Although chances are I’m spending my nights off ugly-crying as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall head over heels in love with each other, I’m not about to yell from the rooftops that rom-com virtuoso Nora Ephron is a genius in my books. Let’s face it — people love to hate romantic comedies.
I’m not one of those people. When it’s done right, the mixture of love and comedy — good comedy, mind you — is a marriage made in cinematic heaven. And while you’re probably shaking your head in mild disgust, I believe that you — yes, you — secretly love a good rom-com too.
Over the course of my rocky long love affair with the underrated genre, I’ve dug past the all-white casts, heteronormativity and reoccurring plotlines that give rom-coms a bad name.
I’ve uncovered, and am still uncovering, a goldmine of well-made romantic comedies that live up to the true potential of this infamous genre. They feature diverse leads, with unpredictable storylines, and many versions of happily-ever-after.
The first of these romantic comedies features two of the biggest names in the comedy industry, so it definitely packs in the laughs. Celeste and Jesse Forever, released in 2012 and starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, takes what you expect from a standard rom-com and turns it on its head. It’s not so much a story of finding love as it is about losing it.
Celeste and Jesse have been best friends for as long as they can remember. They fell in love in high school, got married and now they’ve decided to get divorced. They’re trying their hardest to maintain their friendship through the end of their marriage. But before you know it, things start getting complicated and moving on ends up being harder than the movies typically show.
In between the intimate comedy and the rawness of their story — no flashy lights or inauthentic dialogue attached — this film is like someone aimed a camera at real love. It exchanges the happily-ever-after for reality instead, while still offering a love story that’ll leave you in tears.
Another staple in my stash of beloved rom-coms takes place in the south of France.
The Hundred-Foot Journey — starring the ever-elegant Helen Mirren and Indian cinematic royalty Om Puri — follows the Kadam family as they uproot their lives in India to relocate in France, where they open an Indian food restaurant directly across from Madame Mallory and her high-end Michelin-starred restaurant. The move sparks fiery competition between the families, but soon starts a little something else as well, between Madame Mallory’s sous chef Marguerite and the Kadam family’s eldest son and gifted cook Hassan.
Keeping with the film’s central theme of food’s heart-warming power, The Hundred-Foot Journey feels like eating an overflowing bowl of hot soup on a cold Sunday morning. It’s hopeful, soulful and may leave you with an aching feeling in the pit of your stomach that was so worth it.
The film embodies so much of what rom-coms are capable of when done right — it binds two entirely different cultures and backgrounds together through love and, in this case, through food, making for a story that can’t easily be mirrored in the next blockbuster romance.
Other romantic comedies that have found their place in my heart include Nora Ephron’s Tom-and-Meg classic You’ve Got Mail, Rick Famuyiwa’s Brown Sugar starring Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan, and About Time, which features time travel, a beatific English countryside and the adorable, orange-haired Domnhall Gleeson.
When blockbuster rom-coms are continuously made with the same plotlines, same character arcs and same non-diverse casts, they deserve a lot of the flack they get. But when they’re done right and with real people — and real love — in mind, they make for some artful and timeless cinema.
So, put aside the stigma of rom-coms and treat yourself with a bucket of ice cream, a box of tissues and a film about love. I’ve done all the work for you — all you have to do is watch and, if you’re anything like me, cry.
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