Where Have All The RomComs Gone?
Remember the days when RomComs appeared at regular intervals and were considered the go-to movie on date night? So do we! To tide us over during the movie drought Liam Livings and Kristina Knight talk about their favorite RomComs on the big and small screens.
Sleepless In Seattle (1993), Pretty Woman (1990), When Harry Met Sally (1989)– all now classic romcoms, but where are the new ones now? What are the modern day equivalents? What classic romcoms will we look back on in 20 years and declare them classics?
Romcoms are a very popular film genre, even now, but they’ve changed to reflect how people live now, rather than how they lived in the eighties or nineties. It’s also hard to evaluate a relatively new film in the same way as an acknowledged classic because with time, and repeated viewings, films take on an almost halo like comforting quality; they hark back to a past that we’ll often remember more fondly than how it felt at the time, plus familiarity with classic romcoms complements the romance genre’s happy ever after even more.
I’m going to look at three more recent romcoms to show how the genre has moved on in terms of themes but that at their core, a romcom set 20 years later is not that different from one set in 1989 or 1993. But first here’s some definitions to start us off...
Romance is defined by the RWA as:
Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel. An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.’ (RWA website )
The Collins English Dictionary defines it as: ‘A romance is a novel or film about a love affair.’
I found a more detailed definition in a non-fiction book about writing romance: ‘A romance novel is the story of a man and a woman who, while solving a problem, discover that the love they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once in a lifetime – leading to a permanent commitment and a happy ending.’ (Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, 2015)
Pamela Regis defines: ‘A romance novel is a work of prose fiction that tells the story and betrothal of one or more heroines.’ (Pamela Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel, 2003)
I think that a definition of romance that specifies it must include heroines or a man and a woman feels a bit out of touch with society today. Maybe twenty years ago, when same sex romance wasn’t in the public’s consciousness of TV and films, but in 2003 and definitely 2015, that feels a bit dated.
Dictionary.com defines comedy as: a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.
The Proposal (2009)
At its core, this is an enemies to lovers / colleagues to lovers romance trope, however because the more powerful - on first look in the work relationship - is the woman, this turns it on its head in a way much more unlikely in twenty or so years ago. The clever twist is that although Sandra Bullock’s character calls the shots in the board room, with Ryan Reynolds as her PA, when she needs to stay in America when her work permit runs out, she needs someone to marry, so asks Reynolds. And so the power dynamic is switched because, Bullock, when meeting Reynolds’ family in a remote island, is very much the fish out of water. Previously Bullock only thought of Reynolds as an empty vessel into which she could pour endless amounts of work, but seeing him with his loving family she realizes what she misses in her workaholic life. Bullock’s single-minded selfish attitude towards the fake wedding for her own benefit means we see a different side to her character, ultimately leading to a happy ending.
I can enjoy this film again and again because I never tire of watching two characters who started out as enemies getting to know one another and falling in love. Plus, Sandra Bullock is one of my favourite female actors and Ryan Reynolds one of my favourite male ones. The chemistry between them is great, leading to hilarious slapstick comedy and emotionally satisfying character development and a happy ending.
Crazy Stupid Love (2011)
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have such brilliant chemistry it’s a joy to watch. I know they were both in La La Land, but I've not included that here because I don’t think it’s a romcom and in in fact I don’t think it’s a proper romance simply because of the ending. But more of that’s not for here...
Crazy Stupid Love has a multi generational love story – as well as Gosling and Stone, there’s Steve Carell and Julianne Moore who are married. This more complex plot, multi generational, and including a long standing couple’s journey to rebuilding their relationship after one cheats on the other, are all more modern takes on the romcom genre, bringing it bang up to date for the 21st Century.
There’s plenty of self-referential jokes – my favourite is when Gosling removes his T-shirt when he’s in Stone’s bedroom. She stares at his chest and says, ‘You look like you’ve been Photoshopped!’
This is a clever nod to much of the romcom genre’s too-beautiful-to-be-real heroes and again, brings it bang up to date, and totes meta and stuff!
Latter Days (2003)
I’ve watched a lot of gay romcoms. A lot. The danger with throwing in the gay element is there’s potential for the issues with the gay element – anxiety about coming out, potential for family rejection, potential for unsafe sex leading not to a pregnancy as in a straight romcom, but contracting HIV – to overpower the romance and comedy parts. And don’t get me wrong, Latter Days has all of that, but it also manages to include bucket loads of humour – even in the midst of darkness, as well as an unbelievably satisfying happy en ding that even now, thinking about it, makes me well up a bit.
It’s about a party boy who for a bet decides he’ll sleep with one of the Mormon men who’ve moved in nearby. As with all the best romances, the two main characters have deep internal conflicts: for the party boy it’s shallowness, searching for meaning in life and for the Mormon it’s his inability to accept himself as gay and deserving love from a man. Together, eventually, they help each other with their own conflicts and it’s beautiful to watch.
This is why describing a romance as a story between a man and a woman, or leading to the betrothal of a heroine, feels out-dated as it ignores the whole genre of romcoms with same sex couples, as well as a whole genre of male male romance and female female romance novels. Love is love, right?
Latter Days has a black moment to beat all black moments. Family is used in its broadest sense too – meaning those who care for you, regardless of whether you’re related to them. For so many people (Bullock’s character in The Proposal too) but especially gay people, the family we create is so important. The airport hotel room is one of the hottest scenes I’ve ever seen in a gay romance film and yet it’s very tasteful and not explicit; everything is implied and not shown. I love this film so much that recently, after the London and Manchester terrorist attacks, I literally didn’t know what to do with myself, because nothing seemed to make sense. With comforting chocolate, I watched Latter Days and it gave me hope in life, love and the world. Because I can’t put it any better than the film, I’m going to end on my two favourite quotes from the film.
Mid black moment of the film one of the characters confesses to feeling guilty and is told: ‘Guilt distracts us from a greater truth: we have an inherent ability to heal. We seem intent on living through even the worst heartbreak.’
For Latter Days, here’s the Forrest Gump, ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ quote about life: ‘When I was a little kid, I used to put my face right up to them [the comic page]. And I was just amazed because it was just this mass of dots. I think life is like that sometimes. But I like to think that from God’s perspective, life, everything, even this [mess he’s in], makes sense. It’s not just dots. Instead we’re all connected, and it’s beautiful and it’s funny and it’s good. From this close, we can’t expect it to make sense, right now.’
So yes, there’s plenty of romcoms still being made, but now they twist the genre a bit, they’re about strong female friendships and conflicts, as well as a romance (Bridesmaids), they invert the power dynamics, they’re self-referential to romance’s expectations about beauty, and they now tell stories of same sex couples. All things unthinkable for the romcom genre of twenty plus years ago.
I’m a sucker for a great friends-to-lovers trope - in a book, a movie…or on TV! As a child of the 80s, this should come as no surprise. I grew up watching (a little too early, probably) movies like When Harry Met Sally and the slow burn between those characters was so much fun to watch.
Lately, some of my favorite friends-to-lovers couples have been on the small screen, and I couldn’t be happier. Although, I love going to the movies, I can get a small, almost on-going dose of romance on TV, either in first-run or rerun shows. Here are three:
Jim & Pam, from The Office.
Okay, we’re only getting our doses of Jim and Pam in reruns these days, but who can forget Jim packing a teapot with Pam’s favorite things for the office Christmas Party? Or Pam, creating a comic based on Jim, a few years later? Or Roy trying to beat Jim up after he found out Jim and Pam kissed?
Leonard & Penny, from The Big Bang Theory.
This relationship has been so much fun to watch, because it’s come not only as a romance, but as two people coming into their own as individuals, too. When we first met Leonard, he was a nerd who was afraid of everything, and Penny was a girl who was a big dingy. These days Leonard is a little more confident (although Penny is definitely in charge of things!) and Penny has embraced her smarter side, too.
Wade & Zoe, from Hart of Dixie.
Okay, this is another one that you’re going to have to look for in reruns or streaming services, but Hart of Dixie is probably my favorite of the slow burn, friends-to-lovers romances on TV. Zoe, a city girl, comes to Alabama to work in a small town medical practice, while Wade is a local who has gotten by on his looks and charm for far too long. There is a bit of a love triangle (first, from Zoe and then from Wade), but even when Zoe and Wade are apart, their ‘rightness’ for one another is undeniable, and that makes watching the show so worthwhile!
The first book in Kristina's new Slippery Rock series, Famous in a Small Town, is out now. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Are you missing big screen RomComs? Had you even noticed they'd gone? Are there any we've missed? And what about the small screen RomCom, do you have a fav? What movie have you seen recently, plan to see or would recommend on date night? Let us know in the comments or use #MissingRomComs or #NotMissingRomComs or #DateNightMovie to joint the #PHS #ScreenTime discussion on Social Media.
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