Don’t go breaking my heart: The lessons we learnt from rom-coms
Victoria Curatolo | On 24, May 2020
Romantic comedies have transcended throughout cinema as one of the most successful and crowd-pleasing of all movie genres. Boy meets girl; boy breaks girl’s heart; boy wins girl back. And while this is a narrative that’s grown completely tiresome and predictable, we still find ourselves in search of relatability and authenticity as we watch – in between each scoff and eye-roll.
However, within each perfectly proportioned girl and conveniently situated boy, there are motifs that resurface with each rom-com that are universal and singular. What started off in It Happened One Night (1931) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) has morphed into the likes of When Harry Met Sally (1989), Pretty Woman (1990) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). A genre that has grown so predictable is evolving and ageing gracefully: Love, Simon (2018), To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), Crazy Rich Asians (2018) are just some of the recent rom-coms that have contained intriguing, original and diverse love stories all the while remaining crowd-pleasers.
Rom-coms are becoming more relatable and, dare we say it, informative, teaching us valuable lessons we never knew we needed. Here are five classic rom-coms that taught us all some lifelong lessons:
Life isn’t always a happy ending
Learnt from: My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
Fresh off the success of Muriel’s Wedding (1994), P.J. Hogan delivered audiences with the refreshing romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding. Hollywood’s golden girl at the time, Julia Roberts, delivers her million-dollar smile in the role of Julianne, a neurotic, self-absorbed food critic who realises that she’s in love with her best friend, Michael (Dermott Mulroney)… only after announcing that he is getting married to the young, rich and beautiful Kimmy (Cameron Diaz). In a bid to claim what she feels is rightfully hers, Julianne has just four days to “stop the wedding, steal the bride’s fella, and not one clue how to do it”.
This rom-com flips the genre on its head, declaring its protagonist as the antihero: she is selfish, hasty and, above all, completely manipulative. The true hero of the film is George (Rupert Everett), Julianne’s gay best friend, who not only tells her from the beginning that this is a bad idea, but that she is not and will never be “the one”. George delivers genius insight – “It’s amazing the clarity that comes with psychotic jealousy”, and “Michael’s chasing Kimmy. You’re chasing Michael. Who’s chasing you? Nobody. Get it?”
Words that seem harsh and inevitable are imperative and necessary; you are not always the one and sometimes we need to recognise the difference between love and wanting what we can’t have. Life isn’t always a happy ending, and we all need a friend to remind us of that from time to time.
Friendship is key
Learnt from: The Wedding Singer (1998)
Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler’s first team-up came in 1998 in the brilliantly comedic and heartwarming The Wedding Singer, which sees the dynamic duo in an untimely tale of boy meets already-engaged girl.
However, what makes this story work is not only its impeccable soundtrack and nostalgic 1980s setting – not to mention the lead couple’s perfect chemistry – but its true celebration of love and friendship. Robbie (Sandler) is poor but a truly good guy who loves love – so much that he’s willing to sacrifice the great love story he’s always wanted in order for her, Julia (Barrymore), to be happy. However, with insightful family members and intuitive song lyrics, Julia knows deep down that she deserves that somebody to grow old with, which is more important than money and security.
The Wedding Singer is pro-marriage, pro-love and pro-friendship, glorifying the classic notion that money can’t buy you love. The film reminds us that above all friendship is important, nice guys don’t always finish last and, above all, it’s the little things that count.
Never change who you are
Learnt from: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
10 Things I Hate About You is arguably the most revealing and profound of all 90s rom-coms, especially to Generation Y. A modern revamp of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the film follows Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a meek teenager besotted with the most popular girl in school, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who is forbidden to date until her older sister does. In a bid to pursue her, Cameron entices burnout bad-boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to take out Bianca’s ill-tempered and contrary sister, Kat (Julia Stiles), who has sworn off dating for the foreseeable future.
However, in the midst of all this, the “shrew” in question refuses to alter herself or her beliefs for a man or to fit in with society; she remains true to her integrity and aware of the social constructs and conformities around her. Kat also delivers this iconic line in the process – “You don’t always have to be who they want you to be.”
We’ve seen “the bet” in a variety of rom-coms including She’s All That (1999) and How To Lose A Guy in Ten Days (2003), and though it is an unoriginal and deeply offensive sub-plot, 10 Things I Hate About You subverts the conventions in a fairly unique and ultimately comprehensive way – reminding us to never be afraid to speak our minds and, fundamentally, never change who you are.
You are not an exception to the rule
Learnt from: He’s Just Not That Into You (2009)
Based on the bestselling self-help book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, He’s Just Not That Into You has quickly transcended into arguably one of the most influential, albeit debatable, rom-coms of recent years. The film follows a group of interlinking characters (in an all-star cast including Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck and Scarlett Johansson) and their romantic mishaps, led predominantly by Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), whose enthusiasm and persistence lead her to misread every romantic encounter that comes her way. Her friends continue to reassure her that he’s gonna call he’s just busy, causing Gigi to drive herself more crazy, wondering why she just can’t catch a break. It isn’t until she meets bartender Alex (Justin Long) who bluntly informs her that whichever guy she’s interested in isn’t going to call because he’s simply not that into her.
While other rom-coms dance around the obstacles and let the love story unfold, He’s Just Not That Into You teaches us all many lessons, reminding us that you are not an exception to the rule. You can’t change a person and they have not suddenly changed for you. If they like you they will call and if they don’t – he/she’s just not that into you. In addition, “hanging out” is not dating, and, most importantly, guys don’t play games – they don’t know how.
The proof is in the pudding: sometimes he’s just not that into you – and that’s okay. What’s not okay is attempting to alter someone’s feelings and/or changing everything about yourself and/or them in the process. The biggest lesson that He’s Just Not That Into You teaches us is the most important: accepting a half-hearted love interest is not what we deserve.
Don’t care what others think
Learnt from: Long Shot (2019)
One of the most authentic modern rom-coms sees funny man Seth Rogen as journalist Fred, who crosses paths with his childhood crush and US Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). After admiring his work, Charlotte hires him as her new speech writer as she works her way towards becoming America’s first female President, and the two swiftly embark on an unconventional romance. However, this said romance is frowned upon by Charlotte’s campaign manager, Maggie (June Diane Raphael), insisting their relationship will not be accepted by the public.
The film reverses the gender norms subverting the conventions of the successful and powerful female and the neurotic, insecure male lead. While we have seen this set up many times in flicks like Sweet Home Alabama (2003) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003), they are usually linked to an insecure and intimidated male who simply cannot commit to the relationship for one reason or another. However, we see Fred besotted with the woman he’s always loved and determined to make it work no matter what – even if it means him only ever being seen as simply “the President’s Husband”. Despite Charlotte being powerful, smart and beautiful, and Fred being low-earning, unconventionally attractive and immature, the two make for a sweet and influential couple, heightened by Theron and Rogen’s patent onscreen chemistry.