Romantic Comedies or Rom-Coms tend to leave a very bad taste in my mouth, like when you take a sip of the wrong cup of tea and it’s sugared or not depending on your preference. They’re predictable, unoriginal, and more often than not neither funny nor romantic. So I thought about the worst offenders and where it all tends to go wrong;
I then realised it would be a very, very long list and I’d probably have to watch a lot of them all the way through, which could induce nausea, headaches and possible seizures.
However, I decided to remain positive and have compiled a good old fashioned top 5 list.
I’ve applauded where they went right (usually by not casting Katherine Heigl) and tried not to include the really obvious ones: When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, Pretty Woman and the very re-watchable Dirty Dancing (it lacks the comedy aspect but let’s have a moment’s silence for the charismatic and always wonderful Patrick Swayze….).
You may find a gem here that you’ve never seen or you might have a suggestion for me. So, in no particular order, here we go…
In a time when it seem rom-coms are constantly popping up and one is more indistinguishable from the last this is a breath of fresh air. I think there’s 2 ways the bigwigs in Hollywood go about making rom-coms. One is when they need a vehicle for someone. “People can’t get enough Katherine Heigl at the moment, let’s get her in something asap with whatever actor is hot right now…Gerard Butler? Sure he’ll do.”
The other is when they have an actual well-written script, a director who cares about his work and most importantly great casting. We’re used to seeing Ryan Gosling all broody and serious (The Notebook, Blue Valentine) and this is a welcome change. He’s charming, funny, well-dressed (and ab-ed) even though he’s kind of a dick. Steve Carrell, is the hapless everyman in his ill fitting chinos and sneaker combo. When Cal’s (Carrell) wife leaves him, suave womanizer Jacob (Gosling) takes pity on him after observing him in his local meat market (bar) and takes him under his wing. He gives him a makeover and all the moves he needs to become a ladies man. It’s kind of like Clueless for guys, but it’s got real heart, great laughs and a few little twists. Julianne Moore and Emma Stone round out the cast with some fiery red hair and womanly charms. Fun for the whole family, except kids, really not appropriate for kids.
“You had me at Hello”. Enough said. No? Okay. Cameron Crowe has always done the rom-com well, in a cool, thoughtful, non-cheesy way. I could equally have picked Say Anything but my Tom Cruise affection always leads me to include one of his movies in any list I make. And this is probably my favourite. Cruise as sports agent Maguire whose love life, work life and life in general is falling apart thanks to his growing a conscience while managing to hold onto one client and employee. The path of both relationships are rocky and this movie is actually a romance and a bromance as Jerry falls for Dorothy and her cute little boy, just as much as Rod “show me the money” Tidwell, the football player. Everyone knows the famous quotes, and you’ve most likely seen this one if you’re a non-rock-dwelling-human, but it’s always worth a rewatch. Cuba Gooding Jr brings the comedy and there’s more than a few lump-in-the-throat moments. And a great Springsteen song to boot. What more could you want?
Is this a rom-com i hear you ask? Well, yes of course. It may air more on the side of comedy than romance but that’s down to the always hilarious Bill Murray. But the general story is of a man trying to win over a woman who is initially less than enamoured with him in some extraordinary circumstances. Bill Murray’s Phil Connors lives the same day, Groundhog Day, over and over again; no matter what he does he wakes at 6am to Sonny & Cher’s “I Got you Babe”. Phil and his producer Rita and cameraman Larry get snowed in in Pennsylvania when sent to do a weather segment on famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. As Phil relives this day over and over he starts to use it to his advantage to try to win over Rita (Andie MacDowell). Things get a little dark for Phil at one point but for the most part this is hilarious family entertainment at it’s best. An interesting note of trivia, Bill Murray seemingly has a reputation for losing enthusiasm for a project as it goes on, so director Harold Ramis (Bill’s pal from Ghostbusters and Stripes) filmed it backwards so he’d be upbeat and happy for the final scenes and get grumpier for the burnt out weatherman at the start.
One of my favourite films of all time; this is the ultimate romantic comedy. Its got love and romance in spades between a young Robin Wright (before the Penn was added then dropped) as Princess Buttercup and Cary Elwes as sword wielding Wesley. Buttercup and Wesley’s true love is in jeopardy after they are separated for some years, but nothing, not even Rodents of Unusual Size, 6 fingered men, or death will come between them. It’s laced with clever humour, classic one-liners and magical performances (Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin is wonderful) and cameos by a host of comedians from the time (look closely, some are disguised). This is from director Rob Reiner, Mr. When Harry Met Sally, and in my opinion this gem is superior as it has a little fantasy mixed in. Definitely one for the whole family, and will delight one and all. That’s it, I’m off to watch it again.
Oh, wait, I said 5.
27 Dresses (2008)
Just joking…this is a Heigl-free list.
You may be familiar with the serious actor/director Ben Affleck getting snubbed by Oscar and squeezing his manly jaw into the batsuit, but he got his start with cult fav Kevin Smith. After a small part in Smith’s Mallrats, Affleck is his main man in this offbeat, romantic comedy. Affleck plays Holden (I’m sure there’s Catcher in the Rye implications here but lets not over-analyse) who writes a somewhat successful comic book with his bestie forever Banky (Jason Lee). On a typical night out they meet Alyssa (90s hot girl Joey Lauren Adams), a cool chick who turns both their heads even though she is a lesbian. Ignoring this, Holden falls in love with her and has to deal with a jealous best friend, a girl with a checkered past and his own insecurities. This movie definitely showcases Ben’s acting chops and watching it now it’s no surprise that he has such clout in the acting world today. Jason Lee is the funny, sarcastic best friend, a job he did so well there was danger of him being forever typecast until he broke free with My Name is Earl . (why did you break free?) As always with Kevin Smith there’s a little visit from Jay and Silent Bob (his alter ego) and watch out for an appearance from Ben’s pal Matt Damon. Overall, this is a welcome alternative to the boy meets girl rom-com but beware there is a lot of F-bombs and sexually explicit conversations so send the kids to bed early. In fact, unless it’s a Richard Curtis rom-com, send them to bed… they can watch youtube there instead of being exposed to any filth on your watch.
As I thought about romantic comedies for this list, I realised the definition has changed. Originally, they were comedies with a romantic tone but now, the romance aspect has become the dominant theme. You could hardly call Maid in Manhattan or Love Actually a comedy, but rather cute, vapid romantic stories. I think this is the part of the genre that has turned me off when actually some of my favourite films could be classified as rom-coms…. I Love You Phillip Morris, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Lars and the Real Girl (more Gosling), Beautiful Girls, Tootsie and okay let’s throw in Knocked Up, Katherine’s not all bad. I concede that it is not the most well-rounded of lists and confess that my knowledge of the classics is very shaky (I only cover my own lifespan, starting from the late 70s). I’m sure Roman Holiday or something Clark Gable-y would be much more respected but it’s all subjective. It’s nice to know I can now go forward with an open mind and continue to enjoy the best of this category.