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"You don't want to be in love... you want to be in love in a movie."

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).

See also Rule of Romantic, and compare with the Bromantic Comedy.

Examples of Romantic Comedy include: