The day Patrick Swayze died, I can remember everything vividly. Sitting on my couch in the early morning hours, when the air was still dark and chill outside the sliding glass door. My mother sipped at her coffee and shook her head. Upon hearing the news, she had reacted as if Patrick was someone she knew, an old friend or colleague. On the news, they showed his most iconic movie scenes. Him in an all-black ensemble lifting a curly-haired Jennifer Grey, right after he famously pronounced, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Him as a beat-up, taciturn cowboy in “Roadhouse.”
At the time, this moment didn’t mean much to me but looking back, I can now see the significance. For many years my mother has told me time and time again of her love for the movie “Dirty Dancing.” I know the timeline perfectly, from her seeing it in theaters with her own mother and sister back in 1987 up until now when we find it playing on a random channel and always stop to repeat our favorite lines. We’ve been to a musical production of “Dirty Dancing”, watched a short documentary on the making of the film, researched visiting a themed resort in the movie’s honor, and even have our own special-made Kellerman’s t-shirts. I know the film almost as well as she does and can quote it better than any other movie as if through osmosis she passed her love onto me.
So, what does all this mean? Well, most people can admit that at least one movie in their life has affected them in such a way. It has made them squeal with joy, want to fly through the screen and live among their favorite characters, or at least made them think a little harder than they would’ve before. But, one genre of films that I believe does this more than any other is Rom Coms.
Wait! Don’t stop reading! I know it may seem silly but Rom Coms truly do have a power that no other movie has, especially for young girls (and even adults.) If you don’t know, Rom Coms are romantic comedies. Think “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally” or “The Kissing Booth” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” These are films whose main purpose is to make two people fall in love, usually in unexpected ways. Sometimes there are obstacles (Anna trying to get to Dublin in “Leap Year”) or entire other plotlines going on alongside the romance (Simon being outed as gay in “Love, Simon.”) Either way, these films have a pretty basic format. They’re fluffy, overflowing with ooey-gooey romance, and almost always have a happy ending. At their most simple state, they are a feel-good movie.
But here’s the problem. Over time, Rom Coms have gotten a pretty terrible reputation. Since their rise in the 1980s and 90s up until now, Rom Coms have quickly become a woman’s movie and a lame one at that. Many argue that they have no substance, that they’re unrealistic, that they’re boring, and honestly that they’re just plain bad. And I’ll admit, there are A LOT of bad Rom Coms. But let’s be honest with ourselves, how many film genres actually have good movies only? I’ll give you a hint. None of them.
So, right here on this page, I’m going to give you my argument for Rom Coms. They may be dying (and very quickly at that), but how can I let one of my favorite genres pass into Hollywood heaven without redeeming them in any way I can?
Let’s begin with “Mamma Mia.” The year is 2008 and I am going on 7 years old. My mom, sister, grandmother, and I troop into our local movie theater to see this musical adaptation about a girl inviting three men to her wedding, hoping to find out which one is her real father. I remember worrying that the film was PG-13 and that some movie theater task force would come out and drag me away, unable to see this incredible movie because of my age. Of course, this never happened but I certainly felt scandalous seeing Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper crawl along the beach together in their sensual “Lay All Your Love on Me” number.
Just like “Dirty Dancing” changed my mother’s life, “Mamma Mia” changed mine. My sister and I bought the DVD as soon as it came out and watched it more times than I can even imagine. I knew, and still know, all the words to nearly every song and could tell you the plot like the back of my hand. Nowadays, “Mamma Mia” has become more mainstream with Gen-Z girls but back in 2008, “Mamma Mia” was my own private paradise, full of familiarity and good times only. Even as a high school graduate at my school’s senior sleepover, I danced and sang to “Take a Chance on Me,” feeling the same desperate romance that Rosie feels at the end of the film towards my then crush sitting only feet away.
As I grew older, Rom Coms were the perfect way to connect with my new high school friends. We referenced films like “10 Things I Hate About You” and “13 Going on 30” like they were religious to us, forming a bond that was unbreakable. Despite these films being popular and watched by a majority of people, when my friends and I watched them together we got a specific viewing out of them that wouldn’t occur for anyone else. We made memories with these characters and they defined those points in our lives.
Now, I know this all sounds dramatic so let me give you my final point. During the winter break of my freshman year of college, almost a year ago, I watched “When Harry Met Sally” for the first time. Strangers Harry and Sally drive to New York together after graduating from college and for the next few years, can’t seem to escape each other. It’s the classic enemies to friends to lovers scenario.
Despite being only halfway through my first year at college, I felt akin to Sally’s character. Optimistic, stubborn in her ways, and just a bit silly. Later, I realized how much I related to Harry, lonesome, and hiding his sadnesses. Then, what happened is somewhat hard to describe. Maybe it was fate or mere coincidence, but “When Harry Met Sally” spoke to all the questions I had had that semester. At that time I was lonely, heartsick, and looking for a reason to not fall into my hopeless romantic ways. I needed an escape and this film gave it to me with the idea of fate. Harry and Sally were complete opposites, but as their lives progressed, they changed. Their stark differences turned to similarities and suddenly they needed each other. The answer was obvious. They were in love!
After watching the movie, I had the epiphany that maybe there was plenty of time after all. Maybe, just like Harry and Sally, if I sat back and did what I wanted to do, then romance would fall into my lap like the final piece in a puzzle. Suffice it to say, this definitely led me on the right path, one that has taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible.
All of this is to say that Rom Coms are more than just romantic comedies. They aren’t stupid stories of people falling in love. They aren’t chick flicks that aren’t worth your time. Rom Coms, at least in my experience, can change a girl’s life. Of course, there are those that change it for the worse, but then there are the others. The ones that inspire you and give you ideas and make you excited to live, personally and romantically.
In the end, I’ll always have “Dirty Dancing”, “Mamma Mia” and “When Harry Met Sally” to be my escapes and my friends. I’ll keep them to share, to pass on, and most importantly, to remind me of who I am and what I love.