Carly: The Death and Rebirth of the Romantic Comedy (Relative to my Own Experiences)

I’m sure I speak to many film majors (and non-film major movie buffs) when I discuss the air of authority kids assume when they first discover the art of film.

When I first fell in love with movies, I became a Wes Anderson junkie. I spoke constantly of his organic storytelling and unique aesthetics, and I shamed my friends for being shallow when they insisted on seeing Divergent instead of Grand Budapest Hotel (yes, I was that much of a film snob). As a result, the more I expanded my film knowledge and discovered a community of other cinephiles, I began to scorn the conventional romantic comedy. I scoffed at girls who loved movies I believed contained no depth, and I saw myself as superior because I didn’t waste time watching “feel-good movies”.

There were some exceptions over the years, including Crazy, Stupid Love, Amelie, and She’s The Man. But for whatever reason, the only movies I insisted on seeing and watching had to be either dark and pervasive, quirky and experimental, or deep and provocative.

And yet…at the beginning of last year, I suddenly found myself pining for a good dose of romance. I wanted to watch two people fall in love and I wanted to watch two lovers share an emotional connection.

And thus began my secret binge – it started with trailers for rom-coms both old and new; then I found myself actually queuing up rom-coms on my own time. What was I doing, wasting my time watching What If?, a 2011 rom-com that lost close to three million dollars and starred Daniel Radcliffe and a pre-The Big Sick Zoe Kazan? Why did I repeatedly watch the trailer for Before We Go, Chris Evans’ 2014 directorial debut that received a whopping 21% on Rotten Tomatoes? Because these movies made me feel things. Even if they made me feel more lonely, even if they enabled me to quietly pine for a character in my own life (for whom, yes, I am still secretly pining), they still enveloped me in feeling. I couldn’t get enough. I rewatched classics, and I searched long and hard for indies.

All the while, however, I kept my new interest private. I didn’t feel comfortable enough asking my friends to binge rom-coms with me (how stupid and pretentious is that?), and I felt weak if I admitted in my film classes that the most recent movies that had made me cry were Moonrise Kingdom and/or Wall-E, or even worse, that I cried just watching the trailer for Mamma Mia.

But now it appears as if I wasn’t the only one who missed romantic comedies. As it turns out, quite virtually everyone wanted them back, a development that surfaced with the widespread popularity of Crazy Rich Asians.

Of course, I don’t mean to discount the fact that Crazy Rich Asians primarily served as an important piece of representation for the Asian-American community, and that it will no doubt pave the way for non-white actors who deserve to land roles other than the stereotypical best friend or sidekick. But I also think the movie was a success because it was such a damn good love story. It was so SATISFYING. It made me CRY. It made my FATHER cry. It was so enjoyable, and heartwarming, and it felt good knowing everyone around me similarly loved it.

The revival continues as well with To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before, a Netflix rom-com featuring budding stars Lana Condor and Noah Centineo. I absolutely lost my mind over To All The Boys; I fell madly in love with both male characters and I never wanted Lara Jean to leave the screen. I loved the story and its characters and quirkiness and I loved watching the tale unfold (and yes, I now exclusively refer to Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky, and I assume he’ll live on as that character for a good majority of his career).

Yes, romantic comedies can be cheesy, and corny, and unrealistic, and they definitely hit an all-time low in the 2000s, when studios used big ticket stars to generate income on an awful script (i.e. How Do You Know circa 2010, or All About Steve circa 2009). But I finally think the industry is learning how to make them work — with equal representation and diverse stories, and well-developed characters and plot lines, no doubt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, as a society, we need rom-coms. We need to believe in the idea of love, and watching others experience the trials and tribulations of falling in love is a method of catharsis. We need to leave our own realities for brief periods of time to fall in line along characters as they reach their happy endings, if not for our own satisfaction then at least to hold on to the slight chance that we too might find such a love in our own lifetime. We need to share the laughs and the tears and the emotions with our friends and family, and we need universal love stories to help connect with strangers, with acquaintances, with budding friends. Rom-coms might just be the comedic relief our own society needs in order to survive this incredibly intense and upsetting time in the world. And so I eagerly saw Mamma Mia 2 its opening weekend, and I felt no shame in listening to its soundtrack for a week straight afterward. And yes, I cried after Love, Simon and The Big Sick. I saw La La Land four times. And I have tickets to see Juliet, Naked next weekend. Because I love rom-coms. I really do.

And now, I leave you with Vanity Fair’s most recent list of top 25 Rom-Coms. Invite your friends over. Bake some brownies. Enjoy.

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