As our first quarantined Valentine’s Day approaches, we return to one movie genre synergetic to the holiday of love — romantic comedies. From unexpected meet-cutes to heart-wrenching breakups, rom-coms offer stories that are both ridiculous and desirable. As we sift through numerous films across streaming services this February 14th, we ask ourselves: What makes a good romantic comedy?
Anatomy of the Rom-Com
A “romantic comedy” is a lighthearted, comedic love story with a happy ending that usually focuses on a relationship’s development. They are known for their unique story structure, which generally includes:
- Introductions – Both loveable and attractive characters are introduced before they meet (or at least, in the romantic sense).
- The Meet-Cute – They have an unlikely encounter and immediately have great chemistry.
- Falling in Love – As they get to know more about each other, we see sparks fly. This is also where conflicts begin to arise.
- Turning Point + Breakup – The two reach a point where their turmoil is no longer avoidable and they break up (sometimes, right after they realize their true feelings).
- Happy Ever After – The two work out their problems and love triumphs, once again!
Rom-coms use this reliable format to help audiences experience the butterflies of falling in love — without the drama. In their world, we are comforted with a sense of security and a guarantee that everything will turn out well in the end. But what makes a rom-com good?
“When Harry Met Sally” – Harry and Sally are a great example of “polar opposites.” While they have contrasting views on sex and relationships, their openness to talk about their philosophies makes them fundamentally similar. Their banter is filled with quick-wit and chemistry, and their “breakup” is poignant, as well as their happy ending.
“Notting Hill” – Often accredited in helping define this genre, William and Anna’s story balances good humor with loveable characters. The meet-cute is both unlikely and charming, and the lines are cheesy yet warmly memorable. Their emotional connection in the face of figurative and physical obstacles has audiences rooting for them until the very end.
“10 Things I Hate About You” – Based on a Shakespearean play, this teen/rom-com crossover features two attractive leads and their ability to parry each other’s quick humor. The romantic gestures are quirky and insightful, and the fact that Patrick is being paid to date Kat creates unique struggles as they begin to fall in love.
“She’s All That” – Even with an attractive cast and familiar plot, this movie misses key character arcs. Zach shifts his understanding of Laney merely after she has been “transformed” to be conventionally attractive. The present humor also lacks specific charm, rendering it more of a teen movie than a romantic comedy.
“Just Friends” – While seeing Ryan Reynolds bulldoze a bunch of kids on ice skates makes a great comedy, the movie makes for a subpar rom-com with just a romantic pretense. The conflict is mainly between Chris and his own ego, with fat-shaming themes and a pretty flat love interest.
“Valentine’s Day” – In short, its namesake is promising and the actors are famous and pleasant. However, this movie is an anthology of love stories rather than a whole romantic comedy on its own.
The Modern Love Story
Romantic comedies are often criticized for alienating certain audiences. The plot often pins one character’s dreams against the desires of another other, and there is an overwhelming amount of straight couples in the genre. However, this Valentine’s Day we are greeted with more movies that are reshaping the rom-com today. From “Always Be My Maybe” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” to “Love, Simon” and “Lovebirds,” romantic comedies continue to reflect our ideas of love and of the romantic stories we love to hear.