After a Friday night of watching The Big Sick and a recent binge of the Netflix series Love, Laurelin Paige and Kayti McGee get to wondering…
Where have all the rom-coms gone?
Friends With Benefits came out in 2011, at the same time as No Strings Attached. It was a strange time to be picking a date movie, because it was like, “Hey, wanna see the movie about friends who have sex and fall in love, or that other movie, the one about friends who have sex and fall in love?” If you thought maybe you’d just skip that plotline and wait for the next big Hollywood romantic comedy to come out, you waited for a very, very long time.
Until The Big Sick, it felt as though the entire genre had just died overnight like honeybees or Pokemon Go.
It seemed like with the rise of more female comedians like Amy Schumer–who we love by the way–that suddenly the old guys who greenlight films had the brilliant idea that romantic comedies could actually just be comedies with the barest nod to romance. The female leads weren’t vulnerable or even very likable anymore. They were raunchy, rude, and irresponsible. Happily ever after for them was probably found in a prescription bottle, not in a healthy relationship. Our best guess is that Hollywood thought they could get men in to see those movies if the heroines were either buxom and brainless or just completely terrible human beings. They still seem to be a little unsure if women are an audience that spends money on entertainment. (Spoiler: we think they do, just not in the movieplex.)
So where are the swoony, romantic, sweep you off your feet love stories of the past?
There’s an extremely scientific poll we’ve been taking for the past few years. Typically, our method includes asking everyone in the room at a party to chime in while we’re delivering this rant for the hundredth time.
Almost without fail, when you ask women what their favorite movie is, they’ll name something starring Kate Hudson, Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore, or Sandra Bullock. They never, ever name a movie like a Trainwreck. Because comedy gives us good one-liners and sets up plot points, but it isn’t the reason you re-watch a story a hundred times, whether you’ve had a great day or a bad breakup.
The romance part does that.
But is romantic comedy actually dead? In Romancelandia, it’s thriving. Contemporary authors like Meghan Quinn, Julia Kent and Christina Lauren are romantic comedy writers who are crushing it with every release. Fifty Shades of Grey–though not a rom-com–brought many women to reading and back to reading. With the breakthrough of indie publishing where readers can purchase books for much lower prices than their mother’s Harlequins of the past, the romance genre is booming. Women spend plenty of money here and are thirsty for even more. This trend is moving at an incredible speed into the area of audiobooks. Audible’s newest program is a romance subscription package where many of the titles are definitely comedic in tone. The execs at Amazon seem to recognize the audience for this.
Elsewhere, in the realm of television, shows like Love, Catastrophe, Chewing Gum, and Insecure have picked up the “girl meets boy, laughs ensue” baton. Only they’ve run in different directions. Unlikeable main characters who are unable to compromise, older singles and women of color are telling these stories in ways that audiences can relate to– perhaps more than they can relate to a magazine assignment about getting dumped or a Christmas Prince.
These stories just aren’t proven at the box office.
See, the other thing that’s been going on in the Case of the Double Plot and The Big Sick is a recognition that a diverse audience needs diverse stories. This conversation is happening in Hollywood too, obviously, but while they are working out how to make diverse projects commercially viable (yeah, we know, tell them to just build it and we will come) it’s a quick implementation in indie books and in shows that have much smaller budgets than a Paramount feature.
And because we are living in a golden era of television writing, it’s also getting harder to create such complex stories and characters and worlds in a ninety-minute format. Not impossible–beautiful and rich stories clearly still exist in the movies–but given the choice between telling a single story and telling a life, it’s no wonder that more of the writing talent has moved to a smaller screen.
What The Big Sick, hopefully, has done, is show the studios that diverse stories can resonate across a wide audience base. When Kumail is scared to tell his parents he’s dating a white girl, it speaks to the larger issues we’ve all experienced around culture, generational viewpoints, and familial expectations–but it was funny enough to even appeal to people who don’t experience any of those things. That a genuine love story was at the heart of it tied all those pieces together.
So romantic comedies aren’t gone, they’ve just migrated out of the theater. On Netflix and Hulu, iBooks and Amazon, they’re better than ever. One would argue that these smaller screens are an even better format for this kind of intimate storytelling. And in today’s hyper-busy work-kid-side-hustle-meal-prep life, it’s the kind of format that can actually reach its intended audience–primarily women– who don’t have time, or money, to spend on an evening at the cinema. This isn’t a lost art–it’s progress!
As hyper-busy women ourselves, we’re eagerly looking forward to a new crop of honest, interesting romantic comedies in 2018, but we’re going to be looking in many different places to find them. Netflix and chill with us! After we get all our work done, of course.