Romantic comedies: We all know them, but not everyone loves them.
Whether you’ve watched one or 500 of these perfectly imperfect, expertly curated love stories, you could probably recite the narrative structure in your sleep.
Movies with the rom-com label typically follow a specific formula. They feature two strangers who are bound to fall in love but are stopped by some sort of obstacle. Against all odds, they find a way to be together. The ensemble cast typically includes the best friend, the parental figure who offers advice, a side character who provides comic relief and lots of coincidental situations that seem way too good to be true.
Critics of rom-coms tend to argue against shallow, one-sided characters, scenarios that would never happen in real life and the stereotypical happy endings, themes and narratives that aren’t exactly the most groundbreaking.
Each genre of film, whether it be comedy, horror or anything in between, tends to conjure up stereotypes of its viewers. Because rom-coms are often generalized as meaningless fluff, it seems as though some people try to hide the fact that they’ve watched a romance film and will go to extreme lengths to deny the fact they might have actually enjoyed it.
In my film analysis class, when my professor asked if anyone watched romantic comedies, only a few raised hands, and the room was filled with blank stares. It wasn’t until the online discussion board posts that students owned up to their rom-com-watching habits as if they were confessing to illegal activity.
The reality is that our film genre preferences reflect societal values of the time. Romantic comedies hit their peak era in the late ’80s through the mid-2000s — and since then, there’s been a decline in the number of rom-coms being produced. Think about it: When was the last time you heard of a new movie that fit the rom-com mold?
What’s caused this rom-com drought, and what does this say about society and how people’s values have shifted? Are we fed up with love stories and happy endings?
One reason for the recent pause in rom-com film production is because the post-9/11 era has led audiences to crave hero figures who can save the world and restore order in a land of confusion and destruction. Eight out of the top 10 highest-grossing films of 2017 were action and adventure films centered around a hero character, according to IMDB.
Aside from the superhero movie boom, I think the slump in romantic comedy production stems from changing views about love, relationships and gender norms.
Despite the genre’s stigma of being exclusively fun and frilly, it has (and has always had) the ability to make commentary about society and culture.
For example, in the 1988 film “Working Girl,” Melanie Griffith’s character, Tess McGill, paints a portrait of urban, corporate women at the time. In the 2008 movie “Baby Mama,” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, humor is used to tell a story of surrogacy, showing not every relationship nor romantic situation is cookie-cutter.
Today, screenwriters, producers and directors who dare to create a story about modern love must consider a plethora of societal and technological factors that were unimaginable in the ’80s, let alone a decade ago. We now have things like Snapchat, Tinder and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. These all came long after the peak period of rom-com production but have the power to be heavy influencers on today’s society.
Are today’s filmmakers wary of delving into the waters of rom-com production for a modern, socially conscious audience who may not buy the boy-meets-girl storyline? Or is Hollywood just too afraid to veer from the action-packed films that create box office booms and fulfill people’s longing for a hero?
As societal norms continue to mold the film industry and our perceptions toward love stories, I hope audiences will recognize and embrace the storytelling power of romantic comedies.
Darcy Schild is a UF journalism junior. Her column focuses of human behavior and sociology.