I’ve watched enough rom-coms to say that I’ve seen at least one every four months I’ve been alive. In simpler terms, that’s 67 romantic comedies. It’s not enough to make me an expert, but it’s enough for it to be my favorite genre. Unfortunately, all of the best, in my opinion, were released before 2001 — the year of Bridget Jones. Do the releases of three prominent rom-coms this summer mean that we have finally reached the end of our cinematic love drought?
“Set it Up,” if you somehow avoided seeing anything about it on your timelines, is a paint-by-the-numbers rom-com, released on June 15 through Netflix, about two over-worked assistants setting up their bosses to get some time off. While the plot was fairly predictable, the response to it was positive — so popular, that many articles claimed that Netflix was single-handedly bringing back the rom-com.
Only two months later, on Aug. 17, Netflix struck again with “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which features an Asian-American high school girl navigating a fake relationship with an old crush. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” marks a welcome increase in quality compared to the other teen movie released this summer “The Kissing Booth.” (Sorry, but I refuse to talk about “The Kissing Booth” as a rom-com!)
That same weekend, “Crazy Rich Asians” was released in theaters, featuring — if you somehow didn’t hear — the first all Asian cast in a Hollywood film in 25 years. The film would have completed a full Netflix takeover of the genre — but when approached by Netflix with a huge distribution deal, the film’s creator’s chose to decline.
“We needed this to be an old-fashioned cinematic experience, not for fans to sit in front of a TV and just press a button,” said Kevin Kwan, the writer of the novel “Crazy Rich Asians.”
I agree completely with the decision. Part of this stems back to how, in the interim between the proper rom-coms of the ’90s and early ’00s and the 2018 “revival,” we’ve already seen romantic comedy go to our television screens. In the article “Netflix didn’t save the romantic comedy: TV Networks and Women did,” a writer at Business Insider argues that “New Girl,” “The Mindy Project,” “Jane The Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” are all women-lead shows that revived the rom-com.
With the help of these four terrific and popular shows, rom-coms have never truly died out, but we deserve a proper cinematic return. If the huge social media reaction toward this summer’s rom-coms is proof of anything, it’s that there is a widespread hunger for mid-budget, feel-good movies. To paraphrase a tweet from entertainment writer Alanna Bennet, we’re all so starved for good feelings that we spent the weekend of Aug. 17 watching “To All the Boys I Loved Before” on repeat.
The problem with “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and with “Set it Up” to a lesser extent, is that it fails to bring those good feelings to the scale of a film worthy of theatrical release. The sets, shots and scripts bring nothing new to the genre and would not hold up if you were paying to see it — they hold the same weight as a series you might binge in a weekend and forget about the next.
“Crazy Rich Asians,” however, understood how deep the hunger is, not just for rom-coms, but for the good feelings produced by them, more importantly applying them to groups very rarely portrayed, and if so, not positively, by Hollywood. It was filled with tropes, sure, but it was a refreshing take on the genre with the production value to match.
Part of why I love romantic comedies is that they have to create magic to be good. A good rom-com can extend to all the movies in the genre, even the bad ones. “When Harry Met Sally” sprinted so that “You’ve Got Mail” could run, “The Proposal” could walk and “Leap Year” could crawl.
But I also love them because they are so often the best providers of cinematic good feelings. We deserve a full revival of unabashedly feel-good rom-coms, written by, directed by and for women and people of color, projected onto screens as big as the feelings in the story they’re telling.
While I’m disappointed in how Netflix’s dominated this summer’s rom-com revival, the energy of “Crazy Rich Asians” is enough to keep me excited for future releases. Let’s hope it’s enough for Hollywood, too.
Arts & Entertainment Contributor | Class of 2019 | Major: Communication