Palpable and undeniable chemistry, long witty banter, brazen declarations of love, and unlikely pairings followed by actions laced with infinite empathy are just a few of the key pieces that embody the essence of a romantic comedy to me. Characters who seem emotionally incomplete without the affections of their person of interest — a habitually regressive trope that can seem rather fluffy in our recent era of heralding self-love, which is by the way also important and its about damn time — gets me every time. As I tell all my friends while planning my weddings with every guy who has ever returned a pen that I unknowingly dropped or held a door for me for an extended time, I can’t help it — I love LOVE.
My love of the genre can be traced back to my tween years in Nigeria as a fairly socially awkward schoolgirl. Being African, but specifically Nigerian, it was, and still is, rather bizarre to not be as abrasive and unabashedly confident as every other person you come across on a daily basis. So you can imagine how I stuck out like a sore thumb with my reserved nature and tendency to only speak when I needed to — a rare phenomenon back home. Instead, I used coming-of-age romance novels and the occasional Mills & Boon-esque books lent to me by my aunt — as inappropriate as that may sound — to escape into a world of stories that only I could imagine myself in. They ranged from summer love pieces and stories of best friends who unknowingly had feelings for each other, to fantasy stories about a princess recently hiring a stable boy who somehow constantly misplaced his shirt and needed her to keep him warm. I know, I know. But I went to an all-girls high school, so what we lacked in everyday interactions, we sought elsewhere. The whole romance thing fascinated me and I craved to understand and interrogate the nuances and intricacies of love.
The romantic comedy is as important a genre as any other, including science fiction, drama, and action. But, over the years, it has been afforded less cultural legitimacy than its counterparts. Romantic comedies are regularly degraded in favour of stories that highlight more heavy-handed topics. Though these lighthearted stories are equally as important, this stigma deprives the genre’s most ardent followers of the opportunity to be as openly self-indulgent about depictions of everyday romance as, for instance, Star Wars stans. Why should we diminish our declarations of love for one genre over another when, rather, we should be able to embrace them all without shame? Romantic comedies allow their audiences to delve into stories that touch on everyday human connections and the complexities of our interactions. Though it may be considered predictable or cheesy, there is a comfort in knowing what to expect, something that real life regularly fails to give us.
Nevertheless, the current sociopolitical climate has forced us to look at our most relished romantic comedies and re-evaluate what should be considered problematic. The recent box office successes of Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Warner Bros. Pictures’ Crazy Rich Asians sent messages to Hollywood about the lack of diversity in our most adored romantic comedies and that inclusive movies can be just as successful. The audience, including myself, craves representation on-screen. I grew up watching romantic comedies that mostly featured people who didn’t look like me, and that is a problem. Love and Basketball, The Best Man, and Think Like a Man stand out as some of the few features that encapsulated Black love on screen for me.
Having matured and experienced adult romantic connections, romantic comedies mean all the more to me now. Now, they are a reflection of lived realities, more meaningful than they were in past times of preferred realities. But I am now able to embrace myself, along with my awkwardness and its complexities, and forge my own stories outside of what I see in film. Romantic comedies served as an escape for a younger me to imagine a reality outside of my immediate world, and they are still just as significant to me now.
So yet again, it’s important to recognize that romantic movies are as important as the umpteenth period drama in the cinemas every year. Love is essential and even more special because it can be redefined in so many funny ways. Dismissing the quintessential plot of two unlikely individuals falling in love with each other in spite of themselves robs you of the comforts of revelling in the most basic of human connections. And that should be considered a crime in itself.
Need a hand getting started? Here is a list of my most loved romantic comedies, in no particular order — don’t make me do what I cannot do!
Also, the ’90s had the best romantic comedies, don’t deny it!
- When Harry Met Sally…
- Notting Hill
- My Best Friend’s Wedding
- The Proposal
- Silver Linings Playbook
- Jerry Maguire
- Crazy, Stupid, Love