Love them or loathe them, romantic comedies remain one of the most popular movie genres of the 21st century. The same love-struck, hopeless romantics appear on screen time and time again. The plots follow the same tried and tested formula and are for the most part light-hearted and often based on a preposterous premise. You only have to consider “What Happens in Vegas”, “The Proposal” or the more than slightly creepy “Mannequin” to know that this much is true.
A lot of us love them but they are certainly not without issue.
We ought to compare the representation of love and relationships in rom-coms to the reality of modern-day romantic love. For the most part, plotlines suggest every woman is looking for a perfect man. We should highlight the portrayal of rigid gender roles and stereotypes, not to mention the overwhelmingly heterosexual discourse of romantic comedies. For the most part rom-coms only portray a one- dimensional understanding of romantic relationships and this has no doubt impacted negatively for those who cannot relate to their very narrow notion of what, and between whom, a romantic relationship should be.
Rom-com couples nearly always overcome some seemingly insurmountable obstacle and fall (back) in love and live happily ever after. Their story often unfolds in a moneyed, cosmopolitan world of good looks and high fashion. Innocent escapism perhaps, but these idealised stories of love and relationships are far removed from those negotiated off-screen in today’s society where we face the daunting challenges of a dating scene dominated by social media and dating apps.
If female characters such as those portrayed by the likes of Kate Hudson and Sandra Bullock are not relatable to us modern women, or if our very own in-house Matthew McConaughey or Ben Affleck simply is no longer cutting it, then not surprisingly we may feel somewhat cheated when confronted with the faux concept of romantic love peddled by many a romantic comedy. No way can we all be lucky enough to be in relationships peppered with huge romantic gestures, sentences half said then finished by our other half, and shit or bust mad dashes to the airport. This doesn’t happen in the real world, or very rarely.
Yes, clearly rom-coms often create a skewed view of love and relationships, there’s no doubt, but it must surely also be acknowledged that we watch them simply for our enjoyment, and not as instructional guides to love, sex, and gender roles. A healthy dose of dopamine boosting escapism goes a long way, particularly now. Rom-coms provide blessed relief for many with life difficulties, time scarce or career-led lives, as well as for the lonely or disillusioned left swipers. We can recognise the movie industry’s fashion for rose-tinted specs but we don’t always have to wear them. Take what you need from the story and move on.
Anyway, what constitutes an ideal love and our notion of romance as it stands today? Do we want the cinematic world merely to reflect it, warts and all? Or should we just sit back, ice-cream tub at the ready, and enjoy our rom-coms in the same way we would any Marvel, Horror, or Sci-Fi offering, precisely because they don’t mirror our reality, rather they allow us to escape it. We should let ourselves believe, at least a bit. After all, isn’t ‘boy meets girl, and they all live happily ever after’ even slightly more plausible than a bunch of kids hiding an alien in their wardrobe until his Mum and Dad return from Outer Space to get him? Or maybe not.