Why The Romcom Will Never Die
Has any movie genre been treated more unfairly than the romantic comedy? Ignored by awards shows, sneered at by snobbish critics, and described (even by people that like them!) as ‘guilty pleasures’.
But what is there to feel guilty about? In my book From Hollywood With Love: The Rise And Fall (And Rise Again) Of The Romantic Comedy, I unpack the golden era of romantic comedies – from Pretty Woman to Crazy Rich Asians and more. It was thrilling to talk to the people who made them and learn behind-the-scenes stories about how they came together. By the time I completed my interviews with the writers, directors and actors making romcoms today, I was even more convinced that, despite the detractors, romantic comedies will never die. They are, however, evolving. For too many years, Hollywood romcoms tended to centre on the same kind of couples: white, cishet, upper-middle-class, living in New York and working as journalists or architects or architecture journalists. The movies also tended to end when the central couple got together – which is, frankly, just when those stories start to get really interesting.
But all those tropes are changing. No one does romance quite like Bollywood – Jab We Met and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani are just two on the longlist of diehard Bollywood romcom fans. Romantic comedies with Black leads – cult classics include Boomerang with Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry, Love And Basketball with Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, and Think Like A Man with Kevin Hart and Taraji P Henson – are also hugely successful, increasingly putting paid to the idea that only certain love stories are worthy of depiction. In 2020, Hulu’s Happiest Season, centred on a romance between Kristin Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, scored the biggest debut in the streaming service’s history. In 2021, Netflix’s buzziest holiday romcom was Single All The Way, starring the male-identifying Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers as best friends who realise they might be something more. And that came less than a year after Netflix’s To All the Boys: Always And Forever, which – in addition to centring the perspective of a Korean-American girl – uses its status as the third movie in a franchise to go much deeper on its central relationship than would ever have been possible in the original movie.
And just in case anyone doubted it, 2022 shows promise for the longevity of this genre. Marry Me marked J.Lo’s triumphant return to the romcom (with Shotgun Wedding out this summer); The Lost City sees Sandra Bullock choose between Channing Tatum and Brad Pitt; while Bros, a Billy Eicher passion project, and Heartstopper focus on romances between two men. Romcoms aren’t dead – they’re stronger than ever – and look likely to run and run because, as they say: real love stories never have endings.
Scott Meslow is a senior editor at The Week magazine and a writer and critic for publications including GQ, New York and The Atlantic. From Hollywood With Love is his first book