The one thing all romantic comedies have in common? They celebrate the two things everyone wants in life—rom and com, of course. To honor that, we’re devoting a whole week to the genre. More on the rom-coms we love, past and present, here.
We’ve all been there: It’s Friday night, and you’re curled up on the couch, ready to watch Sweet Home Alabama (2002) for the hundredth time. You’re fully prepared to bawl during the last 20 minutes of the film, when Reese Witherspoon and Josh Lucas kiss in the rain. It’s cathartic. That’s what romantic comedies are for, after all: They allow us to shamelessly indulge in the hope and beauty of love.
But more often than not, the love depicted in rom-coms isn’t realistic. Sometimes, it’s downright unhealthy. Think about the questionable plots of Never Been Kissed (1999) and 50 First Dates (2004), or some of Bridget Jones’s relationships. Of course, the plots and characters of romantic comedies aren’t the end-all, be-all of love, but they could do a better job at being more well-rounded.
“Rom-coms, by their very nature, give an overblown and distorted view of how love and life really is, at one moment exaggerating the happily ever after and at the next overblowing the heartache,” psychodynamic therapist Claire McRitchie tells Glamour. “They have to do this, of course; it’s how they make their money. However, their message can sometimes be distorted and what is meant as lighthearted entertainment becomes a blueprint for how romance or love should be.”
Thankfully, there are a few rom-coms that don’t do this and actually paint a practical portrayal of romance. Glamour spoke to seven psychologists and relationship experts about romantic comedies that actually display healthy connections. Read on to see what movies made the cut—and why.
Before Sunrise (1995)
“It’s like watching attraction catch fire in slow motion—and the attraction is multi-faceted. They listen to each other, they make each other laugh, they learn about each other,” she tells Glamour. “The chemistry is palpable and yet it’s not all about physical attraction, and it all takes place practically in real time over the course of an evening.”
For Dr. Bonoir, this on-screen representation of romance is both accurate and dreamy. She notes that, in particular, it’s not the relationship itself that’s meant to be idolized, but how the love interests meet. It’s the active listening, respect, and attention paid to each other that’s so unusual and highly appreciated.
“They build off of what each other is saying,” she says. “They meet each other’s vulnerability with respect and care. They entrust each other with aspects of themselves. They show attentive body language. They prioritize each other’s feelings and preferences. They ask good questions of each other and truly listen to the answers.”
Groundhog Day (1993), While You Were Sleeping (1995), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), and Love, Simon (2018)
For Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge, Groundhog Day, While You Were Sleeping, Something’s Gotta Give, and Love, Simon all check out.
“[Groundhog Day] centers on the transformation of Bill Murray’s character from a self-focused and smug newscaster into someone who emerges as both lovable and admirable. This reinforces the importance of internal values over looks and other superficial attributes,” she explains.
Adds McRitchie, “On the surface, [Groundhog Day] might not look like your average run-of-the-mill rom-com, as it centers mainly on the male character and the changes he must make in life to be ‘worthy’ of the love of the woman he wants. Years later, it does not surprise me to realize that it is perhaps the closest a movie can come to encapsulating the therapy process: if you want change to happen, you have to be that change. There is no magic romance fairy waiting to wave her wand.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Rutledge says While You Were Sleeping, with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman, “also underscores the importance of values—humor, family, kindness—over superficial attractions with superb acting from the ensemble cast.” (It should be noted, though, that Bullock’s character in While You Were Sleeping does display some aspects of an unhealthy obsession. She lies about being the fiancée of a man in a coma, and the plot of the film snowballs from there.)
According to Dr. Rutledge, the famed Diane Keaton-Keanu Reeves film Something’s Gotta Give works because there’s an accomplished female character at the center of it. She also gives a final nod to Love, Simon as an example of a love-focused film with good intentions. “While this really is a YA movie about a high school student who comes out to his family and friends, the real benefit of this movie is the modeling of love and acceptance the parents show Simon when they learn he is gay, and the connection that Simon has with his best friend. It speaks to the importance of our social support as we go through life and love,” she says.
While the nineties may claim some of the most prominent romantic comedies ever made, behavioral scientist and relationship coach Clarissa Silva says the 2005 movie Hitch is one of her favorites. The film, which stars Will Smith alongside Kevin James and Eva Mendes, centers around a matchmaker who finds himself struggling to prove himself to a woman he’s suddenly fallen for.
“In today’s digitally dependent world where making connections is harder than previous generations, I love that Hitch creates its own solutions to address love for two characters,” Silva explains to Glamour. “Seldom do we see the high achiever, quiet, nerd type who is always overlooked (James’s Albert) pair up with someone he has idealized (Allegra, played by Amber Valletta). Conversely, the scam artist (Smith’s Hitch) falls in love with the woman who is out to expose his manipulative scams (Mendes’s Sara).”
Benny and Joon (1993), and Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
According to licensed marriage and family therapist and sexologist Nicoletta von Heidegger, the movies Benny and Joon and Zack and Miri Make a Porno are each good examples of romantic comedies that step outside the usual tropes.
“Benny and Joon is a crucial portrayal that folks of all ability levels and neurocognitive functioning experience desire and are pleasurable,” she tells Glamour. “Zack and Miri is a reminder that sex work is A-OK and that sex can and should include humor.”
The Holiday (2005)
“It took me a while to think of a romantic comedy that actually depicts aspects of a healthy relationship—so many of them show problematic aspects, manipulation, and control,” sex and relationship coach Ashley Manta tells Glamour. “[But] one that comes to mind is The Holiday (2006), starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black.”
According to Manta, the interactions between these characters and their respective love interests is a refreshing change of pace from other rom-coms. For example, Diaz’s character is upfront and honest about her lack of desire for a relationship, and Law’s character is mostly open about his past and current life as a single dad. “It’s not a perfectly, healthy relationship, but it does model communication and sweetness and setting boundaries,” she explains.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Licensed marriage, family, and sex therapist Rachel Wright says When Harry Met Sally, for the most part, portrays a realistic relationship.
“Not everything they do in the movie is healthy, but the natural way that the relationship evolves, the honesty between them, and their openness with each other are all indicators of a healthy, long-term relationship,” Wright tells Glamour.
Wright says When Harry Met Sally builds the central relationship on a foundation of friendship: “They interact really honestly, which makes the likelihood of their relationship lasting a long time much higher than going off of just lust and infatuation and hoping it stays around.”
Marilyn La Jeunesse is a writer based in New York.
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