Are Romantic Comedies Obsolete?

Are Romantic Comedies Obsolete (2)According to The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, “the romantic comedy has fallen on hard times,” and so the genre is making less money at the box office than in previous years. Part of the problem, he argues, is that the plots of these movies, which are often dependent on an “obstacle to nuptial bliss,” are irrelevant in our modern world. The same would be true of “chick lit” novels — if his assumption had any truth to it.

I have no opinion on the quality of cinematic romantic comedies overall, but as a woman in my early thirties who has read a fair number of so-called “chick lit” novels, I question Orr’s assertion (which was not just related to specific movies) that there are fewer obstacles to happy relationships on which writers may build believable plots. He claims:

Among the most fundamental obligations of romantic comedy is that there must be an obstacle to nuptial bliss for the budding couple to overcome. And, put simply, such obstacles are getting harder and harder to come by. They used to lie thick on the ground: parental disapproval, difference in social class, a promise made to another. But society has spent decades busily uprooting any impediment to the marriage of true minds. Love is increasingly presumed—perhaps in Hollywood most of all—to transcend class, profession, faith, age, race, gender, and (on occasion) marital status.

(Emphasis added.) With all the progress Orr believes we have made to “uproot[] any impediment to the marriage of true minds,” he presumes that the only obstacles to romantic attachment that remain are too serious for “feel good” movies: “illness, war, injury, [and] imprisonment.”

In my view, there are far more “impediments” to today’s lovebirds than Orr seems to realize. Orr bases his argument on only a small subsection of Western culture, the portion with the most progressive attitudes on marriage and long-term relationships, and perhaps the people with whom Hollywood is the most infatuated (and possibly the reason why Orr’s argument is so limited).

What about families that still practice arranged marriages (such as in Courting Samira)? In my South Asian-American cultural background, parental disapproval would be fatal to many “love matches.”  What about wealthy families that control their children’s lives through the promise of inheritance (such as in Sweet Tea and Secrets)? What about families and communities that discriminate against same-sex relationships? Let’s not forget that, in many states, same-sex partners who love each other face the ultimate impediment to marriage: illegality.

The list of challenges to love and marriage goes on and on, and we can see many examples in romantic comedy novels and even in case law. To the extent Hollywood fails to recognize it, shame on them. If love were as simple in the modern age as Orr suggests, then modern life would be a whole lot easier.

36 thoughts on “Are Romantic Comedies Obsolete?

  1. I love this post! Why does everyone want to hate on romance all the time? I mean, sure, some of it is cheesy, but there’s a lot of good “chick lit” that gets overlooked. As far as movies go, I am a little pickier, but I still love to see love win. I’m a softie that way.

    1. Thanks, Katie! For some reason, Google seems to be taking people to this old post. It’s fun to revisit the archives, isn’t it? I love a good romantic comedy every now and then, but I’m pretty picky about it too.

      I hope you had a wonderful holiday! Happy New Year!

  2. I love this post. I definitely agree with you that there are more obstacles nowadays, though different types of the ones that there used to be in literature. Times have changed, but it would be a mistake to stay that the obstacles have decreased because of our more universal outlook on life.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned arranged marriages. In my main, alternate-world novel, the two protagonists have come together due to the arrangements of their family, though class and status are still one of the beginning of their obstacles. In the Western world, we tend to forget that some cultures still face these issues.

    In my WIP, I use mental illness as an obstacle – this is definitely something that’s more common to a modern society, alarmingly so, at times. But also, in think in romances and chick lits, people expect that love comes first beyond other issues. Moral obstacles are pushed aside more than would be in real life. True, we probably have a more secular society now, but when characters are portrayed as religious, there will be an impediment through their own thoughts.

    I don’t think romantic comedies are obsolete. The romantic part lives on, as we have said, and, though I don’t read much of the comedy part, everybody needs a lighter side to love at times. I don’t think there will come a time when rom-coms die out; even when styles change over generations, the theme itself is grand.

    (Gee, that was a longer comment than I intended- sorry! I’m having trouble ‘liking’ posts at the moment, but I do like this, even if I haven’t physically!)

    1. Hi Alexandrina! I’m revisiting the archives (well, when the stats point out which posts are being read today), and I just noticed that I never replied to your comment. Sorry about that. It’s so interesting to hear about your WIP. I hope you’ve made lots of progress on it!

  3. theromcomdiaries

    I found your post very interesting! I have put it as a related link for my latest post on my new blog, The Rom Com Diaries! Interestingly my blog wants to show how rom coms can still be relevant. Let me know what you think!

  4. Pingback: What is it about romantic comedy movies that draws people in? | The Rom Com Diaries

    1. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook because it was filmed in the Philadelphia area (I love movies and books connected to Philly). I’ve heard wonderful things about it, and I’m sure I’ll rent in eventually.

  5. Pingback: February’s monthly roundup | Mystic Cooking

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Donna! Maybe someday I will. I have a full draft of a contemporary fiction/women’s fiction novel, but I wouldn’t quite call it “comedy.”

  6. I think if we’re expecting any good romantic comedies out of Hollywood we’ll be more often disappointed than not. I don’t think they know how to make good movies for the most part anymore. It can be done, it just can’t be done with cookie cutter plots. And I agree with your sentiments, there are still areas that can be explored that Hollywood-ites in their McMansions probably would never consider unless they stepped out of their bubble and got out in the real world. Of course, this is just my opinion on movies. I’m no expert on the romantic comedy books, but I’d like to think the same thing applies.

    1. Hi Jae! I see the occasional romantic comedy movie, but I’m not as familiar with the field as I used to be (I see animated films mostly these days). Orr could be right that Hollywood hasn’t found compelling romantic stories to tell, but his overarching assertion about “obstacles to nuptial bliss” is just wrong.

  7. I like your ideas for romantic comedies in the modern era. I don’t watch many romantic comedies at the moment, but I would likely watch them if more creative plots and characters were involved.

    1. I watch romantic comedies on occasion, but most of the movies I see are animated these days (thanks to the kiddos!). I’m not a big movie watcher, though. I much prefer to read a book.

  8. My husband is constantly remind me that life is not a Nora Roberts novel. I used to read a lot of chick lit, but after I met my husband I just got mad at the women in the books and it wasn’t fun anymore. But there will always be a new crop of single ladies 🙂

    1. Yeah, I read more chick lit when I was younger. So many of the novels use the fear of turning thirty as a motivational factor for the protagonist. That doesn’t work as well for a reader who has already passed that “hurdle” (and found that it wasn’t really a big deal).

  9. What about the romantic love triangle? That one seems to never die, no matter how far into the future we get. And even if your attitude to that is, “The more, the merrier”, there still seems to be that pressing issue of which of the two males/females is the subject’s “real” love.
    –JW

  10. I just read about Orr’s article this morning, too, and I definitely agree with you – there are still plenty of obstacles to draw on. Not only that, but it seems like even if external obstacles are taken away, there are always internal obstacles to overcome as well, such as baggage from previous relationships, self doubt, etc. I have seen my fair share of terrible rom-coms with extremely shallow characters and totally contrived plots, but there are still good ones out there, ones that explore character depth and discovery and actually feel real.

    1. I like the distinction you draw between external and internal obstacles. It’s the internal obstacles that make Rainbow Rowell’s “Attachments” so appealing (that Lincoln’s job makes him feel like creep and hinders his ability to ask his love interest out). It amazes me that anyone would say that romantic conflict just isn’t a strong enough plot these days–if only love were so easy!

        1. True, but maybe I haven’t reached that point yet! Part of the issue is that I’m not in a rush to publish. Writing is a fun hobby. I enjoy tweaking my story, putting it away, and then returning to it.

  11. When Meg Ryan stopped making romcom movies, I stopped watching them.

    Just kidding. ;/ But will we ever see /When Harry Meets Sally/ again? Or /You’re Got Mail/?

    Still kidding!

    I recently read Attachments by Rainbow Powell and really enjoyed it. I don’t think romcom will ever die. It will simply become more clever and insightful.

    1. Well, there’s the “Jane Austen Bookclub”! 🙂

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Rainbow Rowell’s “Attachments.” I thought Lincoln was adorable. He reminded me so much of my husband (similar physical description, interest in computers, and good nature)!

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