Sometimes, when I am asked my favorite movie and not feeling self-conscious enough to prove anything to anyone, I will answer with Romancing the Stone. After probably eighty viewings, I still get a kick out of how the playful plotting takes great pleasure in toying with the protagonist, a “mousy” romance novelist. The movie is constructed as a postmodern approach to rom-com, which is a genre ripe for reinvention. A few years ago, They Came Together tried the satirical approach, and it could have been a much funnier movie. Book Club celebrated more mature women and is set for a sequel, but I can’t forgive how the alleged “book club” only met twice and simply used 50 Shades of Grey as the clunky, out-of-date-even-as-a-joke impetus for sexcapades. A new spate of rom-coms, however, might revive the genre for me.
There was a day a few months ago when I watched two Netflix rom-coms in a row. I don’t know what was wrong with me either, but it was a turning point. The first was Always Be My Maybe, an allusion to a Mariah Carey song women my age remember from our formative years. The second was Someone Great. I can’t remember what drew me to that one, but it certainly wasn’t the forgettable, had-to-google-it-just-now title. Both rom-coms, however, were refreshingly not white. I recognized the plot structure, the tropes, and the unrealistic careers/apartments/sex lives, but I also got to see new-to-me cultural backgrounds, bodega singalongs to Selenas, and Asian-American Keanu playing Asian-American Keanu (with a bonus of Darius from Atlanta). It kept me entertained enough to care what happened with each character’s relationships.
Allie Wong in ABMM was the more genre-breaking of the two, as her celebrity chef character struggled to maintain a romance with a less successful partner. The San Francisco setting was a refreshing change of pace, even slightly reminiscent of a beloved rom-com oddball, The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair (plus some decent dudes).
Still, it was Someone Great‘s “Hot Child in the City” fantasy of a career girl in New York that hooked me yet again. I had never seen Jane the Virgin, but Gina Rodriguez simply lit up the screen. Her supporting cast included DeWanda Wise as the LGBT character and Brittany Snow as the basic white girl, though in this one she is relegated to comic relief: they make fun of her shoulders-back posture and delight when she gets stoned enough to binge on carbs. The getting-ready-to-go-out scene (again, a callback to The Sweetest Thing‘s mocking makeover montage) is a microcosm of the whole viewing.
My literary friends like to refer to “palate-cleansing chick lit” as a way to take a quick break from a certain type of self-serious literature. Likewise, we all have our tried and true rom-com guilty pleasures. In recent years, mine have been limited to reruns of Sex and the City and anything involving a scuba-diving McConaughey. Now, maybe I can enjoy the genre again.