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Tired Tropes and Cliches: What Happened to Great Rom-Coms?


Tue, October 31

Rom-coms are a sacred genre. The genre produced classics like When Harry Met Sally, a film notable for exploring the widely-debated question of “can men and women be friends?” (the answer being a resounding no). Rom-coms are to thank for commonly quoted lines like Jerry McGuire’s “You had me at hello.” Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are a staple of the world and especially in women's lives.

The question is: what ever happened to these iconic movies? As we age, we continue to rewatch the same hits of the genre and look to them as standards. We want the Say Anything boombox-blaring kind of love, “Shopgirl” and “NY152” banter, and the timeless, passionate kissing in the rain like the one in The Notebook. We often revisit the same, familiar, beloved films, but where are new additions to the genre? When they are created, where do they go?

Cynics say rom-coms are dead. The Hallmark Channel begs to differ. When Harry Met Sally–the film that notably “started it all”--can’t even escape being labeled as a cliche.

Is there a rom-com formula? Oh, absolutely. Allow me.

The Infamous Formula

  1. Boy meets girl, but it’s unorthodox. They don’t like one another. Why? It’s not always clear, the movie simply doesn't wish to feed into these “formulaic” accusations. It’s not a meet-cute, see? Fool’s on you.
  2. Boy warms up to girl. This is the moment where either party realizes maybe they were a little too harsh to the other. After all, how was he to know that she was unlucky in love? She seemed like she had it all with her big, corporate job (probably in journalism or something).
  3. Boy is about to confess to girl until…something bad happens. Either something is exposed (it was for a bet/dare or the entire basis of their relationship was a lie) or he honestly just messes up. How could she have been so stupid letting her guard down like that?
  4. Boy grand gestures for girl. The most loved or loathed part of the entire film which–in my opinion–makes or breaks it. He shows up to her work, outside of her house, or just appears out of thin air. He has flowers or something niche, referencing something they bonded over in the beginning of the film which seemed inconsequential until now. He says he’s sorry, she says she’s missed him, and all is well.

Image Credit: Mayur Gala from Unsplash

Modernization of the Rom-Com

More recent rom-coms are known as being “so-bad-they’re-good.” Series’ like The Kissing Booth and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before explore love in the modern age. Betrayal through iPhones, text messages, and the good ol’ miscommunication trope. Now, why don’t these movies encapsulate the same timeless, comforting feel as ones seen in 27 Dresses or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days?

One answer: modernization. Trends are always doomed to fail the second they are written into a script. Referencing Gen Z jokes only make everyone cringe, including the generation they were intended to please. Rom-coms don’t need to be modern and reference the latest headlines, they just need to feel like a warm hug on a cold and bad day.

Image Credit: Jill Wellington from Pixabey

The Importance of Good Characters

As a self-proclaimed rom-com expert, I believe that the reason why these classic films are so often revisited is due to their characterization. It’s hard to like a movie when you can’t relate to, root for, or even simply like the protagonists. Rom-com royalty Sally Albright and Harry Burns are two characters who are perfectly nuanced, flawed, and likable.

The reason why this film reigns most popular is due to their characters. Sally is detail-oriented, organized, and idealistic. Harry is sarcastic, dry, and cynical. They aren’t the typically stereotyped “I don’t believe in love” character meeting the “I want my happily ever after” character. Harry has become skeptical of love after being left by his wife, but remains sentimental, and Sally has grown tirelessly desperate that she will never become “the one” after her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend quickly becomes his wife. Throughout the evolution of Harry and Sally’s friendship, they become closer and seemingly inseparable. This film features witty banter, sweet moments, and strong characters. This makes the pay-off of the endgame feel even more satisfying.

Image Credit: Tekang from Unsplash

The Failed Formula

What happened to the good old formula I listed above? Simply, watchers became bored with their always-correct predictions of the endings. Boy gets girl.

Always how it’s been, always how it will be. Some more modern rom-coms such as La La Land and 500 Days of Summer provide unorthodox conclusions to their films that send a chill down the spine of a classic idealist. Boy loses girl. In both of these films, the protagonists don’t end up together. La La Land highlights sacrifices made for the best of both individuals to achieve their dreams–with or without each other. 500 Days of Summer presents an honest recognition that they just were not compatible despite the amount of heavy romanticization projected upon the love interest (Tom Hansen, I’m looking at you). These films allowed the viewers to accept that love isn’t always a fairytale like rom-coms typically project the image of. In spite of inevitable rom-com failures, I believe we are in the midst of a rom-com renaissance–simply revamping staple tropes. With recent successes like the sex-comedy No Hard Feelings and the imminent release of the fake-dating film Anyone But You, theater releases of rom-coms are back, baby, and they’re here to stay.

Amanda Brown
1,000+ pageviews

Writer since Oct, 2023 · 3 published articles

Amanda is a first-year honors student at James Madison University majoring in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communications and minoring in Creative Writing. She loves drinking iced lattes, getting lost in a good book (particularly romance or thriller), writing, and binging reality TV. Amanda aspires to pursue a career in publishing, editing, or writing.