We’ve all seen those movies. You know the ones, where boy meets girl, they inevitably fall in love, and they live happily ever after. But these films aren’t the fairy tales we read when we were children, and the road can get a bit bumpy before it evens out, especially lately. Movies like 27 Dresses, Pitch Perfect, and When in Rome highlight these issues that can creep in, but they still eventually get to their happily ever after. But what are the elements of good romantic comedies? I think there are at least six of them…
- One of the eventual couple needs to be unlikeable at the beginning of the film. Think of Hugh Grant’s character in Two Weeks Notice — he’s a bit of a heel, but he softens as the movie progresses. And more recently Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal who learns that getting ahead monetarily isn’t worth sacrificing emotional attachments.
- There needs to be a major obstacle that seems insurmountable at some point. Remember Tom Hanks’ character whose book business crushes the little book shop of his love interest in You’ve Got Mail. Or Julia Roberts’ character as a prostitute in Pretty Woman. Sometimes the obstacle is unrequited love, but it turns into something unexpected, like in American Pie when Jason Biggs’ character comes to appreciate the girl he thought was just a friend.
- The characters can’t be perfect. One of the major problems in fairy tales is that usually the characters are perfect “types,” — the beautiful maiden who also happens to be innocent, the muscle-bound prince who rescues the maiden from the evil sorcerer. Too many romantic comedies also follow this blueprint and fail at it. The best ones have flawed characters, movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Love Actually, and Boomerang.
- Chemistry is all-important. Too often directors want big names, but the characters don’t have the chemistry they need to make it believable. I’m reminded of Matthew McConaughey and Sara Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch, or Katherine Heigl and pretty much anyone she’s been paired with in her romantic comedies. One of the best pairs chemistry-wise are Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, pulling it off brilliantly in Pretty Woman and in Runaway Bride. Another great match is Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire.
- Don’t forget the comedy portion. Too often a film will play up the issues with the couple, setting a somber mood that isn’t quite saved by the happy ending. The funnier the better, in my opinion. Like with Hitch, having unlikely pairings amps up the comedy, as well as playing to the strength of the actors. Love Actually also plays to that strength, even having a Hugh Grant dancing scene, and the juxtaposition of actors who do nude scenes who get embarrassed when they try actually dating.
- Great quotes.
“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” -from Notting Hill
“You had me at hello.” – from Jerry Maguire
“When they ask me what I liked best, I’ll say it was you.” -from City of Angels
“…and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home. Only to no home I’d ever known.” -from Sleepless in Seattle
“You — are my exception.” -from He’s Just Not That Into You
If you’re watching a truly good romantic comedy every time the characters deliver one of those quotes and have one of those moments you should feel goosebumps, your heartbeat should speed up, and you should be completely invested in their relationship. If you’re not, then you’re not watching a good romantic comedy. If you’re not thinking, “but those two belong together!” perhaps the movie is missing one of the key elements above.
I love well-done romantic comedies because I’ve always been a romantic at heart, and I’m always searching for the next great one. What do you think makes a good romantic comedy?