It’s About Time: The Romcom Is Finally Making A Comeback

JLo, Reese and Julia Roberts are all back with new romantic comedies - and we couldn't be happier

Jlo Marry Me

by Helen O'Hara |
Published on

it feels like an age since we last saw big, A-list stars making romantic comedies – but the genre is stirring again. The trailer just dropped for JLo's latest 'wealth gap' romcom (following in the footsteps of Maid in Manhattan), Marry Me with Owen Wilson looks like a return to the singer's noughties romcom heyday. Julia Roberts, romcom queen of the ’90s, is currently shooting Ticket To Paradise, which is due out next autumn, with George Clooney in Australia. Meanwhile, Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher are filming Your Place Or Mine, which was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who also penned The Devil Wears Prada and 27 Dresses, and is pegged for release next year. These stars haven’t made an honest-to- goodness romcom in a decade or more. So why was the genre dead on the big screen and who brought it back?

Like Murder On The Orient Express, multiple killers conspired against the romcom. First: money. A romcom with A-list stars might cost $40-$80m, and that is risky: too expensive to write off if the film flops, too cheap to bring in a billion dollars worldwide. Worse, there’s always been a snootiness about romcoms. As with most art and literature made by or for women, critics and male viewers often sneer at the genre and stars seemed embarrassed by it. Attitudes also turned against troubling romcom behaviour. Films from the ’80s, ’90s and noughties featured what may now be considered stalking, with one party loudly proclaiming disinterest and the other pursuing them. See You’ve Got Mail and even Groundhog Day. While on screen there’s a tacit understanding that this love is ‘destined’, seeing it through the lens of 2021 can make for uncomfortable viewing.

In an attempt to shake things up, in the ’00s, Hollywood experimented with romcoms for men. Wedding Crashers and Knocked Up, with coarser humour and bigger male stars, had a real moment, in a sub-genre that Adam Sandler is still mining. But these bromances struggled to deliver both gross-out humour and romance. Many got the balance wrong and satisfied no one. Meanwhile, female stars found that, after Bridesmaids, there were opportunities to make female-led comedies without a romantic element.

Romcom fans were out of luck until Netflix’s algorithms spotted the gap. Much of the current rebirth is down to the streaming service. Reese’s film will premiere on the channel, as will Boxing Day, following in the footsteps of the recent offering Love Hard, and last year's Falling Inn Love and The Knight Before Christmas.

The success of Netflix’s teen romcom franchises To All The Boys I Loved Before and The Kissing Booth confirmed that people love love. They’re now betting that it’s worth paying for big names to bring their charisma and attractiveness to bear on the genre. Bigger studios and other streaming services have also dipped back in, slowly diversifying the romcom beyond straight couples with efforts such as Love Simon (Disney+) and Happiest Season (Sky) and experimenting with genre crossovers, like Palm Springs and The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things (both Amazon).

It’s about time. After 18 months of bad news, the optimism of romcoms is what we need. They may not save the world, but they make it look a little rosier for a few hours, and that can only help.

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