Romantic Comedies are a sub-genre of films that are usually dismissed as being chick flicks, ignoring the very real world and practical lessons that they convey to their audience.
Movies have the power to change minds, relate new experiences and impart wisdom that may have been prior to, never even thought about before.
While a lot of this may come from thought provoking cinema and films that are considered revolutionary in their contribution to the medium, who’s to say that other films have less impact on the viewer?
The subjective nature of movies is such that the viewer decides what is important in the story, based on how they relate to, experience and feel during their time living with those characters in their respective worlds, dealing with their individual conflicts.
The romantic comedy genre is one genre of films that is usually looked down upon. ‘Not substantial enough’ they say; a ‘Chick Flick’, ‘mindless fluff entertainment’ or other, similarly condescending dismissing of the genre are common place, even by renowned critics. (What do they know?)
However, romantic comedies provide some the most practical real world experience that audiences all over the world can relate to. Stories about relationships, heartbreak and finding oneself are chockfull of lessons that can apply more to a viewer, than the traditional superhero movie or dramatic gangster film.
Romantic comedies can be incredibly impactful given that the characters featured are almost always templates of real life people that audiences can relate to.
Add to that life lessons that can make a viewer be inspired by, or motivated to live their own life, makes romantic comedies a pretty substantial genre upon closer reflection.
Here are some of the most common life lessons to be found in the traditional Romantic Comedy.
Lesson #1: Being True To One Self Takes Precedence
An incredibly successful and popular formula of romantic comedies is the self loathing loser who transforms themselves based on what they think are desirable traits. The nerd becomes cool. The mundane become sultry. The boring become the life of the party.
All in a futile effort to make themselves more noticeable and attractive to the opposite sex or, in a more broader effort, find acceptance in a traditional society that they feel rewards superficial goodness.
But they eventually find that their true self is what sets them apart, and that inner beautify is the most attractive quality.
Of course everyone from parents to teachers will use proverbs and adages that almost always convey morals of ‘be yourselves’. But that point never truly gets driven home until it’s seen played out in the lives of others. Sometimes with hilarious results.
In the 2005 romantic comedy Hitch, the always dashing and handsome Will Smith does what he does best, charm his way into the hearts, minds, and beds of every woman he meets. So much so that his character’s job is to help others recreate that charm to find their true love.
A noble work no doubt. But the moment he finds his true love, it all falls apart.
His cool and suave persona is reduced to smithereens as he smacks, falls, and stumbles his way into the ‘Worst Date Ever Hall Of Fame’, a thing that of course exists! By all means a failure of epic proportions.
But what director Andy Tenant is able to show us through the performance of Eva Mendes’ character, Hitch’s intended beloved, is that it works. His clumsy, awkward and nervous nature ultimately wins her over for all the reasons it shouldn’t, but the one reason it did: he went back to being the awkward and anxious guy he was before heartbreak compelled him to become someone he’s not.
The 2005 Ryan Reynolds comedy Just Friends has a similar message, with a lot more outrageous-ness as a Christmas time romantic comedy.
When Reynold’s character, the hot-shot womanizer with chiseled good looks returns to his hometown and ends up meeting his high school crush, the formerly overweight and geeky boy he used to be resurfaces, sabotaging his attempts to prove how different he is to her.
Reynolds begins the movie as himself, sexy and charming, albeit a little bit of a jerk. But when he’s forced to meet the girl of his dreams from his youth, all the high powered suits and washboard abs can’t seem to stop him from becoming a blubbering mess, creating slap-sticky good times for the audiences.
But ultimately, it’s this return to his former self that goes to show that one cannot run from who they are. No matter how much someone changes on the outside, represented in Just Friends as a massive change in the protagonist’s body weight, they’re still the same person on the inside.
And that’s what’s others respond to the most as well; be it in workplace associations, platonic friendships or romantic relationships.
However, the best representation of the message of being true to yourself, comes in the 1999 romantic comedy hit, and quite possibly the template for this formula of rom-coms, She’s All That.
When high school jock Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character makes a bet to turn the ugliest duck in his school into a swan, Rachael Leigh Cook’s character becomes his unwitting target. What follows is a sweet and romantic story about inner beauty and that love shouldn’t need a makeover.
She’s All That conveys the very obvious message the true love shouldn’t require someone to change who they are in order to be liked. The message is conveyed in a way that the viewer connects with Cook’s character and is with her every step of the way as she realizes that it took a change on the outside for someone to love her how she is on the inside.
It’s heartbreaking and truly points out the need for young women to be true to themselves, and have faith in the fact that someone will always love them for who they are, rather than who they change themselves into for all the wrong reasons.
Lesson #2: Find Yourself, And Love Will Find You
As the name of the genre suggests, romantic comedies often have to do with, you guessed it, romance! However, some of the greatest rom-coms hinge on the main character being able to overcome their own inner demons, or tragic circumstances in life, before they can find happiness in a true love.
This internal reflection on one’s life and priorities, is a great source of inspiration. The message inevitably becomes about turning the microscope on themselves, to determine their own flaws, and either overcoming them, or accepting them and moving forward with a new found sense of confidence and positive outlook on life. Self reflection and contemplation in the song of endearing song montages, are also a staple of this kind of romantic comedy.
These themes are evident in the 1999 rom-com Notting Hill, where Julia Roberts’ character has to address and overcome her insecurities as a famous actress, in order to have a fulfilling and normal relationship with Hugh Grant’s character.
The film sees Roberts as a high profile actress, who goes through all the major lifestyle pitfalls of someone in the limelight; scandals, relationship issues, ups and downs in her career, with her only respite being her romantic relationship with Grant’s character, whom she repeatedly loses due to those other complications.
Ultimately, she has to come to terms with what makes her happy, the fame and public image she wants to convey, or how she feels with him. Her decision eventually leads to their happy ending.
Even the 1995 Clueless had similar themes that required the main character to reflect upon, and completely change the perspective with which she lived life, in order to find happiness and true love, which was under her nose the entire time.
Alicia Silverstone’s character was originally introduced as being a very clearly defined person who knew what she wanted from life, with a set of social rules and protocols. She coveted her status as being on top of the social food chain in her high school.
However, with the introduction of Brittany Murphy’s character, who starts to overshadow her status, the heroine has to reevaluate her attitudes about life and relationships, in order to reinvent herself and truly be substantially happy.
Clueless, while seemingly as shallow as the fashion trends in the movie, is a great and subtle look at how focusing on material and superficial aspects of life can leave someone feeling lost and empty. And it’s only when someone takes a hard look into themselves, that they can find what makes them truly happy.
But the ultimate romantic comedy that goes to show how belief in oneself can help find happiness, is non other than the 2001 instant hit, Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Renee Zellweger plays a nervous and quirky woman with little self confidence, but lots of self doubt, who attempts to find love, happiness and be fulfilled, while trying to improve herself in the process.
When two men enter her life, Zellweger’s character goes through multiple moments of self realization as she learns from her mistakes, and tries to figure out this little thing called love. Not to mention typical love triangle hijinks. Team Darcy for life!
The character only progresses when she realizes the true nature of the man she wants, and learns of the true nature of the one she rejected. Finding a new job gives her the confidence to not be treated poorly in romantic relationships. She ends up demanding more of herself, realizing that she deserves better, and actively pursues it, even when she thinks it’s lost to her.
Bridget Jones’ Diary depicts a protagonist who is a real woman with complexities, flaws and quirks, who every woman can relate to. Her overcoming the everyday obstacles in her life in very real, practical, and often times hilarious, ways ends up becoming something incredibly inspiring and relatable.
Lesson #3: Positive Representation of Women & Breaking Stereotypes
Currently, there is a huge disparity between men and women working in the film and television industry. While the conversation now has shifted to a behind the scenes fight for representation, women’s depictions in movies is something that’s been stereotyped for years.
For decades, women have been depicted as the damsel in distress, the heroine that needs protecting, or as the love interest simply existing for the male hero to react to in movies. These are all tropes that have been seen in most dramas or films of other genres.
While there have been strong female characters in non-genre films, mostly it’s been the usual stereotypical representations of women from a male perspective.
Romantic comedies are the one genre, however, that allow women to break out of the usual roles that they’ve been pigeon-holed in. With women filmmakers and screenwriters starting out in the rom-com genre, such as Nora Ephram, these movies have long been a haven for non-conventional portrayals of female characters in their own movies with stories that depict their realities and conflicts that others can relate to.
The biggest contributor to this kind of film has to be the critically acclaimed HBO series turned film franchise, Sex And The City.
The story of four single women living in New York City as best friends, navigating life through its up and downs, relationships, careers and the over all turmoil of life from a female perspective is really the unique selling point of the franchise. It was a world about women living with their insecurities and flaws, which was often times the storylines of the show itself.
And these stories almost always depict very real portrayals of female characters, instead of hollow and underdeveloped versions of what male screenwriters and filmmakers think women are.
Emotionally significant moments discussing thoughts and feelings without being overly dramatic or without the use of flowery prose, was one of the more brilliant elements of Sex And The City.
Women characters that were open about their sexual experiences and giving audiences an insight into the female mind when it comes to sex, was almost an unprecedented idea at the time of the series, and even the movies.
While the importance and necessity of portraying women in roles that are fleshed out and can stand on their own is something that makers are aware of today, in 1998, HBO was championing those ideals with this show, which continued with the movie in 2008.
The freedom of choice, thought and sexual liberty exhibited by the characters played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattral, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon inspired their audiences and conveyed the idea of women being in charge of their own stories and lives.
The franchise almost was responsible for many female sexual revolutions as women were shown that femininity isn’t exclusive to modesty or shame, and that discussions of sexuality and relationships were fair game for any gender without restrictions being placed by society.
Sex And The City managed to showcase that the differences between men and women were only skin deep, while still allowing the characters to still be and feminine and not stripping them of their unique-ness, decades before that thought became popular in Hollywood.
It was a show that depicted genuine portrayals of female characters who were the heroes of their own story and not set dressing for the male hero.
The stereotype smashing continued in a movie that’s almost a role gender role reversal than what we’re used to. In 2002, The Sweetest Thing introduces a female lead character played by Cameron Diaz, who is afraid of commitment, has her fun with men and renounces the idea of love.
Most romantic comedies feature this idea with a very slight difference; it’s usually the man who’s a charming and handsome devil who has his fill of a revolving door of women, only to find the woman of his dreams. But his past creates humorous obstacles and slapstick moments to overcome before he can earn his happy ending.
In the case of The Sweetest Thing, it’s Diaz’s character who has to go through this transformation.
Running into a guy in a bar who calls her out for her emotionless and man-izing (male equivalent of womanizing?) ways, Diaz’s character becomes attracted to him, as someone who sees through her. Her equal. The rest of the movie plays out in a typical rom-com fashion as Diaz and her friend, Christina Applegate’s character, go through hilarious situations as they try to track down the bar man.
The Sweetest Thing is a romantic comedy where it’s the women who make terrible and impulsive decisions chasing after a guy, and get into ridiculous situations as part of their quest. It’s a refreshing change of pace and Diaz and Applegate are perfect for it.
The movie itself provides an amazing look at the usual rom-com trope flipped and gender reversed as the arrogant and cocky girl has to confront her own feelings in a relationship in order to be happy with the man she wants.
It’s another instance where the traditional trope of movies that feature men as womanizers, only to be redeemed by finding love, are reversed. One need not look any further than Matthew McConaughey’s filmography for ample examples of these types of male-orientated rom-coms.
Cameron Diaz is perfect in this role where she has to be play a strong and sexually independent women, while retaining her femininity and not imitating a male character. These types of rom-coms are far and few.
Even within rom-coms, there are familiar tropes of women being cliche’d characters who chase after marriage and babies, and it becomes quite tiring after a while, especially when it’s not in keeping with the story being told. The Sweetest Thing is a refreshing take on the genre and breaks the stereotypes of what kind of female-centric stories can be told for everyone.
Lesson #4: Communication Builds Stronger Relationships
Everyone knows that physical chemistry and attraction are the supporting pillars of any good relationship. But the third pillar has to be communication, that feature into being the foundation for any long term and successful relationship.
No, this isn’t paraphrased from a Dr. Phil episode, but general life advice that we’ve all gotten at some point.
When the realities of life threaten to over burden a relationship, and love isn’t enough, a more solid foundation of communication and friendship should be there to fall back on. It’s not the sexiest message, but it is the premise of many mature and emotional love stories and is the definition of true love in the long run.
When two people can communicate their most intimate thoughts, feelings and desires to one another without flinching, staring deep into their eyes, knowing their soul… it’s actually incredibly sexy. The screen fogged up as this was being typed.
Movies often focus on the physical attraction between two people. The unspoken chemistry. The spontaneous, grab-and-tear-of-clothes-on-a-kitchen-countertop variety of sweeping off the feet, which is all kinds of amazing.
But romantic comedies are sometimes more than that. Some films showcase the mature aspects of love that feature a deeper connection through an intimate knowledge of someone. At times, without even having met them.
In 1998, You’ve Got Mail provided the meaning of truly getting to know someone before falling in love, without never having met them before.
The film features protagonists who never meet each other, but communicate through email and online correspondence, getting to know their innermost thoughts and fears, becoming attracted to each others’ minds and personalities, before any biological chemistry takes place.
Ahead of its time in its depiction of how two people can become close virtually, preceding the social media renaissance by decades, You’ve Got Mail is a sweet rom-com about the benefits of getting into the opposite sex’s mind, before their bed.
The film sees Tom Hanks as the owner of a chain of book stores threatening to inadvertently put out of business Meg Ryan’s character, the owner of a smaller independent book store.
Despite the two characters having natural tension, unbeknownst to each other, they communicate via e-mail and online chatting, after establishing the ground rules of never revealing any personal information about one another, to the other. Also years ahead on online safety practices as well.
The two, through their online correspondence get to know one another in a beautifully intimate way, sharing their greatest fears and their troubles in everyday life. No expectations or strings attached. This intimate knowledge of one another allows the two to bond in a way that an instant physical chemistry doesn’t allow. There’s no distraction of the superficial or physical.
When they do eventually meet, the two share an understanding and familiarity that should be the standards between two people that love one another.
In a not so subtle way, You’ve Got Mail conveys the idea of getting to know one’s romantic interest, through conversation, discussions and sharing of ideas and thoughts that otherwise would never be expressed. And through that intellectual and emotional attraction, the bonds of true love develop and strengthen.
Lesson #5: Women Can Be Friends Not Foes
Women always seem to be pitted against one another in society. Age, beauty and other determining factors are always compared, thereby creating a sense of constant competition with other women, celebrities, athletes and the likes.
Rarely does society encourage a sense of friendship or admiration between women. Movies even less so. Most movies with more than one female actress in a leading role are seen as rivals, or in conflict with one another, usually as romantic rivals in a love triangle.
This constant and implied attitude of women being only at odds with one another definitely spill over into the attitudes of young women as they develop female friendships and relationships with other women.
Romantic Comedies however, very often, feature amazing relationships between women, and even structure stories around those friendships.
The aforementioned Sex And The City is the greatest example of a story involving all women, where the characters aren’t in conflict with one another, but have their own individual plot lines that intersect with one another.
Another movie works as a story that does initially see two women as rivals, but it’s not the typical love triangle situation.
Monster-In-Law features Jennifer Lopez as a newly engaged woman who has to deal with her controlling mother-in-law to-be, played by Jane Fonda. A story that is very relatable in any marriage.
The story of the movie features these two strong and wonderful actresses coming into direct conflict with one another over the man in their lives. In this case, that man happens to be Fonda’s character’s son and Lopez’s character’s lover.
While Monster-In-Law is initially about these two women getting in each other’s way to try to one-up each other and disrupt the relationship they each have with the man, the message by the end of the movie is one that is pretty universal.
The reason for both their conflicts is due to shared attitudes and feelings they have for the man in their lives. Lopez’s character loves her fiancee romantically, and wants to try to get along with his scheming mother, feeling insecure about the fact that she needs her acceptance to further her relationship with him.
Fonda’s character on the other hand, loves her son and wants to protect him from heartbreak, but is also insecure about being replaced as the only woman in his life.
These common insecurities and shared feelings of different kinds of love for the same man, ultimately brings these two women together. Finding common ground allows them to push aside their other issues, recognize their own internal problems and move forward to become a new found family unit.
It’s a message that women from all walks of life can relate to and apply in their own relationships.
Even though the premise and main plot of Monster-In-Law is built around two women at odds, the message at the end is about how women need to look past their differences, to see what they share, and build on that in a positive manner.
These themes can be found in many recent films that deal with female friendships and non-romantic relationships, and how they enhance everyday life. The biggest example of this can be seen in the 2011 Oscar nominated Bridesmaids.
Bridesmaids furthers this formula of films with strong women who initially butt heads, but ultimately resolve their differences in exchange for relationships that are happy and fulfilling, and ones that that enhance other areas of their lives.
The movie features a lead woman character, played by Kristen Wiig, whose life is originally in shambles. The story showcases how her experiences with other women through the wedding of her best friend, played by Maya Rudolph, helps her get over her troubles, reconcile her inner demons and understand herself, and others better.
The film features a major conflict of Wiig’s character with another of the bride’s maids in the wedding, played by Rose Byrne.
While this initial conflict causes a lot of issues within Wiig’s character’s life, ultimately it’s revealed that their problems stemmed from insecurities, loneliness and life issues that had nothing to do with one another. They are able to put aside their differences to deal with the problems in front of them in a united manner.
Bridesmaids further provides a message to audiences that women don’t always have to be at loggerheads with one another, but how their impact on each other’s lives can be enriching and fulfilling.
It’s about time that romantic comedies be seen as being just as substantial as the next art-house cinemas that wins all the awards at the big film festivals.
Rom-Coms provide many life lessons that are practical, incredibly realistic and showcase characters that are completely relatable. The humor is able to further add pathos and a break from the tension of reality, so the over all moral of the story is that much more palatable by audiences who want escapism from entertainment.