Even though the year 2020 received a lot of backlash for being a wild roller-coaster ride, one can not overlook that most of us got introduced to a plethora of movies and songs, which helped us make it through this year. It doesn’t matter whether you are a rom-com-person or not because when you hear the Christmas bells jingling around the corner, all you want to do is, turn to your “comfort cinema” with a bucket of popcorn. Have you ever wondered what exactly makes rom-coms powerful enough to be able to cast a spell on us? How do we always find ourselves wanting to live the same romantic situations vis-à-vis the movie characters? Intriguing, isn’t it?
How It All Started
Shakespearean plays like “Much Ado About Nothing” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are some of the first works of art that can be cited as romantic comedies. Among films, “Sherlock Jr.” and “Girl Shy” are some of the first examples of rom-coms. However, these movies were silent films, and dialogues were captured with title cards between each scene of action. But the fate of these films changed with the introduction of “The Talkies.” Movies like “It Happened One Night” starring Clark Gable and “The Philadelphia Story” starring Katherine Hepburn paved the way for films that we consider as romantic comedies. During the great depression and a little after, these films reminded people of fantasies and filled them with hope. While today, these themes are still just as valid, they seem to have gotten repetitive.
What are Rom-Coms?
Movies that fall under the genre of rom-com instil an inquisitive feeling in us, which makes us question the existence of “soulmates” or “the one” in our lives. Adolescents’ tender age is more prone to daydreaming about finding love as “perfect” as portrayed in the typical rom-com films, thereby making them obsessed with the heteronormative white culture of romance.
What Makes them Work?
Cinema was never a mere source of entertainment because it reflects how our society functions at the end of the day. The stereotypical romantic storyline of films conditions us to believe that our life is incomplete without a “perfectly stable” love life. Yes, who doesn’t enjoy being wrapped in warm hugs of love, but is that the very crux of holiday movies? Not really.
Winter is the season of cosy sweaters and blankets, the season of seeking warmth to thaw the cold. Holiday movies, better known as Christmas movies, are capsuled in the entirety of rom-coms, thus bottling Xmas’ very essence. The festive vibes of Christmas and New Year, irrespective of the religion, make everyone excited about the new beginnings.
Devoid of the high pitched screams that are synonymous with horror films or the frenzied and rushed pace of action movies—romance movies remind someone of their emotional capabilities and, at the same time, heightening their issues of commitment and creating the illusion of perfect love.
Romantic comedies often tend to tread a dangerous path, humourising heartbreak and romanticising the pain that comes along with it. Some of the best romantic comedies stem from finding love through the pangs of heartbreak.
For some people, these rom-coms remind them of everything that could be right in their life, irrespective of the circumstances. As unrealistic as it may seem to find the love of your life waiting for you on top of the Empire State Building, the over the top antics somehow don’t seem unrealistic at the moment, due to the fascinating bubble that the rom-coms exist in.
Brief Review of Some Popular Rom-Coms
In “Notting Hill,” the gorgeous Julia Roberts, who has a seemingly successful professional life, finds herself in shambles when it comes to her personal life. She claimed to have undergone cosmetic surgeries in the movie to look the way she did. She then had a boyfriend with whom she never really connected but having one benefitted her because the tabloids gave her publicity. The male protagonist, portrayed by Hugh Grant, also seemed to have recently gone through a separation. The two of them, who would otherwise be one of the most unlikely couples, find solace in each other and embark on a seemingly successful journey.
“The Holiday,” which is considered to be a Christmas classic, also finds the two female protagonists navigating through love’s complexities during their heartbreaks. While this might sound like the recipe for a blockbuster, what it does is instil false hopes regarding relationships and the foundation they’re built on.
In “Sleepless in Seattle,” we are once again confronted with a devastating heartbreak with more undertones of reality than fantasy, all thanks to the impeccable performances and writing. But all of this starts to seem vain as the movie progresses and makes our previous assumptions redundant.
Representation in Rom-Coms
Another issue with romantic comedies is the sheer lack of representation. Every time we think of romantic comedies, we immediately think of 2 straight, white people overcoming the odds. While this is partly our fault, it’s also based on the perpetuation of stereotypes that have started to seem redundant in this day and age. Romantic comedies do very little to push the envelope, often relegating queer people to the sidelines and the people of colour as salesmen or extras. The lack of versatility and sheer exaggeration with context to clichéd storyline makes the rom-coms look like they are trying too hard to oversell romance under the blanket of heartwarming dialogue delivery and expressions to a great extent contradict the very purpose of such films.
How Far-Fetched from Reality are they?
Every book has two different sides dedicated to a story, and rom-coms are no exception. The emphasis on romantic comedies, especially during this time of the year, seems to be overselling love at some point. It requires a very sophisticated detailing of the tiniest of things possible for any movie to be a hit. If the film is not relatable, there will be no emotional connection established between the audience and the film. Since time immemorial, people turn to films glamorising romance either to appreciate the existence of a special someone in their lives or to enjoy the teleportation to a utopian world of love and deluded fairy tales.
As beautifully as the words are weaved into a dialogue, they coerce our subconscious to believe that maybe one day, we will finally have a love story worth turning into a movie. However, it is implausible to recreate the scenes from various famous romantic classics because we are not living a scripted life at the end of the day.
Notting Hill does tell you that it’s not absurd to fall in love with an actor and, in a way, humanises their struggle, bringing them down from the pedestal we often place them on. The Holiday tells us that single parents truly give up a lot for their child and that it’s okay for them to lose themselves in love, even if the moment may be fleeting. Sleepless in Seattle is reassuring to everyone who has ever lost the love of their life, that even though life may seem daunting, love is worth living for.
How Big is the Rom-Com Industry?
Despite everything that’s wrong with the current situation of rom-coms, one can’t deny their inexplicable quality of making you believe in a fantasy.
Netflix, in 2018, reported that over two-thirds of people from their global subscriber base had watched a romantic movie at some point. Two of the three most rewatched original films on Netflix in the year 2018 were romantic comedies, namely “The Kissing Booth” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.” Romantic comedies also have the advantage of doing well without massive star power and can be made on lower budgets.
Therefore, rom-coms manage to take you on a journey you would never embark upon by yourself, for the odds of getting a happy ending are too minuscule. Nonetheless, festivals and holidays are meant to be spent with our loved ones, and for an occasion like this, romantic comedies perfectly fit the space as movies and movie traditions are a big part of holidays.
Written by Aarushi Verma and Avaneesh M. for MTTN
Edited by Cynthia Maria Dsouza for MTTN
Featured image by Nikunj Singhal for MTTN