Rom-coms: Then versus now


Anna Kim

Rom-coms are a classic Valentine’s Day staple!

I used to hate watching rom-coms. I would think to myself, “I already know what is going to happen so what is the point?” Anat Goldstein ’24 agreed with this sentiment when she voiced her opinion that “no one ever watched [rom-coms] for their plots.” I definitely see where that comes from. However, I began to watch more rom-coms to escape the stresses of my life and to procrastinate my boatload of homework. As I continued to consume rom-com after rom-com, I started noticing differences that make each movie what it is. These differences unveiled a line between rom-coms that were made in the past five years and rom-coms made two to three decades ago. Some of the differences are just differences: they don’t have any negative aspects. Some differences, on the other hand, can dissuade you from watching a movie completely.

In the right circumstances, the rom-com genre is thought of as a comforting one. Goldstein ’24 also mentioned how she “definitely [watches] rom-coms as a form of escapism.” Many 90s and early 2000s rom-coms are based on a classic story. Some examples of these retellings are She’s The Man, which is a retelling of Twelfth Night by Shakespeare; Clueless, which is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma; and 10 Things I Hate About You, which is based on Taming of the Shrew also by Shakespeare. While some retellings are more faithful to the original than others, they can quickly become a favorite comfort movie because the audience already knows what is coming.

Regardless of whether it was based on another story or not, every rom-com, no matter the decade, follows a similar plot. The first section of the movie is dedicated to warming up to the love interest; next, they kiss; then, they break up over a miscommunication or a mistake; and in the end, they forgive each other and get their happy ending. Newer movies are more commonly adapted from recent novels; sometimes, they are stories completely original to the movie, but all of them follow something along the lines of that storyline. For example, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, adapted from Jenny Han’s novel of the same name, or Set It Up, which has an original plot (well, as original as a rom-com gets).

Despite the old rom-coms’ popularity, I saw some negative aspects. Take Clueless, for example. Clueless is arguably one of the most famous rom-coms of all time, but I have no doubt when I say that the “com” half of this romantic comedy would not fly if the movie were made today. The norms surrounding comedy and romance have changed drastically throughout the past decades, and the differences in both the romantic and comedic parts of these movies are jarring and sometimes offensive. Although the comedic language is expected to differ depending on the era, it caught me off-guard how inappropriate some jokes in movies like Clueless were. Yet, the movie is still seen as a classic.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was a lull in the love for rom-coms. Gen-Z is known to be progressive on every front and I would argue that this is the reason for the lull. The rom-coms did not match the generation. Newer rom-coms, like Love, Simon and Always be My Maybe, break the pattern of straight or white main characters that have been so common in rom-coms since they began. Movies like these push the boundaries of rom-coms that used to be so strict, and pave the way for a new wave of rom-coms with more freedom, and appeal more to newer generations.

Some people could argue that rom-coms set unrealistic expectations, thus preventing the person watching from having their own love story. I will not disagree with this attitude. After watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I do have a little voice in my head telling me to send a letter to all the people I have ever had a crush on just because there is a chance my life might end up like Lara Jean’s. I could do it, but the logical voice in my head says that most likely it will just end up with public humiliation. These are the unrealistic expectations I am talking about. I will continue to watch rom-coms, living vicariously through the characters, and I will continue to get second-hand embarrassment from the main characters’ iffy decisions. But I will keep the differences between the old and the new in mind when I am scrolling through Netflix. My affinity towards different rom-coms might change depending on the day, but now there is a way to narrow down the search when I need something to watch.

Need Some Suggestions? In a very specific order, here are some of my favorites!

“10 Things I Hate About You” (1999):
Kat Stratford is not looking to please anyone, and most of the people at her school find her abrasive, but her sister, Bianca, is the exact opposite. Unfortunately for Bianca, their father’s rule about dating is simple: when Kat goes on a date, so can Bianca. Favors are called and money is passed around and soon enough, Kat crosses paths with Patrick Verona. Will Kat finally open up to someone? Or will she turn away as soon as things start to go sour?

“Always Be My Maybe”(2019)
Sasha Tran and Marcus Kim were childhood friends from San Francisco. Sasha’s parents left her home alone most nights, so she hung out with Marcus and his parents. They became extremely close, his mom especially because of their shared love of cooking. When Marcus’s mom dies, Sasha and Marcus have an argument and don’t talk for 15 Years. Now, Sasha is a world-famous chef who is opening a new restaurant in San Francisco. She asks her assistant to get someone to fix the air conditioning, and Marcus shows up with his father. There are definitely sparks, but do their different worlds pull them too far apart?

“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before”(2018):
Lara Jean is introverted. When she has a crush on a guy she pours her feelings into a love letter that she never intends to send. Suddenly all of her past crushes start approaching her about her supposedly unsent letters. So she does what the only logical thing to do is: Fake a relationship with one of them and end it when everyone gets off her back. Unless she doesn’t want it to end…(Fun Fact: This movie got 96% On Rotten Tomatoes!)