Valentine’s Day is around the corner, so what better time to discuss the light-hearted favourite of the big screen, the rom-com?
Fitting with the commerciality of Valentine’s, this genre seems to have perfected an art of financial success. Often criticised for its formulaic structure and predictability, it has still provided many unique stories as well as some of the funniest and most heart-warming tales to ever grace the big screen.
I will attempt to breakdown my personal favourites through the neat shape of a top 10 list. Remember, this is my personal opinion, so if you disagree with any of my picks, please, just live and let love.
10) La Belle Époque (2019) Opening the list is Nicholas Bedos’s wonderful modern take on the rom-com genre, which captures the charming story of a man recapturing the love he once had for his wife. An unusual blend of Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life (1999) and concepts within Leos Carax’s Holy Motors (2012) all neatly packaged within the rom-com compartment, Bedo’s film has a deserving place on any list of this kind. Available on: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play
9) 500 Days of Summer (2009) Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars alongside Zooey Deschanel in Marc Webbers offbeat romantic comedy, which the film insists early on is “not a love story”. Tom is a writer for a card company, one day he meets Summer, who is just his type – in fact Tom is convinced he has found the one. Fusing a realistic narrative, while flirting with fantastical design provides a unique platform for this film’s inevitable adoration. Available on: Prime Video, iTunes
8) The Big Sick (2017) Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon explore their personal history in this cross-cultural rom-com. Based on the co-writer’s real life relationship, the film took the advice ‘write what you know’ to heart. Navigating difficult subject matter such as life-threatening illness, there is certainly plenty of bite to the screenplay. Above all, what makes this screenplay standout from classic rom-coms of recent years is how bloody funny it is. Available on: Prime Video, iTunes
7) The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) Co-written by Judd Apatow and Steve Carrel, this mid-noughties comedy classic is probably the strongest film in Judd’s ‘Apatoire’. Steve Carrel plays Andy Stitzer, a middle-aged loner geek who finds his comfort in collectibles and comics until his trio of colleagues discover his celibate secret. Contrasting with what the title seems to suggest, the screenplay benefits from using sex as a source of comedy, while opting for genuine love and poignancy at the movie’s heart. Available on: Prime Video
6) High Fidelity (2000) Based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, this wonderful adaptation follows Rob Gordon (John Cusack) a music fanatic and record store owner. The film provides a narrative tour of this ‘trebled’ man’s regular mishaps and miseries of love. Along with this, a wonderful comedic turn for Jack Black is equally entertaining and hilarious. His melody of manic music discussion is a celebration of ‘vinyl junkies’, a nerd culture brought to life on the big screen. At the same time our protagonist dances through a classical tale of rocky love stories which all folk can relate to if lovers rock has ever given them the blues. Available on: Prime Video, iTunes
5) About Time (2013) A creative titan who regularly reinvented the rom-com rule book is British screenwriter and director Richard Curtis. Of course, his rise to rom-com fame is sourced more evidently in his 90s films, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999). For me, above all of these is About Time. Perhaps not as well-received as his other films, About Time holds more heart than anything else Curtis has formulated or photographed. Also, it’s the only time travel movie I’m able to watch with my mum, so it definitely gets my pick. Whether or not this movie gains the popularity it truly deserves in future years, only time will tell. Available on: Prime Video, Netflix
4) Groundhog Day (1993) The plot of this classic American comedy may sound like hogwash. Following an unconventional frame for this genre of love, Harold Ramis’ 1993 film is possibly more comedy than romance. But, with the wonderful naturalistic chemistry and charm of Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, this film still packs a punch of ‘hogs’ and kisses. Available on: Prime Video, iTunes
3) His Girl Friday (1940) Howard Hawks’ classic screwball comedy is one of the earliest examples of how to combine hilarity and heart, and it remains one of the greatest. Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are irresistibly entertaining in the high-energy, journalistic environment, propelled by a sharp script and precisely controlled editing. I could have just as easily given this spot to Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940) or It Happened One Night (1934), a trio of films which all gave considerable contribution to the genre, providing the tropes and jokes that lie at the core of many modern takes on this category. Available on: Prime Video
2) Punch-Drunk Love (2003) Often ignored in a stereotypical breakdown of romantic comedies, this misfit love story strikes a smart balance between light-hearted and profound. Effortlessly charming, a romantic tale intertwined with unique comedic eccentricities isn’t usually associated with Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the most prolific directors working today. With the sparkle and sensational rhythm of a musical, this movie’s title perfectly encapsulates the sharp and snappy drive which charges the film. Available on: Prime Video, iTunes
1) When Harry Met Sally (1989) A list of this sort would not be complete without a Nora Ephron movie. Ephron is an undisputable giant in penning the moving and the rib-tickling. Her screenplays with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993) or You’ve Got Mail (1998) are certainly worth a mention, but the magic truly materialized in When Harry Met Sally. Directed by Rob Reiner. This time, Billy Crystal stars alongside Meg Ryan, and the two ask the question that’s left philosophers and physicians puzzled for decades: “Can a man and a woman be friends without sex getting in the way?” Available on: Prime Video, iTunes
Honourable Mentions – When considering the strongest romantic comedies of years gone by, Edgar Wright’s satirical spin on the zombie genre, Shaun of the Dead (2004), is often ignored. Not universally considered a rom-com, this zombie flick has all the hallmarks of the classic structure.
Drawing the Romero from the rom-com, Wright packs his feature full of blood, guts and gore. However, a strong romance lies at the heart of this film, making it one of the most heartfelt and touching comedies of the 21st century.
Another honourable mention has to go to Pretty Woman (1990). Many critics are sniffy about Garry Marshall’s iconic film – upon its release in 1990, The Washington Post referenced the movie’s “capitalistically lurid aspects”. However, through the lens of an unpretentious viewer seeking something fun, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere charm their way through one of the most digestible and enjoyable rom-coms on this list. Perhaps a little dated, but who cares?