To say I like romantic comedies is an understatement. One can watch it in any setting, in a sad or happy mood, to end a night of ranging proportions. To create one that rises above the cookie cutter Hallmark storylines relies on being able to follow an expected sequence yet it deviates into a new masterpiece.
Each rom-com follows the Hero’s Journey. A call to action at the beginning, followed with a series of adventures with each being more profound than the next. At the end, the main characters are changed forever, in which they are now happily together.
To illustrate this, I will be using To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before as an example. I would say its fair to call it this generation’s romantic classic. The call to adventure was done through Kitty mailing all of Lara Jean’s letters to the 5 boys she’s loved in the past. As a result, Peter Kavinsky reenters her life and brings assistance to a problem that both of them have (Peter wants to make his new ex jealous and Lara Jean doesn’t want his sister’s ex to know she likes him). They dive into the unknown world together, where they face trials as a “couple”. Going to parties, writing cute notes for each other, eating at cafes. All of this eventually leads to the climax of the story, where Lara Jean makes out with Peter at the hot tub, resulting in the jealous ex spreading a video of that to the entire school. Eventually, he stands up for her and Lara Jean resolves all of the complications with every party involved. The final scene shows them as a new couple, creating the happy ending that we know and love.
What TATBILB did well was sticking true to the typical journey a romantic comedy makes but does so with a premise that refreshes viewers. Lara Jean writing 5 letters could lead to 500 different outcomes. It creates an “Oh Shit” moment that captivates the audience because it is new and original. Yes, it follows the expected Highs into Low into gradual High then a horrible turn of events into resolution. Yes, the ending was predictable. That doesn’t matter though. It was the start that makes people want to watch and stay for the duration of the movie.
Having characters that play off each other is equally as important as the plot. Without chemistry, how is the audience supposed to believe that they start falling for each other? Viewers should be able to see, through their body language, that something is changing. Tracking the subconscious yet visual conversion from strangers to lovers is one of the key components to a superb rom-com. In each classic movie, you can see the switch when the characters start liking and falling for the other.
In addition to this, they have to be likeable. You want to be able to root for the leads, hoping throughout the movie that they get together (which they inevitably will). This is achieved through the trials and tribulations that the characters undergo. From making key decisions to just having a good time, you start to gain empathy for the characters. You see the good qualities in them and you want the other half to see that too. The leads’ depth and traits become apparent to the audience in the middle and add to the emotional build up.
There are three certainties in life. Death, Taxes, and rom-coms ending with a kiss. It always ends with one. I mean, what story has the couple get together and doesn’t end with them kissing?
That whole time, the audience has been waiting for one scene and that is the kiss scene. All the build up, the laughs, the downfalls, all leads up to the iconic romantic comedy scene.
All you need for a great rom-com is pretty much just 3 items. A killer plot, bomb characters, and a kiss to top it all off. Shouldn’t be too hard right?
When combined, it creates an experience makes one laugh and want to love. As a frequent enjoyer of this movie genre, I would say they help to inspire and put hope that maybe love is out there. Yeah, it obviously won’t be as perfect or crazy or smooth as Hollywood makes it out to be but love does exist.
I made this article after watching Netflix’s new film, Love, Hard. It got me thinking about how that movie turned out to be pretty decent and how romantic comedies as a whole are shaped. I recommend it to anyone that is looking for a good film to watch over the holidays :)