We have lost the meaning of the rom-com

Emily Varker, Copy Editor

Those who know me know that I am firmly un-romantic. To quote some songs, I do not think “love is all around,” that “all you need is love,” etc. However, my cynicism for romance does not necessarily extend to romance in media. Sure, I love to make fun of the Hallmark movies that become so popular at Christmas, and I find much romance media to be contrived. However, there are a number of rom-coms that I unironically enjoy. When Heath Ledger serenades Julia Stiles in “10 Things I Hate About You,” I start singing along. I love the entirety of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” most especially the “I Say a Little Prayer for You” scene. “Clueless” is a brilliant modernization of “Emma” by Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors. Not to overlook films from earlier decades, “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Some Like It Hot” are both near-perfect films. There are so many, many more I could name. I may overanalyze what are meant to be simple, satisfying stories and may be baffled by many parts of the romance genre, but I also love it and will defend it against those who degrade its value. 

My protectiveness of the genre makes me sad when I realize how few good rom-coms have come out in recent years. The golden age of rom-coms in the 90s and early 2000s seems so long ago. Every so often, a film comes out that smashes through the lowered expectations to show that there are good rom-coms still to be made, like “Easy A,”To All the Boys I Loved Before” or “Crazy Rich Asians.” Yet, most of the so-called rom-coms being released are not of this quality. This genre seems relatively simple, it has to tell a story that features a romance and is funny. There is a wide variety of tropes to explore. However, many rom-coms now tend to lean into the same tropes and situations without adding anything new. Even worse are films that are being credited as rom-coms when they do not fit into the formula. I was inspired to write this piece after seeing a list of the best rom-coms nominated for Oscars (in honor of both Valentine’s Day and awards season.) The awards show famously prefers to give the honors to movies that are dramas rather than comedies, so the list did have a small group from which to work. However, a number of movies on the list were not rom-coms. I liked “La La Land,” but it is not a rom-com! It was not just this list; I have seen this trend in other sources. How far has the rom-com fallen that movies distinctly not belonging to the genre are considered so? 

There is still hope though! The romantic comedy as a movie may have faded, but it is still alive and well in other media. Rom-coms often rank amongst the most popular web comics. It is exceptionally popular in books as well. This is because these other forms of media are not afraid to re-invent the genre. They place these stories in settings not usually associated with the genre, and they feature diverse casts of characters who all get the chance to tell their own story. They are not afraid to poke fun at the tropes associated with the genre but also show a love for them as well. Most recently, “The Love Hypothesis,” a romance centered around the perceived as un-romantic world of STEM academia, became a New York Times bestseller and certified internet sensation. If Hollywood takes note of the successes of the unique stories being told in romance books, perhaps we will have another rom-com renaissance soon.