Is it the enemies-to-lovers dynamic in “When Harry Met Sally,” Hugh Grant’s floppy hair or “You had me at hello,” that gets us every time? What made romantic comedies of the 1990s and early 2000s so good? Was is the perfect one-liners or the iconic outfits (Hello, Meg Ryan) or the cheesy theme songs? I can’t help but have this feeling that there was an undeniable era of purely magical love stories. Or maybe it was just those tiny glasses that men in romantic comedies seemed to rock effortlessly – I’m looking at you, McConaughey.
I often miss the simpler times before film school when I could blindly watch movies. 12-years-old in the theatre, munching on popcorn and Buncha Crunch, relishing in my pure enjoyment. Not to say I can’t do this now – because I most definitely do – but there’s a little extra voice in the back of my movie brain that has shown up. Now, I can’t help but scan and break down movies and their structure. I want to understand them. I want to know how Richard Curtis wrote the entangled relationships in “Love Actually.” I want to know what led Nora Ephron to write Harry’s final monologue to Sally on New Year’s Eve. It’s almost like a puzzle to crack and that has brought a whole new aspect of enjoyment to watching movies.
But as I began to analyze these movies, I noticed a pattern. What makes “Pretty Woman” so appealing? It’s a classic movie featuring a duo that’s easy to fall in love with. And as much as I love it, I can’t help but think: Is this an unhealthy relationship dynamic? Am I giving in to patriarchal standards of the man saving the damsel in distress? But the shopping montage! I have to love it, right?
I remember I was in middle school when I first learned of the age gaps between male and female actors in rom-coms and I was pretty shocked. Look at “Pretty Woman” as an example, Richard Gere was 40 and Julia Roberts was 22. Yikes? I think so. After having this occur in countless movies, there’s a point where it becomes ingrained as normal. And I don’t really want to see this as normal anymore.
So often I hear about this idea of nostalgia. People say our generation yearns for it and thrives off of it. Look at Disney+ for example. There is a direct target to our generation’s love of the past. Sure, now I can watch “Lizzie McGuire” and “That’s So Raven” in all of my spare time so no harm, no foul!
But I think those feelings towards rom-coms stem from this nostalgic idea. It’s almost a yearning for a situation we’ll never be in because it was a “different time.” And the fact that these characters don’t have smartphones, wear shoulder pads and rock the mom jeans, somehow that makes these movies all the more magical and enticing.
It’s quite possible I just have to accept the fact that I won’t ever create the golden words that spill onto Nora Ephron’s script pages time and time again, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.
Perhaps it’s time to move into a new era of rom-coms. An era that equally captures the magic of falling in love while representing who we are as a generation. Now seems like a better time than ever to use mainstream rom-coms to explore and encompass every love story in all of their nuances and complexities – to see love as it really is.
As a side note, can we recreate the fight between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth to the tune of “It’s Raining Men” in “Bridget Jones’s Diary?” I love the turn of the 21st century rom-coms but like any true love, maybe it’s time to let go and shape a new wave of characters to fall in love with all over again.