How Classic Rom-Coms Fit into Modern Perspectives

By Emily Van De Loo

It's safe to say that romantic comedies played a major role in my adolescence. Little did pre-teen Emily know, my mother's endless collection of classic rom com's plus an over-reading of Sara Bareilles lyrics (Love Song, anyone? Gravity?) shaped my malleable perceptions of romance and relationships, for better or for worse

While I'm still an avid supporter of the genre, I have become all too familiar with the standard formula that is The Rom Com. First, boy meets girl in a meet-cute. These serendipitous first encounters range from Woody Allen and Diane Keaton united in a stream of quirky quips back and forth at the tennis court in Annie Hall, to Hugh Grant clumsily spilling orange juice on Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. Next, these couples proceed to face various conflicts and obstacles along the road to (spoiler alert) living happily ever after

Despite the formula, the genre has undoubtedly changed with the times, hasn't it? After recently re-watching 1989 classic When Harry Met Sally and gaining some inspiration from Molly Ringwald's piece in the New York Times "What About 'The Breakfast Club'?" I was driven to do my own brief revisitation of the rom com genre which I hold so near and dear to my heart.

Notably, Ringwald plays the heroine in each movie of the 80s trifecta that is Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. In her piece, Ringwald expresses her thoughts on these John Hughes films now: 

"There is still so much that I love in them, but lately I have felt the need to examine the role that these movies have played in our cultural life: where they came from, and what they might mean now."

There's a lot to be said about this, of what these characters might portray and represent given this era of #MeToo, so I highly encourage giving Ringwald's piece a read. For now, I'm going to focus on perhaps the more trivial matter that's been on my mind. What can we get out of revisiting classic, old (ish) rom coms from today's perspective, if anything? 

I'm wondering, how do moments in When Harry Met Sally like the extended meet-cute of that long car ride to New York after college, followed by years of near misses and back and forth between friendship, sex, and love compare to moments in, say, Friends With Benefits? Let's see what we're working with.

Arguably, When Harry Met Sally (WHMS) single-handedly changed the rom com genre, sparking a burst of popular 90s rom com's which followed a lot of the same themes as introduced in WHMS. Meg Ryan is a seasoned rom com veteran. In WHMS she plays a quirky, lightly neurotic female lead, without straying to far into the high maintenance-crazy territory. Billy Crystal isn't nearly as much of a stud as JT is in No Strings - more realistic, perhaps? Personally, I'm a little skeptical about the intro of No Strings Attached, with Mila Kunis being a headhunter trying to convince Justin Timberlake to move to the city. So far, WHMS is in the lead for realistic appeal. 

Anyway, can men and women really be friends is the million dollar question. This theme is also played out in NYC sitcoms such as Friends and Seinfeld. What's the verdict? 

The jury is still out, I'm afraid.

All I can say is what struck me when I re-watched WHMS a few weeks ago. It was, frankly, annoyance. I was annoyed that Harry hurt Sally the way he did and despite being a grown man, was not emotionally mature enough to manage his feelings and the situation. From my perspective, Sally ended up looking a lot like a stereotypical unfortunate, needy, emotional woman one moment and then - snap - Harry's running down Manhattan blocks to confess his love and Sally gives him a moment of sass and then they're in love again. 

I was comforted to find out that the mastermind behind WHMS, Nora Ephron, originally toyed with the idea of Harry and Sally not ending up together. I trust her with my heart after Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail

In Friends With Benefits, Mila Kunis is the one who catches feelings first. In No Strings Attached (released pretty much at the same time as FWB), it's flipped, and Ashton Kutcher is the one who declares love first

Maybe, if these entanglements happened IRL, I'd expect and hope for more from each party involved than is portrayed in these films... and in real life, these relationships fail more often than not. 

What even is a rom com, though, if they don't live happily ever? Would The Notebook be as popular if Rachel McAdams just said screw it and married neither James Marsden nor Ryan Gosling? Probably not. 

Ultimately, films give us a taste of something beyond the mundane of our everyday lives. I don't encourage anyone to live their life as if it were a rom com. As for all of you out there who were raised on this stuff like I was, maybe it's our task to tweak the rom com genre to keep up up with the times. The tides could be starting to turn with movies like The Big Sick and Love, Simon. Time will tell! 

 

Information obtained from:

https://www.avclub.com/after-when-harry-met-sally-almost-every-rom-com-t...

Images obtained from:

https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/156500155775927747/ 

http://xoxoafterdark.com/2017/09/27/romantic-comedy-buzzfeed-quiz-checkl...

www.imdb.com Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.