Modern Romantic Comedies – Redefining the Rom Com for 2019
Whenever I am asked my opinion on Romantic Comedies the response is usually the same: “Nope, nada, not a fan!” I mean, why would I force myself to watch some overly sentimental, poorly acted, cringe fest when there is so much good content out there right now?
Yet, somehow this year I have already watched, and enjoyed, three modern Rom Coms. I know, I’m as shocked as you are! Maybe I’m getting soft? Or maybe, modern Rom Coms are actually getting good?
So here are the three films that seem to have twisted my arm and opened my cynical heart…kind of.
Isn’t It Romantic
“They’ll never make movies about girls like us…” is what Natalie, a 12-year-old in love with Romantic Comedies, is told by her mother. Usually she would be correct but Isn’t It Romantic changes all of that.
A grown up cynical Natalie now works at an architecture firm, but is struggling to be confident in her ideas and keeps being relegated to the office doormat. After a disappointing day Natalie gets a little bit of hope from a flirty Subway encounter. Unfortunately, her cynicism is proven right when the mystery man turns out to be a mugger. After taking a nock to the head Natalie awakens in the alternate universe of her nightmares, a Rom Com world. Now the reluctant leading lady needs to find the magic moment that will send her back home and into reality.
Isn’t It Romantic is like a crash course in Rom Com tropes and conventions. It references everything from Pretty Woman (check Rebel’s costumes) to 13 Going On 30. Todd Strauss-Schulson went to serious lengths, watching over 90 Rom Coms to find the common details, and it clearly shows in this film. The two worlds of the film clearly juxtapose each other, gloomy city streets become pastel havens, a cramped apartment becomes a chic studio and the drab architect offices become something from a Google Office wet dream.
Sometimes a genre needs to get self-referential and a little meta to get back on track, it worked wonders for Horror when Scream came out. Isn’t It Romantic lays out some clichés and subverts others, the biggest being the need for a fulfilling love from anyone but yourself.
Natalie’s ending is with herself, loving and accepting herself exactly as she is. It may have taken head trauma to get there but the spirit of the message is what counts. No makeover scene, just self-love to find your happiness.
Verdict: Meta humour, body positivity and two dance numbers keep this light and cheery but with a positive message shining above. Not perfect, but who is?
“It’s Pretty Woman, but she’s Richard Gere and you’re Julia Roberts.” Welcome to the era of gender swap Rom Coms that allow characters to be more than just archetypes. Long Shot keeps the humour levels high and the political observations dry.
Fred is a journalist with an edge, the type who throws f-bombs right into the headlines of his articles. So when he finds out the independent newspaper he works for has been bought out by a tyrannical media conglomerate he decides to moonwalk out with his middle fingers held high. His best friend Lance takes him out for the night to cheer him up and that’s when he reunites with his childhood babysitter Charlotte, who just so happens to be running for President. The two have nothing but their past in common but something draws Charlotte to hire Fred to be her speechwriter in her upcoming campaign. Sparks fly, chemistry oozes and a Rom Com is created.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is just another Romantic Comedy where opposites attract and the woman learns that if she just tweaks a few things she’ll be perfect for her ‘dream’ man. Long Shot isn’t playing by those rules though. There is such a focus on the Charlotte in this film and the lengths she has to go to be considered worthy of her professional role. While Fred helps her it isn’t by changing her, or making her reconsider such a demanding job, it is by supporting her and reminding her who she is and why people will love that.
The comedy is on top form in this film, mixing one liners, physical humour and political satire with an incredible cast that can handle it all. As much as there is a straight man/funny man dynamic between Charlotte and Fred, she is still given her moments to shine and not relegated to side character. Watching her hiding underneath a table, still high on molly with confetti in her hair, and negotiate a hostage situation by admitting that they both hate her boss was one of the funniest scenes I have witnessed in a long time.
Verdict: Hilarious gender swapped Rom Com that hits high on the laughter scale whilst embracing that a woman can have both a career and love.
Always Be My Maybe
“Sasha Tran… can I hold your purse for you?” A romantic sentiment from a man who doesn’t feel intimidated by his partner’s success. Always Be My Maybe has all the makings of a cliché Rom Com, yet it’s heart, culture and modern sentiment make it so much more.
Sacha and Marcus were inseparable as kids. Sacha was often left alone as a child and was taken in by Marcus and his parent’s, learning how to cook with his mother and becoming part of the family. During their teenage years Marcus’ mother suddenly dies and during the comforting stage the two have a brief and awkward fling in the back of a Toyota Corolla, ultimately leading to them drifting apart.
Flash-forward 15 years and the Marcus and Sacha, now vastly different characters, are thrown back together when she returns to San Francisco. Sacha is an insanely successful chef ploughing ahead in her career and dealing with some romance setbacks. Marcus is stagnating, working for his dad’s air-con company and playing gigs in the same venue because he doesn’t like the other ones. Of course, this film follows the typical formula, almost beat for beat, but it’s the humour and slight deviations from the norm that keeps it entertaining.
The exploration of Asian-American culture enhances the narrative of the film and fuels some of the best jokes within it. The modern gender-swap that Long Shot also included means that we’re not watching a successful woman give up everything for a ‘loser’ boyfriend. Instead they change each other for the better without having to do the clichéd sacrifice of something important to them. They meet in the middle with Sacha being reminded of her roots and Marcus being inspired to have goals again. Cheesy? Yes. Uplifting? Of course!
Always Be My Maybe is a little bit more traditional that the other two on this list but what’s a Rom Com without a few traditions. Also, I would be remiss not to mention Keanu Reeves in one of the best cameos ever put to film. Reeve’s plays ‘himself’, a pretentious and mildly unstable actor who is dating Sacha. In real life, this man is a walking legend and the sweetest person, so to watch him thoroughly ham it up in this role had me in stitches. The result of this cameo also leads to the creation of one of my new favourite songs, I Punched Keanu Reeves, seriously check it out.
Verdict: A dependable narrative that sometimes feels worn out is invigorated with some fresh flavours and new beats. Plus, it Keanu approved.
Rom Coms have developed over the years and embraced the changes in society and what we find funny and romantic, compared to what we don’t. I don’t want to see an ‘ugly duckling’ makeover scene where a beautiful woman becomes ‘more’ beautiful because she takes off her glasses and lets her cleavage see the light of day. People can have passion for their careers, hobbies, and lives, and still find love. No longer does it have to be one or the other. For the love of God, let’s make sure that no means no. ‘Romantic’ gestures from persistent weirdos are not attractive, stop watching someone sleep you big freak, it’s not hot.
Gone are clichés, but the formula still remains, and that’s clearly what people want. Not every genre convention has to disappear, but including more original takes on their use will help rejuvenate them. Yes, to the happiness, yes to the love and a big yes to the comedy. Rom Coms seemed to have lost their Com for a while but these modern takes on the genre are seriously bringing it back.