Classic rom-coms for a romping good time

By Dane Feldman

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From classics like “Say Anything” and “When Harry Met Sally” to current films like “Easy A” and “Just Go With It” and everything in between – romantic comedies are, and have practically always been, widely discredited as a genre. Yet, romantic comedies, or “rom-coms,” are both wonderfully predictable and pathetically hilarious.

It can be said that most rom-coms contain unrealistic scenarios. This is mostly true. People often don’t fall in love within two weeks of meeting. Boys don’t throw rocks at girls’ windows. They don’t stand outside with a boom box in order to profess their love. They often don’t share their first kiss on a pitcher’s mound in front of a crowd (as in “Never Been Kissed), but rom-coms do present a rather simple plotline:

Boy and girl meet in what “The Holiday” calls a “meet-cute.” In the case of “The Parent Trap,” Elizabeth James (Natasha Richardson) and Nick Parker (Dennis Quaid) hadn’t seen each other since their divorce 11 years prior. Their separated twin daughters reunite them and upon seeing his ex-wife, Nick falls into the hotel pool, suit and all. In “Serendipity” John (John Cusack) meets Sara (Kate Beckinsale) when they each grab the same pair of gloves in a department store.

After these “meet-cutes,” romance sparks in most of these movies. Sometimes, the two separate and spend the duration of the movie waiting to find each other again (as in “Serendipity”). What is so key about rom-coms, though, is that we know almost indefinitely going into the theatre to see the film that the couple will wind up together just before the closing credits.

Before these couples unite in the end, however, these movies all present to us a problem. These couples suffer break-ups, potential break-ups and intense fights. What breaks them up is often realistic. They decide they aren’t right for each other (“Along Came Polly”), someone has a mental breakdown (“Sex and the City”), or they fight constantly (“The Parent Trap” and “When Harry Met Sally”).

It’s rare in a romantic comedy that the prospective couple doesn’t get together in the end. It is even more rare that a movie like that would be successful, “The Break-Up” with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston is far more successful than “In Good Company” with Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson. Sometimes it’s just about the acting.

In the case of Nancy Myers, it’s definitely about the writing and directing. She is one of the most successful romantic comedy directors and writers and is best known for “The Parent Trap,”  “Father of the Bride,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “The Holiday,” “What Women Want” and “It’s Complicated.” All of these follow a typical protocol for rom-coms and all of these are great movies. These are movies that work as romantic comedies.

The difference between some of the most watchable romantic comedies and some of the least is the fact that, after watching “Father of the Bride,” people want to watch it again. It’s seriously doubtable that, if you’ve seen “The Parent Trap” you haven’t seen it just once, but instead you’ve seen it 20 times or even 30. I’ve probably seen it at least 50. The same goes for “Meet the Parents,” “Pretty Woman” or “Wedding Crashers.”

These are movies you’ve seen 100 times (and you probably secretly know all the lines). Why? Because these are films that work. They’re legendary because they are simple, they are memorable and they are perfectly familiar.

Dane Feldman can be reached at [email protected]