Dust off the wedding bells, dig out the confetti, it’s time to celebrate: the romantic comedy is back! It’s been a long drought but thanks to Netflix, Trump, and possibly Harry and Meghan, the age of meet-cutes and happily-ever-afters has returned.
In case you missed it, the romantic comedy has been in hibernation for roughly four long years. A multitude of think-pieces declared its death around 2014 with the obituaries providing a litany of reasons. From the shifting priorities of a restless millennial audience no longer focused on a ‘white picket fence’ happy ending, to the inherent lack of romance in our modern age of dating apps and social media, it seemed like the 2010s just weren’t a romcom fit. And when the films did get made, they were more of the indie, alternative ilk (see Celeste and Jesse Forever, What If or even Trainwreck) and simply not deserving of the romcom stamp of approval.
Furthermore Hollywood’s been changing. As the Daily Beast noted, audience numbers, outside of blockbuster hits, have been on the decline due to rising cinema ticket costs and more choice (and better quality) on offer on the small screen. Interestingly, movie data website The Numbers has charted that, despite this trend, the ticket sales for romantic comedies have remained stable – it’s the market share that has hugely dipped since even 2011. This suggests the appetite is still there, but Hollywood has turned its attention elsewhere. With a tougher fight to get bums on seats, Hollywood in turn decided to go for more lucrative and globally-appetising genres such as your classic big budget action flicks or comic-book adaptations. Sadly no one’s yet thought to kill two birds with one stone and do a superhero romantic comedy… hope abounds.
However this very same industry shift that seems to have initially killed the romcom may in fact be a key reason for its revival. Unsurprisingly, it’s Netflix leading the charge: they’ve distributed 10 romantic comedies since late 2017, already way more than the 2-3 romcoms produced in 2016. Usually watching a romcom is arguably a cause for shame. Society has plenty of things to say about women who love romantic comedies (delusional, pathetic, single!), while for men it’s even worse. The shame only increases when you actually have to show up to a cinema and hand over money for the pleasure of watching a series of cliches play out on screen. Streaming takes away all that. Who’s going to know if you’ve watched When Harry Met Sally ten times in a row over the weekend? No one, except Netflix! You don’t have to interact with anyone or leave your house or change your clothes (or put on clothes) for the pleasure of watching a bunch of well-worn romantic cliches roll out on-screen.
Influenced by its intimate understanding of audience’s viewing habits, Netflix’s investment in the romcom suggests its data corroborates that there’s a large audience appetite. At Christmas, the Twittersphere got quite the hot flush when they released A Christmas Prince, a truly awful offering where a young hot journalist ends up falling for a young hot prince in some nondescript, nonexistent snowy European country. It was swiftly followed by Christmas Inheritance which was possibly even worse. With both, you had the choice of guiltily watching in secret or forgoing the embarrassment by immediately joining in the fun of the online snark, negating any shame. See BuzzFeed’s take on the whole thing…
The romcom focus has paid off for Netflix: a recent feature exploring its commissioning process revealed that The Kissing Booth (another Netflix original) was likely “one of the most watched movies in the [USA], if not the world” and currently sits in the top 10 of IMDB’s popularity ratings. Once again, streaming trumps cinema!
Speaking of Trump, another factor in the romcom resurrection could very well be the fact that the general world mood has been a little up-and-down of late. Whatever your opinions are on Brexit, Trump and the forthcoming nuclear apocalypse, no one can claim that things have been plain sailing on the geo-political front. So what better way to ignore the dumpster fire around us, than bury our heads in the rose-scented, romcom sand? This was a common reason given for why everyone was so caught up in the recent royal wedding. With Harry and Meghan arguably being the best romcom in recent years (and even having their own movie adaptation!), the argument follows through to on-screen.
As much as streaming has benefitted the romcom, these films are also returning to the cinema and the feel-good factor could very well be why. Watch out for the up-coming Destination Wedding (Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, a destination wedding – need we say more?), Crazy Rich Asians, The Book Club, and Second Act starring the one and only J Lo.
It being 2018 also means romantic comedies are getting a lil bit more woke – and that may just help their longevity. This year’s Love, Simon was widely touted as the first romantic comedy with non-heterosexual leads. Whether it’s the first is debatable when you factor in films like 1999’s hilarious But I’m A Cheerleader or 2004’s wonderful Imagine You and Me, but it’s very likely to be the biggest and most mainstream LGBTQ+ romcom release. Even better, it’s been swiftly followed by Netflix’s Alex Strangeglove and Heart Beats Loud, a comedy about a father, his daughter, and her romance with an artist called Rose.
However there is undeniable caveat: it’s unlikely that the romantic comedy is up-to-date with a post-#MeToo, Black Lives Matter world. With the rise of feminism, an increasing understanding of intersectionality, and more conversation than ever around toxic masculinity, romantic comedies are still very white, very privileged and very much full of slightly concerning sexist tropes. Before we bound off hand-in-hand towards the sunset, it’s clearly worth recognising still progress to be made.
So whether you’re a romantic junkie or a cynical realist, hope you’re ready to cast your discerning eyes over this year’s romcom crop. See you at the altar!