Movie Musings,  Movie Talk

Rom-Coms – Movie Musings

We’re coming up on Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk about love in movies. Yes, I can hear you wrinkling your nose from here. What can I say, I like a good romantic comedy every now and then. If that offends you, stop reading now! Formulaic, corny, vapid, empty. Call them what you like. I treat them like exactly what they are: completely unrealistic feel-good fantasies, sort of the sprinkles (or jimmies, as you may know them) of the movie world. And that’s part of why I go to the movies in the first place: to escape the real world (while completely understanding that what is being represented is not remotely rooted in reality, and is often not even a good relationship model long term). That’s why it’s called fiction! Which ones give me the particular warm fuzzies? Here are a few, and except for the first one, they are in no particular order.

Hitch (2005) – Not only my favorite rom-com, but a spectacular comedy overall, and one of my all-time favorite movies ever, across all genres. How’s that for high praise? This movie ALWAYS makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time. (And believe me, I’ve seen it dozens of times.) We will watch nearly anything Will Smith is in, particularly if it leans towards comedy, so seeing this was a no-brainer for us. Kevin James was the big question mark for me. I didn’t necessarily have any specific feelings about him, but I did know that he’s not typically in things I like or am interested in. I’m super-particular about comedy, and I was really afraid he would spoil it. Nope. He made the film, which is saying something for a Will Smith movie. I don’t think Smith’s performance would have changed much playing against someone else as Albert, but NO ONE could have played Albert and made me love him like Kevin James. I can’t think about the scene about dancing or even hear the song “Yeah!” by Usher without breaking into a huge grin and probably chuckling out loud. And of course, it generated a couple of quotes that we use often: “You don’t need no pizza, they got food there.” and “Come ninety and then I’ll come ten! You don’t go the whole hundred!” Love love LOVE this movie!

Sweet Home Alabama (2002) – In a Facebook group I belong to about movies, someone recently asked what film you feel most accurately reflects what life is like where you’re from (or where you live now). This was my pick, even if it is “set in Alabama” (yet it was mostly filmed in Georgia!). To me, it better captures the feel of living in the South than Steel Magnolias (thought that one certainly has its moments). So it already has that “love of home” nostalgia factor going for me. I love Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Lucas is one of those people that I can’t figure out why he hasn’t had a better career than he’s had (he should be far better known, IMO). Throw those two together, let their natural accents fly, and add a dash of McDreamy (never even seen that show, yet I still know Patrick Dempsey’s nickname from it), and you can’t help but smile.

One Fine Day (1996) – Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney (early in his transition from TV to movies, between From Dusk Till Dawn and Batman & Robin), a couple of cute kids (very young Mae Whitman, same year as Independence Day), plus a kitten and a goldfish. What’s not to love? I really like Michelle Pfeiffer, and she’s so relatable here as a very harried single mom. I’ve never been overly taken with Clooney (can’t deny he’s charming, but he’s typically too slick for my tastes), but he’s got that “aw shucks” things down perfectly in this movie, and it’s fun to watch Pfeiffer completely befuddle him on occasion. I was 20 years old in 1996 when this came out, and I really loved that Melanie pushed back on Jack not using her name. “Don’t call me baby.” I didn’t get the joke at the time, but it is the perfect touch in that scene, both straight up and as a Scarface reference!

French Kiss (1995) – The Queen of 90s Rom-Coms plus one of my favorite actors ever? Yep, I’m there. And while it’s not my favorite role for either of them (my picks: I.Q. for Ryan and Dave for Kline), watching the two of them and their hate/love relationship is an absolute delight. It also gave us one of our favorite quotes that we use frequently: “Happy, smile. Sad, frown. Use the corresponding face for the corresponding emotion!” (We’ll get to a list of my favorite quotes eventually, but that’s a post for another day. Also, Dave will be discussed in another post, so it’s not covered here.)

I.Q. (1994) – Speaking of Meg Ryan, this is my personal favorite of her rom-coms. It’s hard for me to really put my finger on why I love this movie so much. Honestly, I think I like the fact that she is portrayed as incredibly smart, and no one seems to mind that. In fact, it’s part of what every person in the story loves about her. She’s just being who she is, and they love her for it. Not in spite of it, as is often portrayed, and no one is intimidated by her smarts. There is no “transformation” that even though she’s smart, she’s perceived as “ugly” and they have to “make” her beautiful. (My god, how I *hate* that trope!) She is beautiful and smart, and Ed loves her exactly the way she is. And so does her Uncle Albert. I was pretty ambivalent about Walter Matthau before this movie. He was always such a character actor in everything I’ve seen, but he is so sweet and endearing here, as are all of Albert’s friends, that you can’t help but love them.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) – Hey look, a more recent film! Yes, the traditional rom-com is largely dead these days, but there are still a few variations that peek out here and there. I understand that it doesn’t follow the standard “meet cute” since they are already a couple, but it still has many of the right elements. Though some argue this is more of a soap opera than a rom-com, I make that distinction based on how I feel at the end of the film, and for me, this one is rom-com all the way. It was also my first real exposure to Awkwafina, and I really like her! More so in some things than others, but she’s a lot of fun, and an absolute hoot in this movie.

Love Actually (2003) – Yes, I know! The movie has lots of problems. I understand, acknowledge, and admit that. But one of the things I like most about it is that it shows many different types of love. New love, old love, young love, lost love, platonic love, sibling love (in more than one story line), parental love, even love of one’s country. Again, as with Crazy Rich Asians, it is hard to pin down if Love Actually qualifies as a rom-com or not, and in many ways it really doesn’t, but I am left with the overall “happy sigh” feeling when it’s over, so I’ll lump it in here. Fun fact: Sam and Joanna (the kids) are played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Olivia Olson. Brodie-Sangster went on to voice the character of Ferb on Disney’s Phineas and Ferb. Ferb eventually falls for Vanessa, the daughter of their main foe, Dr. Doofenshmirtz, who is voiced by (you guessed it) Olivia Olson!

Bye Bye Love (1995) – This is one of those movies that, given its cast, I’m not sure how more people don’t know about it/haven’t seen it. Matthew Modine, Randy Quaid, Paul Reiser, Janeane Garofalo, Amy Brenneman, and Eliza Dushku. Some people may be frowning at that list a bit, but they were actually much bigger names then than they are now. It is another of those movies that is about many different kinds of love. Romantic love, for sure, but also family love and friend love. It is another that doesn’t fit neatly into the standard rom-com box, but it is funny and sad and touching and sweet, and it leaves me happy and comforted in the end.

Music and Lyrics (2007) – I’m not a huge Hugh Grant fan; I can usually take him or leave him. But he really is perfect in this. And Drew Barrymore is her typically quirky kooky self. They make a wonderful odd couple. The story is sweet and solid, but the real magic of this film is in the music and songs. I swear, someone had a desk drawer stuffed with 1980s songs that they wrote during that decade but that never got published or recorded; they are *that* perfect! We have them mixed in with our regular 80s music play lists, and you would never know they were (presumably) written and recorded 20 years later. Favorite quote: “Just a little bit louder, because this song is intended for humans.”

Shakespeare In Love (1998) – Did your eyebrows hit your hairline? Yes, I put Shakespeare In Love in the rom-com category. It ticks so many of the traditional boxes, yet I also know that it is not typically classified as such. It’s witty, it’s funny, it’s romantic, and it enjoys the tropes right along with poking fun at them. But on the “happy sigh” meter, it really does leave me feeling that way, in spite of the ending. Most people treat it as a romantic drama (which it is) or a comedy-drama (which it is) or a historical film (eh, not really; historical fiction with a lot of poetic license, no pun intended). It was also my first real exposure to Colin Firth, so while most people think of him as a romantic lead, *this* haughty stuck-up villain is always my first mental image of him. Truly one of my favorite movies, though I understand it is not to everyone’s taste. So many good quotes from this one, it’s hard to pick. I’d probably have to go with “I don’t know, it’s a mystery” or “Are you going to do it like that?”, though “We haven’t the time. Talk prose.” comes up more often than one might expect.

It Happened One Night (1934) – Can’t really talk about rom-coms without mentioning this one. It’s not necessarily one of my “I’ll watch it over and over again” favorites, but it is absolutely the prototype for what we think of when we say “rom-com.” And it doesn’t get much better than 1930s verbal sparring between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. I love how spicy and independent she is (within the limits of her era), which is pretty remarkable for the time, although the Hays Code was just starting to be strictly enforced. All of those tropes that you love (or love to hate)? This movie pretty much invented them.

Shop Around the Corner (1940) – Speaking of tropes, this movie may not be the first of the “I love you when I don’t know it’s you” movies (that arguably goes back to at least the play Cyrano de Bergerac in the late 1800s, and likely well before that), but it has influenced countless films that came after, most directly reflected in In the Good Old Summertime (1949), and of course, You’ve Got Mail (1998). Overall, I would personally give a slight edge to In the Good Old Summertime (which includes a small role by Buster Keaton), though it sure is hard to beat Jimmy Stewart in much of anything. Worth seeing at least once.

Pillow Talk (1959) – Arguably the pinnacle of the 1950s/1960s sex comedy, simultaneously abiding by and spitting in the face of the Hays Code, this is one of those “you have to see it at least once” movies. I prefer other Doris Day movies (The Thrill of It All with James Garner comes to mind) and even other of her pairings with Rock Hudson (like Lover Come Back or Send Me No Flowers), but this one is so classic, it really is essential viewing. If nothing else, you need to see it so you have some appreciation for….

Down With Love (2003) – Last but far from least on my list, and while you can enjoy this film on its own merits, you will have a far greater appreciation of it if you’ve seen a few of those 1950s and 60s films I was just talking about. Somewhere between an homage and a spoof, or perhaps a combination thereof, it is just SO FUNNY! Every character, every costume, every set, every tiny detail is meticulous and perfect. You can tell this movie was made not just to poke fun at the genre – both then and now – but also as a love letter to both the films themselves and the era from whence they came. It is an absolute must see in my book.

This still leaves plenty that I haven’t seen but want to. In no particular order: About Time (2013), Always Be My Maybe (2019), Straight Up (2020), Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), Mamma Mia! (2008), About a Boy (2002), Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Ruby Sparks (2012), My Man Godfrey (1936), His Girl Friday (1940), The Philadelphia Story (), Adam’s Rib (1949), Fever Pitch (2005), The Lady Eve (1941)

At this point, you may be thinking “but where is [fill in the blank], it should be here.” There are several possibilities:

  • I’m saving it for a different list. (see also: Dave, Singin’ in the Rain or most any other musical)
  • I just haven’t seen it yet. (His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story)
  • I’ve seen it but it’s not a favorite, even though most seem to love it. (When Harry Met Sally, Pretty in Pink)
  • I probably won’t be seeing it. (There’s Something About Mary, Knocked Up)
  • I might not be aware of it or how good it is, in which case, drop me a comment!

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