Love in the Time of Netflix: Still Looking For the Good Ol’ Romcom
After much reluctance owing mostly to my disinterest in the film's trailer itself, I finally sat down to watch the summer hit To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Starved to watch one good romantic comedy in years, I watched with a lot of hope. But as the bland story progressed, it became all too clear to me that maybe nobody was making good romcoms anymore.
And no, I didn’t come to this conclusion after watching just the one... Netflix prompted me to watch a few more – and being the true blue romcom lover that I am (no harm in accepting it if Mindy Kaling can) whose last perfect outing was Sandra Bullock's The Proposal, I ended up watching seven.
But every film disappointed me a tiny bit more than the previous one. And now that romcom queen Julia Roberts (who’s making her television debut with Sam Esmail's Homecoming), has said that this genre “doesn’t work for her anymore", I guess it’s time to call it.
Romantic comedies, as we know them, are dead.
Here are the movies I watched in quick succession after To All The Boys..., urged and coaxed by Netflix’s recommendations – Sierra Burgess is a Loser, SPF 15, The Kissing Booth, Happy Anniversary, A Christmas Prince and the absolutely ugh-inducing Ibiza.
While the streaming company may have lowered the bar in an attempt to keep the genre afloat, the ugly truth is that romantic comedies have lost their sheen. And the reasons could be many.
Because We’re Done With the Mansplaining
Like Julia Roberts, the realisation has dawned on most women (the highest takers of the genre) that in the age of feminism and #MeToo, a lot of previously-celebrated story lines don’t make good sense anymore. For instance, NO woman viewer would appreciate the ways of the boss in a 2 Weeks Notice or a Bridget Jones Diary today. Truth be told, the scenes felt far-fetched even then.
It’s taken me years to come to terms with the fact that my all time favourite romcom You’ve Got Mail had a glaring problem – Meg Ryan’s character ended up with the man who made her book business go bankrupt. In real life, no amount of love would allow a hard-working woman to look past that travesty. Or, consider the way Harry mansplained stuff to Sally.
Things like that just wouldn’t cut it with an audience anymore.
Because Superheroes Rule the BO
Another reason romcoms seem jaded is, perhaps, the phenomenal rise of the superhero genre.
While the Marvel and DC comic books were always around, it was only in the early 2000s that movies based on these ordinary men with extraordinary powers started getting made – with Ironman and Spiderman leading the pack. There seemed to be a superhero for everyone; the sassy Ironman, the angry Hulk, the mystical Dr Strange, the list sent viewers into raptures.
For the studios, there was no reason to back feel-good, mid-budget romcoms when every MCU film came with a prequel or a sequel that kept the cash register ringing. As for the audience, it got easier to lap up problems in alternate universes instead of dodging the heartaches of a troubled heroine like in Notting Hill, or relate to the loneliness of a prime minister in Love Actually.
Because Love, as a Genre, Has Evolved
However, there is one line of thought to ponder; maybe yesteryear's favourite genre is still alive but has only evolved with time.
In an era where many millennials would rather travel than marry, love is a part of the big picture only if it fits; erstwhile romcoms probably didn’t stand a chance. A film like Set It Up is indeed a romcom for people who are ready to set their bosses up if that means getting some lee time. As is perhaps a To All The Boys... – where falling for a half decent human being in a class full of jerks is a love story fit enough for the screen.
Are filmmakers looking only at evolved aspirations and instant gratifications and assuming that nobody, perhaps, is waiting for a meet-cute at the park or a confession of love at the airport anymore?
My romcom viewing spree did chance upon one gem, though – Jon Chu's fantastic Crazy Rich Asians, which was a breath of fresh air.
An exception to the cut-copy-paste, archetypal stories, CRA is a delightful love story of a culture rarely captured by the Hollywood lens. CRA is not only a revival of the genre but a smart adaptation of a novel in sync with the times which also remains true to its emotional quotient.
The numbers seem to agree. The Jon Chu film is already the top grossing romcom in 10 years.
(Runa Mukherjee Parikh is an independent journalist with several national and international media houses like The Wire, Bust and The Swaddle. She previously reported for the Times of India. She is the author of the book 'Your Truth, My Truth (https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076NXZFX8)'. You can follow her at @tweetruna.)