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The Rom-Com
Image: Columbia Pictures

Film

The Rom-Com Needs a Comeback

The rom-com provides us with simple light entertainment but they’ve disappeared as a major film genre and they need to comeback.

Bring back the romantic comedies!

There was a genre of film that was like a good friend who you don’t see all the time, but when you do you always have a splendid time. Like the person whom you might not be close with but always exchange pleasantries that make you feel good. It’s a genre that was always there when you needed it. I’m, of course, talking about the romantic comedy, otherwise known as the rom-com. It’s a genre that, in recent years, has been relegated to low-budget Netflix fare and the Hallmark channel and it needs to make a comeback. While the rom-com was never the most innovative genre it offered audiences a simple pleasure that they’ve been deprived of for too long. Simply put, we need the rom-com.

Two charming and charismatic stars with great chemistry have a meet-cute, go through an often wacky series of events to eventually end up together, and the crowd goes home with a warm feeling on the inside. It’s a formula that’s existed for almost 100 years, and while the genre rarely broke from that formula once it was created, it didn’t need to. That formula works whether it’s Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan or Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. That formula might not push the art of film in any meaningful way, but it offers viewers the chance to remember that some things are just nice. Rom-coms are nice. They won’t leave you deep in thought, but they make you feel good, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail - rom-com
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally | Image: Columbia Pictures

The rom-com is a simple genre that activates a simple part of your brain. They’re the perfect date movie, they’re the perfect bored on a Friday night movie, they’re a perfect comfort movie. You get a few laughs, a sappy but feel-good story, and a pleasant feeling on the inside when it’s done. The rom-com is not home to cinematic masterpieces, but it’s the genre that most epitomizes the three-star classic.

A three-star classic is a movie that isn’t particularly amazing, but it’s a classic nonetheless. One which you would never put on a “Best Of” list but is a go-to rewatch. No genre embodies that more than the rom-com. They’re light entertainment, but they’re there when you need them. When you just want to watch something nice that makes you feel good, the rom-com is there to give you that.

Romantic comedies are all about joy. That’s their purpose, to deliver joy to the audience. We know going into one exactly how it’s going to go, but that doesn’t detract from the experience because they bring us joy. Rom-coms are about people finding connection and happiness, the material may be light, but the theme is relatable. Humans like to be happy. For 90 to 120 minutes, rom-coms give us a straight hit of dopamine. They’re fun, lighthearted reminders that it’s nice to feel nice.

You can trace the rom-com back to the 1930s when it came as a variation on the screwball comedy. From there, it remained prevalent throughout every decade of film. From Roman Holiday to Annie Hall to When Harry Met Sally to Clueless to The Holiday. Romantic comedies have always been there to give us easily digestible feel-good entertainment. But in recent years, they have all but vanished. They still exist, but they’re a shell of their former self. 

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby - rom-com
Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby (1938) | Image: RKO Pictures

Rom-coms, as they mainly exist today, are low-budget fare that’s made to pad out content for streaming services or the Hallmark Channel. While the genre has never exactly steered away from formula and cliché, these offerings are filled with them to the point of parody. Hallmark movies, in particular, are filled with so many clichés that it’s its genre at this point. These films also lean far more into schmaltz. They also lack the main drawing factor of the rom-com, two big stars with great chemistry. The reason good rom-coms can overcome their use of formula and genre clichés is that the stars charm us into not caring. No disrespect to the actors in these films, but they simply can’t compete with A-List pairings like George Clooney and Julia Roberts. 

Speaking of George Clooney and Julia Roberts, their recent rom-com Ticket to Paradise made over $160 million, which for a film in a severely declined genre in a post-pandemic world is a huge success. People want more rom-coms and it’s time to give them that. Movie audiences want to feel good, and few genres do that as simply and effectively as the rom-com. There’s a pleasure in watching two stars charm each other in the name of love, even if the world of the rom-com is extraordinarily out of touch with reality.

No, no one is going to fall in love with their boss after faking a marriage like in The Proposal, no one is going on a spontaneous trip to Rome to find their soulmate like in Only You, and no one is singing Frankie Vallie songs in front of the whole high school like in 10 Things I Hate About You. Romantic comedies offer fantastical romantic gestures that don’t have a basis in reality, but they activate such a fuzzy feeling in us we don’t care that no real romance can live up to these. We watch films to process real-life societal and emotional issues through fiction, but we also watch them to be entertained and escape from real life. There’s no greater escape than a rom-com, where we can relax and watch as two charismatic people charm each other, the ending is always happy, and even for just a couple of hours, we get to pretend like everything is nice.

Written By

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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