The best modern romantic comedies
Ivan Radford | On 25, May 2020
The romantic comedy is one of cinema’s most under-appreciated genres, with films dismissed as guilty pleasures or, worse, “chick flicks”. But the genre has continued to widen its perspectives and subvert tropes since its 1990s heyday, introducing homosexual stories, playful riffs on genre conventions and a willingness to celebrate friendship as much as romantic love.
These, in no particular order, are the best modern romantic comedies:
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant never fail to win our hearts with this iconic rom-com based on the novels. With its familiar plot, inspired by Pride & Prejudice, this 2001 rom-com bridges the gap between the genre’s classic 80s and 90s heyday and the less conventional rom-coms that followed.
This political rom-com starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen wins points by letting her politician have a career as well as a love life, then scores even more points by being unabashedly rude, surprisingly sweet and very, very funny.
Crazy Rich Asians
Glitzy, glamorous, and satisfying. A resplendent cast makes this romcom crazy good fun. Native New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. While there, she discovers that Nick’s family is extremely wealthy, and he’s considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse – Nick’s disapproving mother. The first major studio film in years to tell an Asian-American story with an all-Asian cast, this hit is as hilarious as refreshing.
(500) Days of Summer
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel star in Marc Webb’s romantic comedy, which is playful on the surface but deceptively spiky underneath, as it follows one man’s inability to listen to a woman at work who says she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings.
Keira Knightley is superb in Lynn Shelton’s understated comedy that’s about adulthood as much as romance.
Love & Friendship
Not just the tale of a widow (Kate Beckinsale) riding out the rumours of her romantic liaisons, while trying to find a suitor for her young daughter (Morfydd Clark), Love and Friendship is also a non-stop string of witty insults and catty shots – and Beckinsale is brilliant at firing them out. Whit Stillman’s hilarious period comedy is Jane Austen as you’ve never seen her before.
This touching and intelligent spin on the familiar teen rom-com stars the excellent Nick Robinson (Everything, Everything) as Simon, a 17-year-old high-schooler from a loving middle-class family in the Atlanta suburbs. He’s also got great friends, great hair and a top-notch vinyl collection, yet in the middle of this seemingly perfect life lies an unspoken truth. Simon is gay, a fact he’s only ever revealed to the anonymous classmate he’s befriended and begun a relationship with online.
Ryan Reynolds plays a 30-something dad who tells his 10-year-old daughter about his life before marriage – just as he’s divorcing his partner. How I Met Your Mother: The Movie? Essentially yes, but Reynolds’ leading turn is wonderfully charismatic and the film’s toying with rom-com formulae and exploration of professional and personal lives makes it a winner,
16 years before The Half of It on Netflix, Alice Wu made her directorial debut with this little-seen 2004 gem about Wil, a lesbian who is afraid to come out to her mother, who has her own scandalous secret: she’s pregnant, in a community that looks down on a 48-year-old woman having a baby. The result is a mother-daughter drama that explores cultural expectations and pressures while also shining a groundbreaking spotlight on Asian-American lives in a crowd-pleasing lesbian rom-com.
Friends with Benefits
Easy A director Will Gluck helms Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in this cracking romantic comedy that’s far better than No Strings Attached, the film about a similar premise that was released at the same time.
Love Is All You Need
This moving, funny and delightfully sweet drama from Susanne Bier, starring Pierce Brosnan, rings with emotional truth.
Something’s Gotta Give
In this elegant and touching comedy, Erica (Diane Keaton) has given up on finding romance and it’s brought home to her when her daughter arrives with her ageing boyfriend, Harry (Jack Nicholson). Initially they repel each other but slowly they discover a smouldering attraction. The result is a welcome chance to middle-aged characters to take the spotlight in a rom-com – although there’s also a chance for Keanu Reeves to steal several scenes as a young doctor who becomes Erica’s unlikely love interest.
The Big Sick
Funny, moving and sharply written, The Big Sick charts the romance between comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan), which has to overcome not only a major culture clash but also a mysterious illness. This is a film you’ll never get tired of.
Kissing Jessica Stein
Another groundbreaking entry in the modern rom-com pantheon, this 2002 indie flick, written and produced by stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, follows a young woman who falls for Helen, but finds herself struggling with the pressures involved in a same-sex relationship.
Down with Love
Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger are on hugely winning form in this bubbly pastiche of 1960s romantic capers. Nods to Doris Day, from Zellweger’s performance the costumes seemingly on tap, don’t distract from the sugar-sweet tone, which balances a will-they-won’t-they structure with a script stuffed with verbal and physical humour. At its heart is a story that reminds us that women don’t need men to be happy, celebrating independence even as it swoons for McGregor’s suave playboy journalist.