When you think of classic romantic comedies, “Sixteen Candles” (1984) or “Notting Hill” (1999) probably come to mind. My personal favorite rom-com is “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999). The similarity between these movies comes from their enduring charm and from the fact that they were all made before the turn of the century.
That isn’t to say that there have not been any successful rom-coms in recent years. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (2011) is a fun romp with an all-star cast, while “The Big Sick” (2017) even received an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. Still, the genre is no longer as consistent as it once was. This summer might be changing that narrative.
Netflix has stepped up in a huge way to fill the rom-com void with three of the movies this summer: “The Kissing Booth,” “Set It Up” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” The best way to view a rom-com is undoubtedly curled up on the couch with a pint of ice cream, being able to stream Netflix hits allows for that. But that is not to say that the movie theater can’t also be a good spot for a romantic comedy, as proven by the enthusiastic reaction to “Crazy Rich Asians.”
The four movies I’ve mentioned all fulfill the tropes of the rom-com, while also each offering audiences something a little different. Nostalgia for the the ‘80s has been dominant for the past couple of years, and some of these new rom-coms are able to evoke a classic ‘80s feeling. Others have used the relatability of love stories as a chance to increase diversity on the screen, a hot topic in Hollywood.
These films approach their genre reveals why people are once again gravitating towards the lighthearted fare.
1. “The Kissing Booth”
The first of Netflix’s 2018 rom-com releases, this teen movie has a good deal of critics (it has a measly 13% on Rotten Tomatoes), but it also has its dedicated fans. Perhaps that is because, more than any other film on this list, it plays into the nostalgia of older rom-coms. The male love interest is a classic bad boy. There is a heartfelt prom scene featuring the song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and Molly Ringwald in it — you can’t find anything more quintessentially rom-com than that.
Something about the forbidden romance between Elle (Joey King) and her best friend’s brother (Jacob Elordi) just clicked for many people. Many acknowledge that the film is outdated, but continue to declare their love for it anyway. The fact that the movie is getting slammed for being sexist and perpetuating unhealthy relationships only adds to its resemblance to stories from a previous era. Love it or hate it, “The Kissing Booth” certainly brought rom-coms to the front of popular culture once again.
2. “Set It Up”
When Netflix dropped “Set It Up” a month after “The Kissing Booth,” the comparisons between the two movies inevitably began. “Set It Up” also brings to mind other love stories, with the main characters in the film comparing their escapades to “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “The Parent Trap.” Unlike “The Kissing Booth,” however, this movie has the added benefits of positive critical reviews and the awareness to call out the sexist characters and unhealthy relationships within the story.
Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell are charming as two assistants who try to set up their bosses in order to win themselves some free time. Having established actors Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs as the bosses doesn’t hurt either. Although the plot is as predictable as any other rom-com, the easy banter and palpable chemistry between Deutch and Powell are what make this movie special. “Set It Up” may not be groundbreaking, but it is guaranteed to make viewers smile which, at the end of the day, is what rom-coms are all about.
3. “Crazy Rich Asians”
The only film on this list to be given a theatrical release, “Crazy Rich Asians” certainly is breaking new ground. Not only is it a rare example of a big budget rom-com, it is the only major studio movie since 1993 to have Asian or Asian-American actors in all leading roles. “Crazy Rich Asians” is a triumph for representation in Hollywood, and moviegoers have flocked to the theaters to see it. Constance Wu, the star of the film, has used her platform to talk about the importance of seeing people of every background reflected on screen.
In addition to its cultural significance, the film is also a very enjoyable rom-com. A perfect balance is struck between showing Wu’s character Rachel struggling to overcome cultural differences and showing moments that are heartfelt, extravagant and just plain hilarious. “Crazy Rich Asians” proves that the rom-com genre can be used to explore meaningful themes while also delivering an entertaining film experience. Because of its box office success, the chances of having more diverse rom-coms gracing the big screen are looking better.
4. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”
Netflix just couldn’t let summer end without delivering one more rom-com to ignite social media. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” gained a huge fan following overnight, largely due to the lovability of its main characters, Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). While the concept of a fake relationship leading to the development of real romance is nothing new (think 2009’s “The Proposal”). That being said, the familiarity does not negate its appeal.
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a perfect amalgam of the other three films on this list. Similar to “The Kissing Booth,” its characters are high schoolers, and will be relatable to young viewers. Its witty dialogue and the chemistry between the leads are comparable to what make “Set It Up” so good. And, like “Crazy Rich Asians,” it has been praised for bringing increased representation to the screen with its Asian-American leading ladies and its portrayal of a mixed race family. Blending nostalgia and progressivity, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” exemplifies what can be done within the genre.
Indulging in the film’s charms is a wonderful way to end the summer of the rom-com.