How to make Rom-Coms great again
February 1, 2023
It’s Valentine’s Day and you want to watch a rom-com. There are plenty of tried-and-true classics like Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but there are also even more tired-and-dull rom-coms too (My Best Friend’s Girl anyone?). Somewhere along the way the rom-com that was the highlight of ‘80s and ‘90s cinema has been replaced with bromance and girl power comedies. There are some new ones (Set it Up, Always Be My Maybe) but they don’t quite have the same feeling or staying power as the ones we return to time again, like When Harry Met Sally or My Best Friend’s Wedding. It kinda makes you want to write a rom-com yourself, right? Or at least welcome a rom-com resurgence. If so, here are some ideas on how to make rom-coms great again.
Bring back the intelligent male lead
Clarke Gable, Richard Gere, Tom Hanks. Somewhere along the way the rom-com ditched the marquee male lead for a funny guy, and that schtick just doesn’t feel all that romantic. Sure, we had Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally or Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer but those should’ve been the exception and not the rule. Then we got Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, and all hell broke loose. Suddenly the male lead had to be funny and silly over charming and intelligent, and instead of George Clooney we got Dane Cook.
What made the great rom-coms, like When Harry Met Sally or The Wedding Singer, truly funny was that the character’s humor was baked into the plot of the film – it wasn’t the plot. The character’s humor also didn’t replace the rom-com’s most important ingredient of them all: chemistry. Going for the joke time and again or doing constant bits should never replace why these two people belong together. This goes for all sorts of couple configurations whether it's guy meets girl or guy meets guy or girl meets girl. Basically, we need a strong lead who we truly believe will sweep our other lead off her/their feet – not trip them down a flight of stairs.
Remember these movies are for women
It’s a fact: women are the target audience for a romantic comedy. This means the story should be about the female lead and have the story told from her perspective. Warning: this needn’t be trope-y with the female character having a “damsel in distress” complex either. What it means is that the female character has a unique point of view with her own set of flaws, hopes, and dreams. That being said, this is a romantic comedy and audiences watch them for a specific reason – they want to fall in love with the character and her love story, a.k.a. we don't need a romantic comedy to have “a strong message.” We don’t need to prove that a woman is fine on her own without love. Audiences are well aware that these stories aren’t real – give them what they came to watch: a woman falling in love with someone else in spite of herself and/or the obstacles between her and her beloved.
Don’t forget about the kiss
Remember restraint? Remember the hotness of sexual tension - without the sex? This was the beauty of the classic ‘90s rom-coms, like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping. The same goes for classic films like It Happened One Night or The Philadelphia Story. It wasn’t about jumping into bed right away or crazy sexcapades. The build-up was in that ‘will they or won’t they?’ first kiss and it was still very hot, and more importantly, romantic. Writing the first kiss can be a fun exercise – where do you place it? Is it during the climax? Break into two? Or do you wait until the very end? Getting creative with the first kiss will be well worth the wait and payoff.
Write the truth
Nothing’s sexier than the truth. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when writing the rom-com or come up with another outlandish scenario or follow a boring, cliched formula – simply write the story from your heart. What’s your truth when it comes to love? What’s been your experience? What does falling in love look like to you? Writing your personal story, along with all of its idiosyncrasies, is what will resonate with the masses. The most truthful stories are the most universal. You don’t need to write a “running to the airport” sequence or “kissing in the rain” scene to connect to an audience. Instead think personal and real.
Ditch the streamers
Ditch the streamers and let the rom-com live where it truly belongs: on the big screen. Is this financially sound advice in the current media landscape? Maybe not. But I’m a firm believer that rom-coms have lost their charm partially because they now feel smaller and more generic, and – groan – algorithmic. Recent attempts like I Want You Back or Set it Up or Something from Tiffany’s (I could go on) watch like slightly better TV movies. They don’t feel as exciting or as grand as when we witnessed Notting Hill or 10 Things I Hate About You in the movie theater for the first time. These new rom-coms simply don’t pull at your heart strings the same way when we’re reduced to only watching them via our laptops or TV screens, or (yuck) phones. So write them big and grandiose, and fingers crossed that they make it to a theater near you and not a TV screen.
Written by: Brianne HoganBrianne Hogan is a freelance writer currently based in Prince Edward Island. A film studies graduate from NYU, her byline's been featured in Creative Screenwriting, ScreenCraft, The Huffington Post, among others. "Jurassic Park" is unashamedly her favorite movie (at this moment). You can follow Brianne on Twitter via @briannehogan