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"You don't want to be in love... you want to be in love in a movie."
—Becky, Sleepless in Seattle
A Romantic Comedy can be roughly defined as a comedy where the primary dramatic tension comes from a simple question: will the protagonist or protagonists find love? (The answer, by the way, is almost invariably "yes".) Other plot elements play roles, sometimes big roles, but generally, the work focuses on the love lives of the main characters.
Most of these feature two, roughly equal protagonists, with one of them slightly more roughly equal than the other. That's not written in stone, of course; Love Actually featured numerous characters and plot lines.
How does the average Romantic Comedy unfold? The story will start with an unusually good-looking man or woman (sometimes regarded as ugly) being dumped/divorced/widowed. His/her friends and family will urge him/her to find someone. They might even set the protagonist up on several dates. At some point, they will meet our unusually good-looking second protagonist (again, they may be "plain" in the movie's universe). Usually, this second character isn't an obvious match for the first; maybe she's wild and crazy and he's a CPA. Or he's rich and she's poor. There's a glorious rainbow of possibilities!
Love At First Sight is rare. The two characters will often spend a good part of the movie fighting their obvious attraction to each other. Eventually, they'll realize they're perfect for each other. Naturally, something will pop up; maybe a Three's Company kind of misunderstanding, or a revelation in the third act about one of them lying. One of the two characters will storm off in a huff (invariably resulting in an establishing shot or montage with sad music playing immediately after), the other chases after them and does something really romantic to win them back. The movie ends with the two characters (or more!) reunited in a romantic embrace. Maybe there'll even be a wedding montage in the credits.
Sometimes the writers add some Speculative Fiction elements to the mix (handily broadening the potential fanbase, incidentally). The woman might be an alien; the man might get a superpower. Most often, this merely produces hilarious complications, but it can also lead to a case of Everything but the Girl.
If the above sounds somewhat cynical, it's only because romantic comedies are very, very popular and have been around for a long time, dating back to the silent era. As such, there aren't a lot of new paths to beat in this genre. Even when a "RomCom" is done skillfully, it doesn't quite...pop like other works. The Romantic Comedy also tends to be a haven for lazy writers and studios looking for an easy buck, especially (if not primarily) from women, as the films often overlap with the Chick Flick genre, although originally the "comedy" part was added to hook the guys (or at least prevent them from being completely focused on their date's bra hook...)
Still, mocking the genre as completely worthless is probably unfair. Given a likable cast (note to directors: if you can get Hugh Grant for your comedy, do so) and a script with a little effort put into it, a Romantic Comedy can be light and fun. People like watching other people falling in love, and really, there's nothing wrong with that. This genre also seems to account for a large percentage of Meg Ryan's career (in addition to Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore, and Katherine Heigl).
- Films of the Screwball Comedy sub-genre of the 1930s were often these.
- Bringing Up Baby
- It Happened One Night
- My Man Godfrey
- His Girl Friday adds a curve in that the romantic protagonists are divorced as well as former boss and prize employee (editor and ace reporter).
- 1981's Arthur was an intentional throwback to these, and a very successful one.
- 1972's What's Up, Doc? was an earlier one.
- 1951's Singin in The Rain is an even earlier throwback, also very successful.
- Leatherheads was also a throwback. Except it didn't work too well.
- The Runaway Bride strays deep into screwball territory, although it is more serious in some respects than most - the protagonists' psychological hang-ups are explored and e. g. the father's drinking problem is not done for laughs.
- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a modern incarnation, but the threat of war on the horizon casts a shadow over all the gaiety.
- There are quite a few young adult books that follow this formula, Sarah Dessen's work being a good example. They usually are exactly like the countless movies in this genre, except that they take place in high school. Most of the common stereotypes of rom coms are translated into a high school setting, for example instead of them being not compatible the couple usually will be childhood friends, and usually the girl wants the most popular guy, but realizes she's in love with her best friend.
- Many of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals.
- Every bleeding Kevin James vehicle save Grown Ups.
- Some of Woody Allen's films, most famously Annie Hall. He's more prone to the Bittersweet Ending than most.
- Twenty Seven Dresses
- Forty Days and Forty Nights
- The 40-Year-Old Virgin
- 50 First Dates
- (500) Days of Summer is a Deconstruction of the genre.
- About a Boy
- Along Came Polly
- Amelie has many elements of the romantic comedy; probably it's not considered so by most people because it's a) foreign and b) so original in terms of not only its story but also its art direction and acting that it's hard to associate it with the romcom's reputation of formula.
- Anastasia might not be a Romantic Comedy exactly but it does have Meg Ryan voicing the lead who has a typically sparky Rom Com like relationship with the love interest Dimitri (John Cusack). Possibly the closest analogue in animation to this genre, though romantic subplots in contemporary Western animation often invoke its tropes (consider the Shrek films).
- Arashi no Yoru ni.
- Bride Wars
- Casanova (the 2005 film with Heath Ledger)
- Crazy Stupid Love
- Dirty Love
- Down With Love is a parody.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a Deconstruction of the genre.
- Forgetting Sarah Marshall At least one review for this movie referred to it as "A romantic comedy for guys"
- Friends With Benefits
- Going the Distance
- Good Advice
- Gray Matters
- How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: With Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, how could it go wrong?
- I Could Never Be Your Woman
- I Love You Phillip Morris is a romantic Dramedy.
- Imagine Me and You
- In The Good Old Summertime - The Shop Around the Corner re-imagined as a musical.
- I.Q. - Meg Ryan again, as Albert Einstein's (probably historically inaccurate) niece, with Tim Robbins as an auto mechanic who winds up with Uncle Albert (hilariously played by Walter Matthau) and his buddies trying to help him get her away from her stuffy psychologist fiance (played by Stephen Fry).
- Just Go with It
- Just Like Heaven
- The King 2 Hearts
- Kissing Jessica Stein
- Leap Year
- Love Actually: Multiple love stories going on around Christmastime in London. Stars Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, and some other people.
- Slightly unique in that a few of the couples didn't get together.
- Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez—is "Cinderella"-derived; she's poor, he's rich, obviously.
- Monte Carlo
- Morning Glory - It's mostly a comedy about Rachel McAdams working as the producer of a morning show, but it still gets categorized as a chick flick. Like I.Q., it's story is bigger than just the romance.
- Much Ado About Nothing: Old school Romantic Comedy.
- As is A Midsummer Night's Dream and several other Shakespeare plays.
- Indeed, Shakespeare's own life got fictionalized for Shakespeare in Love. Also, there's been a bunch of Recycled in Space variations on his romantic comedies in recent years:
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding
- No Strings Attached
- Notting Hill
- Haiyore! Nyarko-san is "love(craft) comedy that 'boy meets a devil'". Yeah, a parody of Cthulhu Mythos.
- Overnight Delivery
- Pretty Woman
- Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy start out acting contemptuously toward one another. Given the conventions of Romantic comedy, isn't the ultimate outcome of their relationship inevitable?
- The Prince and Me
- The Proposal
- Return To Me: David Duchovny plays Bob, an architect whose wife dies in a car crash. Minnie Driver plays Grace, who has a heart transplant early on. About a year later, Grace is waiting tables at her grandfather's restaurant when Bob shows up on an abysmal blind date. Bob and Grace click and all seems to be going well, until Grace finds out just who her heart donor was... Carroll O'Connor (yes, a.k.a. Archie Bunker) gives a solid supporting performance in his final role, playing Grace's kindly grandfather, who proves quite helpful to both parties.
- Runaway Bride
- Saving Face
- Serendipity. It was in fact marketed with this tag line: "Destiny with a sense of humor."
- The Shop Around the Corner
- Shaun of the Dead is a "romantic comedy with zombies". (A "Rom-Zom-Com", if you will.)
- Sleepless in Seattle - Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. A kid calls a radio talk show looking for someone to date his widowed dad and a woman on the other side of the country tunes in. She gradually becomes Genre Savvy and finally meets him at the end of the film.
- Something Borrowed
- The Sweetest Thing
- Think Like a Man: The surprisingly well acted story in which Steve Harvey releases a book telling women how men think, women read, and men react.
- Thirteen Going On Thirty
- Two Weeks Notice (the quintessential Hugh Grant romantic comedy, stars Sandra Bullock, another Rom Com staple)
- The Ugly Truth: Stars Gerard Butler as a foul-mouthed, sexist TV personality and Katherine Heigl as his producer.
- The Wedding Singer: One of Adam Sandler's more tolerable movies
- Wedding Wars
- When Harry Met Sally... was far from the first Romantic Comedy; it was filmed in 1989. But it has wit and humor and a nice soul, and as such is generally regarded as the model for the genre. Plus, it features Meg Ryan before she paid a surgeon to take The Hammer of Hephaestus to her face, so that's nice. Billy Crystal was good in this, too.
- When in Rome
- While You Were Sleeping
- You've Got Mail - Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan again. This time she runs a small bookshop, he's one of the owner/execs of a big bookstore chain threatening Meg's store, and while they're hostile in real life, they're close friends online. A remake of a the Jimmy Stewart movie, The Shop Around the Corner (1940).