What Happened to the Rom-Com?

When I look at about my Fine Romance Friday posts, a pattern emerges: most of what I’ve recommended so far are  older films, foreign films, or indies. What the heck has happened to the genre? Can Hollywood make a good romantic comedy anymore?

Jezebel had a nifty chart yesterday showing the decline of receipts for rom-coms compared to the meteoric rise in box office for super-hero movies. It’s sort of a random and not terribly enlightening comparison; critically, super-hero movies are experiencing a bit of a renaissance and rom-coms are in a rut, but that doesn’t mean the two are related.

But as someone who reads (and writes!) romance, it’s clear that there’s been stagnation in contemporary romance on film and I find that depressing. I think it’s related to a few trends: the focus on impossibly beautiful people, the forced quirkiness, the humiliation of the female protagonist, and the overall predictability.

Within, say, the best contemporary romance novels being written today, the characters are often more likable and more relatable than in the last five rom-coms I saw. Even keeping in mind that there will be a happily ever after, contemporary romance novels surprise me. I am rarely surprised by the mainstream romantic comedies of the past decade.

So, am I wrong? What am I missing? Or should I stick with the older films and those produced outside of the Hollywood machine?

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2 thoughts on “What Happened to the Rom-Com?

  1. I think you’ll have to stick to older films and indies because rom-coms have gone through a change for the worse since Meg Ryan and Julia Robert’s 1990’s heyday. Then average looking Joe’s like Tom Hanks and Billy Crystal were the leads. Now the men have to be ripped and toned like Ryan Gosling & Reynolds, Josh Duhamel, Gerard Butler in order for the films to even get made.
    There was something so warm and accessible about films like When Harry Met Sally… and Frankie and Johnny, in that all the leads looked like people you knew in your own life. I can’t remember the last time I thought that watching a Hollywood romantic comedy.

    • I totally, totally agree with this. I also think it can change. If you think about golden age Hollywood movies like It Happened One Night or The Philadelphia Story (just to take two rom-com examples), some of the characters are pretty fabulously wealthy–though both also address romance across class lines. So I guess what I’m saying is the relative realism of post-studio Hollywood makes me think that maybe mainstream cinema could get more realistic at some point. And I do think indies sometimes address middle-class and lower-middle-class Americans lives, it’s just that these films tend to be gritty dramas and not rom-coms. ; )

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