×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘The Big Sick’ Makes You Wonder: Where Have All the Romcoms Gone?

What if the romcom died and nobody noticed? And what could bring it back? A few more films like the indie hit of the summer.

The Big Sick,” the indie-crossover hit of the summer, is the sharpest, funniest, and most touching romantic comedy in a long time, and that should be a shot in the arm for romantic comedies everywhere. Except for one small detail: There aren’t any! They’ve all disappeared! Gone to that great big DVD player in the sky! (Somewhere up in Heaven, Nora Ephron is watching one right now, smirking and sighing.) There’s surely a micro-budgeted exception or two I’m not thinking of, but in the ’90s, the ’00s, and into the ’10s, you could count on the appearance, every few months, and certainly once or twice a summer, of a major movie that was some sort of cheesy-tasty screwball knockoff of the romantic comedies of old. It might star Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger or Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Garner or Marisa Tomei, Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl, or — in what now looks like the genre’s sunset stage — Emma Stone or Aubrey Plaza.

It’s telling that five years ago, when she was 22 years old and just coming into her own as a movie star, Jennifer Lawrence co-starred in what is probably the most artful romantic comedy of its time — “Silver Linings Playbook” — but she has never made another one since. She certainly could have; she could have made anything she wanted. But Lawrence, who has always been singularly shrewd and tasteful about choosing her projects, must have read the writing on the romcom wall. She must have thought that there were better things in store for her than heading up another generation of bad Goldie Hawn knockoffs.

If so, she probably made the right call. By the time Lawrence came along, the romantic comedy, with rare exceptions, had become a benignly junky, second-rate cookie-cutter form. Even the nickname “romcom” had a guilty-pleasure pep-pill functionality about it. Take two romcoms and call me in the morning! The romantic comedy was a movie to see with friends, or — seriously, I don’t mean this to sound dated — while out on a date, but maybe the quintessential way to view it was at home, all by yourself, with the proverbial pint of designer ice cream (or something stronger), so that one could feel every bit as teary and lovelorn and cliché as the heroine of the movie.

Like any time-tested genre, the romcom wasn’t just a form or a fashion; it was a business model. These movies got made because they connected at the box office. But the success, in this case, had a special meaning, since Hollywood, in the post–studio system era, considered the romantic comedy to be the reigning big-screen form driven, demographically, by women moviegoers. That meant something significant when viewed against the backdrop of a fanboy/fantasy/FX culture that targeted teenage males — and overgrown teenage males — as its proudly arrested sweet spot. “Wonder Woman,” a superheroine adventure that has been embraced as a one-film gender-role paradigm shift in pop culture, is, in many ways, a romantic comedy. The heart of the movie is the fish-out-of-water mid-section, which a number of critics have compared to “Splash,” one of the key romantic comedies of its era.

So why did the genre fade away? With hardly anyone even noticing? “The Big Sick” provides an answer that is also a counterexample — one that points to how the romantic comedy, with a little luck, could come roaring back. The feisty beauty of “The Big Sick” is that it’s a joyfully, zestfully, entertainingly smart movie: one that digs into the discombobulation of an age when cross-cultural relationships have become the new normal. It’s a Pakistani-American-Muslim-stand-up-comedian-falls-for-spiky-girl-who-goes-into-a-coma comedy (you know, one of those) that’s really about the tug-of-war between what you love and what you value, and what happens when those two things feel as though they aren’t going to line up.

There’s a vibrant history of smart romantic comedy: “Annie Hall” and “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Bridesmaids,” every picture that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy ever made together, not to mention the movie I wouldn’t hesitate to call the greatest romantic comedy of the ’90s, “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” a potently hilarious, ruefully honest look at the combustible high stakes of love. (Julia Roberts is genius in it.) Yet the smart romantic comedy is so much the exception rather than the rule that the drumbeat of mediocre chick flicks eventually wore out its welcome. The genre never stopped working at the box office, though far less so than it did when a klutz-fest like “Miss Congeniality” could gross $100 million. But everyone knew that the thrill was gone, that the romcom had begun to create a waxy buildup of kitsch.

The shift was generational. The role model that had been in place ever since Goldie Hawn got tossed “Overboard” was starting not to connect with a generation of Tinder addicts and tattooed SJWs. Yet don’t they deserve romantic comedies too? The genre has been built, for too long, around a ritualized spectacle of feminine insecurity, when what’s needed now are movies that can tweak those who’ve mainlined a whole new style of digital confidence. You could argue that the defining romantic comedy of our time isn’t a movie at all (and doesn’t need to be); it’s Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” Yet I persist in thinking that there’s something magical about this form — the dreams and hang-ups of two characters smashed into two glorious hours — and “The Big Sick” points to how it can, and should, be done. You can list all the reasons why the romcom went away, but the truth is there’s no good reason for it to go away, since the things it’s about are here to stay.

More Film

  • Issa Rae

    Issa Rae, Columbia Sign Multi-Picture Production Deal Promoting Diverse Screenwriters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Issa Rae’s production company, ColorCreative, has signed a multi-picture production deal with Columbia Pictures. The pact is unique in that under the agreement, ColorCreative will work with and back projects from emerging, diverse screenwriters. The move comes as the entertainment industry is under pressure to develop films and shows that feature underrepresented talent both in [...]

  • VR studio Baobab Crow The Legend

    Animators Embrace VR as 'Age of Sail' and 'Crow' Make Audience Inroads

    Virtual reality has been making inroads in the entertainment business for several years, but 2018 has been an especially big one for animated projects. This year, there are at least two VR-animated shorts vying for Oscar nominations: Google Spotlight Stories’ “Age of Sail” and Baobab Studios’ “Crow: The Legend.” Disney has created its first VR [...]

  • Thomas Vinterberg Kursk

    Les Arcs Festival Launches Talent Village Under Thomas Vinterberg's Patronage

    Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, Les Arcs Industry Village is launching the Talent Village, a new development workshop and platform for emerging talents which will be under the patronage of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (“The Hunt”). Kicking off on Dec. 12 and hosted at the Cinéfabrique Film school in Lyon, the workshop will take place [...]

  • Helena Bonham Carter, Kiefer Sutherland in

    Helena Bonham Carter, Kiefer Sutherland in New 'Call of Duty' Zombies DLC

    “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s” latest zombie addition delivers players to a 1912 manor where they take on the roles of characters voiced by Helena Bonham Carter, Kiefer Sutherland, Charles Dance, and Brian Blessed. “Dead of the Night” is set at Rhodes Manor, a palatial estate in the English countryside, in the year 1912. Dozens of [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio Sam Elliott Elsie Fisher

    Yalitza Aparicio, Sam Elliott, Elsie Fisher Selected for Santa Barbara Festival Honor

    “Roma” actress Yalitza Aparicio, Sam Elliott of “A Star Is Born,” and “Eighth Grade” star Elsie Fisher are among the eight actors named by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival as its Virtuosos Award recipients. The festival gives the honor for performances in film that have elevated actors into the national cinematic dialogue. Related Kumail [...]

  • Steven Soderbergh Panama Papers

    Slamdance Festival Selects Steven Soderbergh for Founders Award

    The Slamdance Film Festival has selected Steven Soderbergh for its 2019 Founders Award. The award, first presented in 2015 to Christopher Nolan, is given to a Slamdance alumnus who has represented the Slamdance organization and supported the filmmaker community of Slamdance. It was awarded earlier this year to Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Infinity War”). [...]

  • 'Black Panther's' Danai Gurira Reflects on

    'Black Panther's' Danai Gurira Reflects on Her Red Carpet Fashion Choices

    When it comes to style, “Black Panther” star Danai Gurira is constantly learning. “This is a whole other art form,” says Gurira, who donned a tribal-inspired uniform, head tattoo and red lipstick as head bodyguard, Okoye. “Okoye had a strength and femininity and a pride — pride in her people and her culture. … She [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content