Where Have All the Romantic Comedies Gone?

Movies Features Romantic Comedies
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Where Have All the Romantic Comedies Gone?

Look, I’m not here to tell you Marry Me, which premiered on Peacock and in theaters last Friday, is a good movie.

Its threadbare plot is really just a bunch of well-worn movie clichés loosely strung together. Jennifer Lopez stars as Kat Valdez, a singing superstar set to marry Bastian (Maluma), also a superstar, in a sold out concert that will be streamed to 20 million people. (We’ve all been there, right?) Moments before the big event is about to occur, Kat, resplendently decked out in a bejeweled wedding dress, discovers that Bastian has been cheating on her with her assistant. In an impulsive move, Kat marries math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) who is only at the concert because his sarcastic sidekick/best friend Parker (Sarah Silverman, naturally) dragged him there. Why, you ask, would Charlie marry Kat? I’m sorry, are you trying to apply logic to this situation?

Marry Me is full of cameo appearances (Jimmy Fallon, Hoda Kotb), excessive product placement (Coach, Vitamix and Google to name a few), the quintessential school semiformal and an art-imitates-life homage. Like Lopez herself, Kat has been married a few times and her love life is always on constant display (cut to Lopez and Ben Affleck rocking out in the stands of the Super Bowl last night.) The movie is completely nonsensical. Sometimes Kat is so famous she can’t leave the house. Other times Charlie and Kat are able to take romantic strolls down quiet, unoccupied New York streets and absolutely no one cares. My personal favorite moment came when Kat and Charlie finally kiss, and the action immediately cuts to the next morning with Charlie in bed and Kat wearing his shirt. Did they have sex or just snuggle all night long? Who knows! Also, Kat is always followed by paparazzi but none of them notice that she spent the night at Charlie’s house? There’s singing (including, of course, a song called…wait for it…“Marry Me”), dancing, adorable children (notably Charlie’s daughter Lou played by Chloe Coleman) and an ending where Kat goes back to Bastian. Kidding! Of course Charlie and Kat end up together in this Notting Hill knock-off.

Despite all my complaints and mocking above, I kind of loved this movie. Marry Me is a delightful, utterly ridiculous escape. It made me wonder, where have all the romantic comedies gone? The feel-good, don’t-make-me-think-too-much crowd pleasers that used to be a staple of the industry. There’s such a charming comfort in big blockbuster romantic comedies. I miss them.

Why is “the Jennifer Lopez of 2022” still Jennifer Lopez? Lopez is a creative force to be reckoned with. She exudes star power, and I love that a woman in her 50s can still be the lead of a romantic comedy. (So much better than the depressing perspective of And Just Like That….) But where is this generation’s Jennifer Lopez?

There was a time when big name stars—Julia Roberts! Sandra Bullock! Meg Ryan!—were constantly headlining big-budget romantic comedies. Think The Proposal, While You Were Sleeping, My Best Friend’s Wedding and You’ve Got Mail. Lopez herself has made a slew of them including 2004’s Shall We Dance, 2001’s The Wedding Planner (which Peacock promptly encourages you to watch as the credits on Marry Me roll), 2002’s Maid in Manhattan and #neverforget 2003’s Gigli. The tradition of the romantic comedy goes back decades. The classic It Happened One Night premiered way back in 1934.

But the contemporaries of Roberts, Bullock, Lopez, et. al. aren’t making romantic comedies. Scarlett Johansson is busy being Black Widow and I don’t think we can call 2019’s Marriage Story a romantic comedy. Brie Larson is also busy being an Avenger. Anne Hathaway, who began her career with The Princess Diaries and Bride Wars, is also more focused on dramatic fare. Jennifer Lawrence hasn’t made a romantic comedy since 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. Ditto for Kristen Stewart, Lupita Nyong’o—I could go on and on.

Romantic comedies today are found in the plethora of holiday movies on the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime and Netflix. Netflix had Always Be My Maybe and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy. Lots of romantic movies now are aimed at the adolescent set. This past weekend, Paramount+ premiered The In Between , a tear-jerker about a high school student (Joey King) whose boyfriend dies in a car accident and then communicates with her from the great beyond.

I don’t think it’s just me who misses these movies. There’s a reason people watch 2003’s Love Actually over and over again every holiday season. There’s a reason classics like Singing in the Rain and Roman Holiday are still beloved to this day. They also do well financially. 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding made $241 million domestically. Without elaborate special effects, these movies also tend to have a smaller budget (the biggest expense usually being the star’s salary). Part of me wonders if somehow romantic comedies have fallen out of favor because today’s stars desire more serious fare. Romantic comedies don’t usually sweep the award show nominations or kick-start franchises. I really believe the demand is there, but the supply is not.

I’m just a girl standing in front of the movie industry asking it to start making romantic comedies again.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).

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