Romantic comedies make Juliet Meyers seethe. Here, she takes a toffee hammer to the genre’s sickliest clichés.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
Watching something called Baggage Claim (AKA: “I Gotta Get Married Or There’ll Be An Apocalypse”) on a long haul flight recently made me feel so homicidal I thought the plane would have to land with me gaffer-taped to the seat by the crew.
You might tell me to just not watch rom-coms, but as Hugh Grant states at the beginning of Love Actually, “Love actually is all around.” Yes, and repeated all the time, actually, along with other cinematic equivalents of petrol station flowers.
Am I just being grouchy (a quality we all know from 27 Dresses simply means I’m hurting inside)?
When Harry Met Sally, Muriel’s Wedding and As Good As It Gets were great because there were complexities to the characters, but so many recent offerings seem so formulaic they have become parodies of themselves.
Here’s a list of things you will almost always find in the worst rom-coms:
1. The heroine is “kooky”: Particularly if she has an amazing job. Luckily her suitor finds it charming. I’d be worried she was secretly planning to kill me, and cultivating the childlike persona so she could plead insanity.
2. She’s in a bin: Due to acute paranoia and low self-esteem, she’ll end up in a dustbin outside someone’s house at 1am. Probably with pizza stuck to the side of her face while she’s on her mobile seeking advice from her best friend.
3. She likes money: Baggage Claim deafeningly sets off the cliché klaxon when a dull man in a satin waistcoat boasts, “I don’t work in the hotel: I own the hotel.” Cue the protagonist’s eyes becoming like saucers with dollar signs on.
4. “The One” is under her nose: In Made of Honor, Tom has shagged everything that moves apart from his platonic friend Hannah so she MUST be the one.
And in Bride Wars (AKA: “Oh My God, We’ve Killed Feminism”) the brunette one decides at the altar to marry her best friend’s brother instead and gets pregnant immediately. Cute behaviour in Manhattan, perhaps, but plonk these fools in a depressed area of the UK and it becomes The Jeremy Kyle Show.
5. The gay man and the slutty friend (must not be the same person): The female lead has extremely few notches on her bedpost, apart from in Pretty Woman where she’s a hooker, but that’s fine because she flosses and wants to go to college. So it behoves the gay man in the desexualising gingham bow tie and the trashy friend with out of control boobs to deliver the smuttier lines:
“You’re seeing him on Thanksgiving? It ain’t just the turkey getting stuffed tonight!” (actual line from Baggage Claim)
Then, when their gal pal is finally hitched, they both stay single. I want to see a movie where the gay man turns to the blondescript (blonde and nondescript) star and says, “Have you ever even asked about my love life once? I’ve been with Ian for 15 years. We’ve wanted to get married all this time too. And now we can! You can’t come – you’d make it all about yourself.”
6. The love interest makes something: In Sweet Home Alabama (AKA: “Does My Bumpkin Look Big In This?”), the moment Reese Witherspoon says, “I like this glassware, who makes it?” we know who she’s going to choose. Same in Must Love Dogs. He’s making a boat. A boat for heaven’s sake!
7. They like the same obscure thing: “You like Doctor Zhivago? I’ve seen it 20 times.” (Must Love Dogs)
“You like the moment in a wedding when the groom first sees the bride? Me too.” (27 Dresses)
“You’re secretly terrified of dying alone? Me too!” (various others)
8. Hell is other women: In Bride Wars two best friends get married on the same day so they try to sabotage each other’s preparations. Who writes this stuff – the creepy guy at the photocopier? Alas no. Two out of its three writers were women.
9. The false ending: After a minor misunderstanding, someone will wail, “I had my chance and I blew it.” If this were a French film, it would end there with someone shrugging “Merde alors!” But much like patronising magicians, the creators of these films always pretend it’s gone wrong before it goes right: a chance meeting – or someone conquering their fear of cats by riding one across town to propose – saves the day.
10. BONG! She finally gets some self-respect and realises marriage isn’t the only thing. What’s she going to discover in the sequel – gravity?
Juliet Meyers is a writer (for radio and television), comedian, feminist and middle-lane swimmer. @julietmeyers