Romantic comedies — better known as ‘rom-coms’ — have long been a Hollywood staple, typically serving up light-hearted fare to love-starved audiences. But the genre is also guilty of perpetuating toxic stereotypes and encouraging unhealthy behaviors. Moreover, the chances of these trends changing anytime soon are as likely as Harvey Weinstein getting out of prison and green-lighting your screenplay.
Although classics like Annie Hall, and When Harry Met Sally are universally cherished, moviegoers have also had to endure cringe-worthy films that border on crimes against humanity. Yes, Gigli, we’re talking about you.
So without any further adieu, here’s our top 10 list of things rom-com’s get wrong.
10. Love At First Sight
Theoretically, it’s possible to feel a flood of emotions when gazing at someone for the first time, but it’s usually lust or curiosity that first grabs our attention. Love, however, is a complex beast.
Mixed metaphorically speaking, hitting a home run in your very first Kentucky Derby is the stuff of dreams. Meaningful relationships often require extra innings, relying on more than just performance in the saddle to determine compatibility.
For example, in Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan’s character doesn’t even need a visual cue. Instead, she dumps her fiancé and falls head over heels for Tom Hanks’ voice. Sure, this ’90s classic is undeniably winsome, but that still doesn’t justify questionable morals and speculative actions.
9. Happily Ever After
In Kate & Leopold, Kate is a big city go-getter (Meg Ryan again) who (spoiler alert) must travel back in time at the end of the film to get her man. She eventually falls into the arms of an impossibly charming duke (Hugh Jackman) and presumably lives happily ever after.
Although waltzing in the 19th century may seem whimsical, it’s a safe bet a fiercely independent woman like Kate won’t appreciate her limited career opportunities — nor being allowed to vote for that matter. Sadly, Kate & Leopold would probably end up being more like Sid & Nancy.
In a Chicago Tribune article exploring romantic myths, sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals has this to say about Hollywood endings: “Reality is not so seamless,” Tibbals said. “Tragedy happens. Life happens. People just grow in different directions.”
8. Makeover Magic
Sometimes all it takes is a new ‘do and a touch of makeup to find true love. Well, at least in rom coms, anyway. From dowdy to dazzling, we’ve all seen this strategy deployed in countless films, such as Clueless, Princess Diaries, and Miss Congeniality.
The main flaw with this strategy is the fact that attractive actors are made to look homely before their transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Anyone who’s ever co-habitated is fully aware that bed head and morning breath are all part of the deal. In short, couples willing to accept their partner’s true self have a better chance of staying together, warts and all.
7. Love Conquers All
Not unlike super glue, this well-worn trope claims that a simple four-letter word can fix anything. The rom-com canon has repeatedly taught us that he or she can cheat, have a criminal record, lousy credit, bad breath, bad manners, and terrible taste in music, but it simply doesn’t matter all because of L-O-V-E.
Unfortunately, reality tells a different story. A substantial drop in males attending college has led to a mating crisis that not even love can remedy. Women now make up nearly 60% of US college students — a gender gap that’s only getting wider.
According to NYU Professor Scott Galloway, popular dating apps reveal that men holding college degrees receive far more attention than those without higher education. As a result, “you have the most dangerous person in the world, who’s a broke and alone male, and we are producing too many of them,” says Galloway. “The mating inequality that’s going to come out of this dearth of men in college poses an existential risk to our economy and our society.”
6. Stalking Is Harmless
The adage, ‘If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try and again’ is perfectly acceptable with regards to finding a job or competitive sports. But when it comes to relationships, movies often take a more militaristic tone: hunt down the target by air, land, or sea until they eventually wave the white flag. This is not only a depraved message but can also have grave consequences.
A 2015 study at the University of Michigan revealed that women who watched films, such as There’s Something About Mary, become more tolerant of aggressive male behavior. In the report, author Julia R. Lippman suggests several popular rom-coms feature (men and women) characters with similar tendencies as stalkers.
“I was inspired to pursue this research by observing that stalking often seems to be trivialized in our culture, said Lippman. This depiction of relentless pursuit is especially dangerous because “It can encourage women to discount their instincts,” adds Lippman.
5. Being Single is for Losers
One of the more egregious misrepresentations found in rom-coms is the notion that singles can never achieve happiness. Apparently, all personal and professional achievements overwhelmingly pale in comparison to one’s relationship status.
For example, in Bridget Jones Diary, Rene Zellweger plays the frumpy, eponymous character obsessed with not dying “fat and alone.” She ultimately becomes trapped in a messy love triangle and must endure a series of awkward, boozy humiliations along the way. Common sense dictates she’d be far better off alone.
Based on Helen Fielding’s best-selling novel, the film trilogy also shows the normalization of sexual harassment in the workplace. In a recent interview, Fielding said she wouldn’t be able to write the story now, and the amount of sexism made it “quite shocking for me to see how things have changed since then.
4. The Soulmate Theory
Hopeless romantics are quick to embrace this warm and fuzzy concept, believing that their ideal match is out there waiting for them. But do soulmates actually exist? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. And that’s all Tinsletown needs to keep peddling this feel-good fodder to the popcorn-munching masses with fables like Serendipity, and Only You.
Merriam-Webster defines a soulmate as “a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament.” Nonetheless, some top-level shrinks warn that the most blissful unions still take lots of hard work to stay on track.
“This expectation paves the way for significant disappointment,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Instead, replace the idea of ‘finding’ your soulmate, with ‘creating’ one through years of learning about them, navigating challenges, creating a family, and loving each other through all the happy and hard times.”
3. Contra Affairs
Fade in: Boy meets girl. Boy flirts with girl. Over a few drinks in a dimly lit bar, we learn that she’s studying for her master’s in English Lit, while he can barely scribble his name in the mud with a stick. Regardless, they fall madly in love, proving opposites attract after all. Roll credits.
Looks and sexual chemistry tick two important boxes, but dating experts are quick to point out that people with multiple shared interests have much greater odds of staying together. They don’t have to agree on everything, but those with radically disparate backgrounds are often doomed. That is, unless Julia Roberts shows ups on screen.
In Pretty Woman, Roberts plays a hard-luck hooker, who manages to snare a handsome, wealthy businessman (Richard Gere). A decade later, the Oscar-winning actress starred in Notting Hill, ostensibly portraying herself, and becomes smitten by a lovable but hopelessly ordinary bookshop owner played by rom-com regular, Hugh Grant. In a juicy bit of trivia, Grant was arrested in 1995 for solicitation of a prostitute.
2. The Big Day
For something that has a 50/50 chance of ending in failure, marriage is a risky wager. Movies, however, present a more optimistic outlook, leading us to believe that weddings are the culmination of life’s ultimate goal to be celebrated with the same pomp and ceremony as the Olympics, World Cup, and Super Bowl Sunday all rolled into one. Just remember, folks, please gamble responsibility.
Getting hitched is supposed to be a joyous event, bringing family and friends together for ‘the big day.’ So with love in the air, followed by food, drinks, and dancing, what could possibly go wrong? Everything. The silver lining, of course, is the bounty of theatrics from which filmmakers can draw to amuse us.
Whether it’s a fire-breathing Bridezilla or a pair of fun-loving womanizers crashing the party, these tying the knot plots include Bride Wars, Bridesmaids, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Wedding Planner, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Big Wedding, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
1. Fighting = Passion
Nobody wants to sit through a movie featuring two characters who blissfully agree on everything and never experience a moment of discord. As every hack screenwriter knows, conflict is an essential ingredient for creating drama and a compelling narrative. That said, tension between two lovers can be successfully depicted in many ways (Moonstruck is a good example) without having them scratch and claw at each other like alley cats for two hours straight.
Fact: relationships can be challenging. Fiction: incessant fighting merely reflects a burning passion. Couples who constantly tussle will usually part ways and seek a less hostile mate, you know, like the bonobos apes do. Scientists Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare spent 15 years in central Africa comparing bonobos to the more aggressive chimpanzees. Their findings were nothing short of astonishing.
The landmark study makes a convincing argument that we might have entirely misunderstood Darwin’s idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ and the role of alpha males. “Bonobos have never been seen to kill another bonobos,” said Hare. The primates were able to successfully evolve by forming a society built on peaceful co-existence, especially among females. Acts of physical violence are simply not tolerated, and “the friendliest males were the ones that had the most offspring because the females preferred them,” adds Hare.