woman in 1990, My Best Friend's Wedding 1997, Runaway Bride 1999 and Valentine's Day 2010.

After this hard 90s push of romantic comedies the genre seemed to drop off. From the 2000s to now there have been some romantic comedies but they have not reached the heights that they used to.

Drew Barrymore might not have starred in as many romantic comedies as some of our other leading ladies but she was most definitely in some very iconic ones such as; Never Been Kissed and 50 First Dates

Katherine Heigl also has starred in quite a few romantic comedies including Knocked Up, The Ugly Truth and 27 Dresses.

The most recent installments to the genre actually makes it feel like the genre is being reawoken. These last two movies have truly felt like the best of the genre.

Bros came out last year and it was simply a queer rom com, it had all the classic tropes and jokes. The act structure was the same and it was truly a heartfelt, funny, wonderful movie that has earned its place among the rom coms.

No Hard Feelings with Jennifer Lawrence cements her place as a romantic lead and takes a sweet twist on the normal romantic comedy structure.

Rom Coms are movies that have always provided some comfort, as you always know how they are going to end. They don’t often take emotional labor to watch and they are able to be watched multiple times without much attention.

Tropes and Cliches

The Makeover - Because we all know that a woman's desirability is entirely dependent on whether or not she’s wearing glasses. Grease, Clueless, the Ugly Truth. These are the ones I consider occasionally wildly problematic. Not every time but when it's for the express purpose of changing yourself to be with someone else like with Grease it's not great. Yes they change for each other but as such they didn’t need to and if communication was a thing this whole genre wouldn’t exist but you know what I mean.

Best Friends - Who hasn’t fallen in love with their best friend at some point? It is the plot of quite a few romantic comedies, because at some point everyone dreams of the person they love just opening their eyes and realizing they love us back. Doesn’t quite happen like that though. 13 Going on 30, and Made of Honor, both great and highly entertaining movies but this trope often comes with a buddy-the collateral damage. In both these movies the best friend is getting married which means in order for there to be a “happy ending” from the viewpoint of the main character someone is getting left at the altar. Just another super brutal thing that we as an audience ignore in the face of a romantic comedy.

Enemies To Lovers - Basically the best friends trope but opposite. Audiences love romantic tension. This person infuriates you and you love it, because who wouldn’t fall in love with someone that drives them absolutely crazy? The Ugly Truth, You’ve Got Mail and so many others is a very popular trope in books and movies and tv. As someone who loves Spike and Buffy I get it but we all need to acknowledge that this trope is also not great.

It was a bet/game/joke - This is easily the cruelest of the tropes but it's funny so it's all good. Someone takes dating the undatable woman as a challenge. She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, it's so insulting and ridiculous it's actually comical. I say this with my whole chest knowing that 10 Things I hate about you is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Class difference - We all know rich people would never marry poor people so that’s why we dream about it, movies like Pretty Woman, and A Cinderella Story, gives us poor bitches something to strive for. Something in a similar vein is the popular person dating the unpopular person, it's almost always the popular boy lowering his standards to date the unpopular girl. We'll talk about that later. Pretty in Pink, Duff

Playboy Settles Down - This one really hammers home the idea of “The One” Crazy, Stupid, Love, Hitch, Two Weeks Notice are all depictions of men that sleep around being “tamed”.

Contract relationship - This trope involves one character using the other either knowingly to them or not isn’t really the point. One character has all the control. The Proposal, and No Hard Feelings, do a great role reversal where the woman is in charge and Failure to Launch has both of them playing each other.

Appeal and Problems

The genre of romantic comedies has lots of appeal, a few of them set standards for men like men listening to their partners. Doing nice things for them, you know unrealistic things that women crave. There is the idea of these big romantic gestures and declarations that we find appealing because that's what we want. We want someone to choose us, to love us and to scream it from the rooftops.

Now the problems with the genre as a whole are many and have been well documented by many people. The first being that most rom coms especially in the 90s relied heavily on gender stereotypes.

As with all problematic writing, comic books, a lot of fantasy, and rom coms are mostly written by men. It's hard to write something that properly depicts women, shows what they want and actually relates to them without any women in the writing room. Though rom coms are aimed at women a lot of them play into male fantasies. The nerdy, unattractive, “nice guy” ends up the girl way too hot for him and too good for him in just about every other aspect of life as well. She’s Out of My League, Just Friends, Knocked Up, I Love You Beth Cooper

Toxicity of all kinds also plays a major role in too many plots of too many rom coms. Stalking as a means of love is a role in many relationship stories How I Met your Mother, The Notebook.

So if there are this many problems with rom coms why do women watch them? Some are sweet, some are realistic and some might be more romantic than comedy allowing women to relate far more heavily to the material. So what are some innocent, somewhat perfect rom coms that are safe to watch? The Princess Diaries 2, She’s The Man, Sydney White, 27 Dresses.

What Women Do

Now here is where we discuss how these women stumble into these relationships. There are a lot of jokes on the internet about Hallmark movies and all the women are too busy for love because they spend all their time girl bossing. This is the premise for most romcoms. The woman is either a single, broke artist of some kind, a prostitute or otherwise poor and helpless in desperate need for a man to save her and provide for her. Or they are high powered women who only think about work and furthering their career and they don’t become real people until they have love.

Romance vs Romantic Comedy

Now I think that it's worth talking about the difference between a Romantic movie and a Romantic Comedy. Now the difference is obvious, it's the comedy part right but even in a lot of romcoms the comedy part is really an afterthought. We just talked about He’s Just Not That Into You and for most of that movie I just yell at the men because they all suck. And a lot of romcoms actually have a lot of really heavy emotions which is why I believe that from a filmmaking and screenwriting standpoint there really isn’t a lot of differences between a romantic movie and a romantic comedy. Now yes Gone With The Wind, A Walk to Remember and the Notebook all feel a little different then movies like 27 dresses and Crazy, Stupid, Love. However I think it's more in the way that it's shot, the cinematography feels different, there's a feeling of intensity and a sense of higher stakes in Romantic movies. I mean you don’t know if they’ll end up together in a romantic movie, An Affair to Remember, most Nicholas Sparks movies do not always have a happy ending whereas with Romantic Comedies there is almost always a happy ending.

Rom Coms are often referred to as “chick flicks” as they are typically marketed to women, however I think men should take some notes from a few of these. I will leave you with a short list of my favorite romantic movies and romantic comedies.

27 Dresses, 10 Things I Hate About You, A Walk to Remember, and The Princess Diaries 2.

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About the Creator

Alexandrea Callaghan

Certified nerd, super geek and very proud fangirl.

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Comments (1)

  • Jazzy 10 months ago

    I loved this so much. I LOVE the ugly truth (and so does my husband) Katherine Heigl does a great job at that role. Made of Honor was another one of my favs, Kevin Mckid was great in that, and of course, Patrick ☺️

Alexandrea CallaghanWritten by Alexandrea Callaghan

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