There was a point, perhaps sometimes in the mid-Noughties, when it seemed that barely a week would go by without a new rom-com vying for our affections (and our cash). Jennifer Aniston would star opposite a string of increasingly generic leading men who definitely didn’t deserve her and her comic timing, while Hugh Grant played the same bemused, middle class British chap approximately 327 times (surprisingly, these two never actually starred opposite one another). On screen, airports became the perfect backdrops for romantic reconciliations, glamorous alter egos were remarkably easy to fabricate (Maid in Manhattan, anyone?) or to hide (see literally every movie featuring a secret prince or princess), and women exclusively worked as journalists for generic magazines aimed at other women (as exemplified in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days). Then, after a slew of derivative titles that (to paraphrase a lacklustre SJP/Matthew McConaughey offering from 2006) failed to launch, the romantic comedy seemed to die out entirely.
Much like the dinosaurs, there are plenty of possible theories to account for the rom-com’s extinction. The films tended towards a repetitive formula (but that same charge could be levelled at Marvel movies, and they seem to be doing just fine). Studios didn’t want to put money behind anything other than big franchises that were guaranteed to fill seats - and they seemed unwilling to appeal to female film-goers (who remain, ironically, the biggest yet least served market in cinema-going) . But, perhaps most importantly, rom-coms weren’t representative - they were exclusively populated by wealthy, white heteronormative couples – and they seemed to have stopped taking their audience seriously. Now, after a decade or so’s hiatus, the genre appears to be making a tentative return – and, in the classic tradition, it’s had a makeover.
It’s more diverse – see Crazy Rich Asians, which has already smashed box office records upon its release in America, and Oscar-nominated The Big Sick – although, as with the rest of Hollywood’s output, there’s still plenty of work to be done there. It’s playfully self-referential, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s got the Netflix seal of approval (the streaming site is driving the rom-com boom with word-of-mouth hits like Set It Up and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before) and, crucially, its heart is back in the right place. As Crazy Rich Asians makes its much-anticipated arrival in UK cinemas, these are some of our favourite next gen rom-coms.
Set It Up
Ah, the set up. A classic rom-com trope that just never seems to actually happen, let alone succeed, in real life (unless you're Meghan Markle and Prince Harry). In Netflix's Set It Up, two over-worked and under-paid assistants (played by Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) scheme to bring their respective bosses together, in the hope that they'll finally have time to focus on their own personal lives. With a fast-talking, screwball-esque script and a (minor spoiler) two-for-the-price-of-one romance plot, it cleverly races through all your favourite rom-com set pieces (there's even an airport declaration…) while still feeling fresh and endearing.
Streaming on Netflix
The Big Sick
Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in and out of love, girl develops rare and vicious auto-immune disease and falls into a coma. It's a rom-com of sorts, but last year's sleeper hit The Big Sick is so charming (and mercifully free from Hallmark card schmaltz) that it'll win over the coldest of cold-hearted of cynics. Co-written by husband and wife duo Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, it's a memorable and moving rendition of their real-life romance (with Zoe Kazan standing in for Emily on screen) that'll probably-definitely make you cry (but in, you know, a happy sort of way). Extra rom-com points for the Hugh Grant references that keep cropping up, too.
Streaming on Amazon
To All The Boys I've Loved Before
So you consider yourself an emotionally mature, well-adjusted adult? We can guarantee that To All The Boys I've Loved Before, a Netflix original movie based on a hit Young Adult novel, will reduce you to a quivering wreck (or at the very least, it'll warm your cold, cynical heart considerably). Studious Lara Jean (Lana Condor) finds her school life turned upside down when her younger sister decides to mail the love letters she has written to her unrequited crushes, including the Internet's new favourite fake boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo).
Streaming on Netflix
Crazy Rich Asians
It has a winning, ridiculously cinegenic leading couple, swathes of memorable supporting characters and plenty of brilliant one-liners, but Crazy Rich Asians isn't just a near-perfect rom-com: it's a cinematic milestone. The first major Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast since 1993's The Joy Luck Club, it's an important step for on screen representation. Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, it follows college professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she travels to Singapore to meet the family of her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding) – who just happen to be one of the richest dynasties in Asia, with very specific ideas about who Nick should and shouldn't be with. There's plenty of designer labels and conspicuous spending, yes, but plenty of heart, too.
Out in UK cinemas now
Who better to ride the wave of the rom-com revival than Jennifer Lopez? No one, that's who. Second Act won't be released in the UK until late November, but judging from its trailer, it apparently boasts all the component parts of our favourite guilty pleasure films from the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties. Lopez plays a woman who, frustrated by her dead-end job, blags her way into the corner office of a prestigious law firm with the help of a Photoshopped degree certificate and a faked LinkedIn profile: think Working Girl meets J.Lo's own Maid In Manhattan, with a supporting cast of High School Musical and Gilmore Girls stars.
Released in the UK on 30th November
She's since shown herself to be remarkably versatile as both an actress and a producer, but we first fell for Reese Witherspoon in her Noughties rom-com days, so it's a delight to see her return to those roots in Home Again. It's not the most original or challenging of the films on this list, with a plot that's very much a series of first world problems – Reese's Alice is newly separated and decides to move three attractive twenty-something filmmakers, all of whom are vaguely in love with her, into her palatial California home, but her ex-husband is still vaguely in love with her too! Thanks to Reese's charm offensive and the ridiculously plush interiors, though (Home Again's director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is the daughter of Nancy 'The Holiday' Myers, and it shows) Home Again is a perfect hangover watch.
Streaming on Netflix
Yes, it's another high school romance, but much like Crazy Rich Asians, Love, Simon is also a representation milestone in its own right: it's the first major studio film to focus on a gay teen romance (the genre doesn't exactly have a great track record when it comes to representing anything other than heteronormative relationships, after all, and the few LGBTQ characters are often little more than problematic stereotypes brought to life). Simon (Nick Robinson) is popular and well-liked at school, but he's also hiding his sexuality from his friends. An online relationship with an anonymous classmate seems like it'll provide solace, but it might also make his 'secret' more difficult to keep. Think of it as a glossy, more inclusive John Hughes movie for the 21st century.
Streaming on Amazon Video and Google Play
Jennifer Aniston, it’s your move: here's hoping that the genre's undisputed Queen makes her triumphant return to the throne some time soon (we'd be ready to provide a spec script, if necessary)...