Romantic comedy film

"Romantic comedy" redirects here. For other uses, see Romantic comedy (disambiguation).

Romantic comedy films (also known as the portmanteaus romedy or romcom) are films with light-hearted, humorous plotlines, centered on romantic ideals such as that true love is able to surmount most obstacles.[1] One dictionary definition is "a funny movie, play, or television program about a love story that ends happily".[2] Another definition states that its "primary distinguishing feature is a love plot in which two sympathetic and well-matched lovers are united or reconciled".[3]

Romantic comedy films are a certain genre of comedy films as well as of romance films, and may also have elements of screwball comedies. However a romantic comedy is classified as a film with two genres not a single new genre.[4] Some television series can also be classified as romantic comedies.

In a typical romantic comedy the two lovers tend to be young, likeable, and apparently meant for each other, yet they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance (e.g., class differences, parental interference; a previous girlfriend or boyfriend) until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally wedded. A wedding-bells, fairy-tale-style happy ending is practically mandatory.[3]


Kathryn Grayson in Seven Sweethearts (1942), a musical romantic comedy film

The basic plot of a romantic comedy is that two characters meet, part ways due to an argument or other obstacle, then ultimately reunite. Sometimes the two leads meet and become involved initially, then must confront challenges to their union. Sometimes they are hesitant to become romantically involved because they believe that they do not like each other, because one of them already has a partner, or because of social pressures. However, the screenwriters leave clues that suggest that the characters are, in fact, attracted to each other and that they would be a good love match. The protagonists often separate or seek time apart to sort out their feelings or deal with the external obstacles to their being together.

While the two protagonists are separated, one or both of them usually realizes that they are ideal for each other, or that they are in love with each other. Then, after one of the two makes some spectacular effort (sometimes called the grand gesture) to find the other person and declare their love, or through an astonishing coincidental encounter, the two meet again. Then, perhaps with some comic friction or awkwardness, they declare their love for each other and the film ends happily. The couple does not, however, have to marry, or live together "happily ever after". The ending of a romantic comedy is meant to affirm the primary importance of the love relationship in its protagonists' lives, even if they physically separate in the end (e.g. Shakespeare in Love, Roman Holiday).[5]

There are many variations on this basic plotline. Sometimes, instead of the two lead characters ending up in each other's arms, another love match will be made between one of the principal characters and a secondary character (e.g., My Best Friend's Wedding and My Super Ex-Girlfriend). Alternatively, the film may be a rumination on the impossibility of love, as in Woody Allen's film Annie Hall. The basic format of a romantic comedy film can be found in much earlier sources, such as Shakespeare plays like Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Some comedy films, such as Knocked Up, combine themes of romantic comedies and stoner comedies, creating a subgenre that appeals to both men and women. Often known as "bromance", such films usually use sexual elements which bring the two characters together. Films in this genre include American Pie 2 and even Wedding Crashers.

Evolution and subgenres

Romantic comedies have begun to spread out of their conventional and traditional structure into other territory. This territory explores more subgenres and more complex topics. These films still follow the typical plot of "a light and humorous movie, play, etc., whose central plot is a happy love story"[6] but with more complexity. These are a few ways romantic comedies are adding more subtlety and complexity into the genre.

Extreme circumstances

Some romantic comedies have adopted extreme or strange circumstances for the main characters, as in Warm Bodies where the protagonist is a zombie who falls in love with a human girl after eating her boyfriend. Another strange set of circumstances is in Zack and Miri Make a Porno where the two protagonists are building a relationship while trying to make a porno together. Both these films take the typical story-arch and then utilize circumstances to add originality.

Flipping conventions

Other romantic comedies flip the standard conventions of the romantic comedy genre. In films like 500 Days of Summer the two main interests do not end up together, leaving the protagonist somewhat distraught. Other films like Adam have the two main interests end up separated but still content and pursuing other goals and love interests.

Serious elements

Other remakes of romantic comedies involve similar elements but explore more adult themes such as marriage, responsibility or even disability. Two films by Judd Apatow such as This is 40 or Knocked Up deal with these before-mentioned issues. This is 40 chronicles the mid-life crisis of a couple entering their 40s; and Knocked Up addresses unintended pregnancy and the ensuing assuming of responsibility. Silver Linings Playbook deals with mental illness and unrequited love that is never resolved.

All of these go against the stereotype of what romantic comedy has become as a genre. Yet the genre of romantic comedy is simply a structure and all of these elements do not negate the fact that these films are still romantic comedies.

Contrived romantic encounters: the "meet cute"

One of the conventions of romantic comedy films is the entertainment factor in a contrived encounter of two potential romantic partners in unusual or comic circumstances, which film critics such as Roger Ebert[7] or the Associated Press' Christy Lemire[8] have called a "meet-cute" situation. During a "meet-cute", scriptwriters often create a humorous sense of awkwardness between the two potential partners by depicting an initial clash of personalities or beliefs, an embarrassing situation, or by introducing a comical misunderstanding or mistaken identity situation. Sometimes the term is used without a hyphen (a "meet cute"), or as a verb ("to meet cute").

Roger Ebert describes the "concept of a Meet Cute" as "when boy meets girl in a cute way." As an example, he cites "The Meet Cute in Lost and Found [which] has Jackson and Segal running their cars into each other in Switzerland. Once recovered, they Meet Cute again when they run into each other while on skis. Eventually,... they fall in love."[9]

In many romantic comedies, the potential couple comprises polar opposites, two people of different temperaments, situations, social statuses, or all three (It Happened One Night), who would not meet or talk under normal circumstances, and the meet cute's contrived situation provides the opportunity for these two people to meet.

Use of "meet cute" situations

Mary Astor and Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story, a screwball romantic comedy

Certain movies are entirely driven by the meet-cute situation, and contrived circumstances throw the couple together for much of the screenplay. However, movies in which the contrived situation is the main feature, such as Some Like It Hot, rather than the romance being the main feature, are not considered "meet-cutes".

The use of the meet-cute is less marked in television series and novels, because these formats have more time to establish and develop romantic relationships. In situation comedies, relationships are static and meet-cute is not necessary, though flashbacks may recall one (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mad About You) and lighter fare may require contrived romantic meetings.

The heyday of "meet cute" in films was during the Great Depression in the 1930s; screwball comedy films made a heavy use of contrived romantic "meet cutes", perhaps because the more rigid class consciousness and class divisions of this period made cross-social class romances into tantalizing fantasies.

While film critic Roger Ebert has popularized the term "meet cute" in his reviews of romantic comedies, the term is mostly used in the film and screenwriting industries, where it provides a convenient shorthand for screenwriters who are doing a very compressed pitch to a film production company.


The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms defines romantic comedy as "a general term for comedies that deal mainly with the follies and misunderstandings of young lovers, in a light‐hearted and happily concluded manner which usually avoids serious satire". This reference states that the "best‐known examples are Shakespeare's comedies of the late 1590s, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It being the most purely romantic, while Much Ado About Nothing approaches the comedy of manners and The Merchant of Venice is closer to tragicomedy."[10]

Comedies since ancient Greece have often incorporated sexual or social elements.

It was not until the creation of romantic love in the western European medieval period, though, that "romance" came to refer to "romantic love" situations, rather than the heroic adventures of medieval Romance. These adventures, however, often revolved about a knight's feats on behalf of a lady, and so the modern themes of love were quickly woven into them, as in Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart.[11]

Shakespearean comedy and Restoration comedy remain influential. The creation of huge economic social strata in the Gilded Age, combined with the heightened openness about sex after the Victorian era and the celebration of Sigmund Freud's theories, and the birth of the film industry in the early twentieth century, gave birth to the screwball comedy. As class consciousness declined and World War II unified various social orders, the savage screwball comedies of the twenties and thirties, proceeding through Rock HudsonDoris Day-style comedies, gave way to more innocuous comedies. This style faded in the 1960s, and the genre lay mostly dormant until the more sexually charged When Harry Met Sally had a successful box office run in 1989, paving the way for a rebirth for the Hollywood romantic comedy in the mid-1990s.

The French film industry went in a completely different direction, with less inhibitions about sex. Virginia Woolf, tired of stories that ended in 'happily ever after' at the beginning of a serious relationship, called Middlemarch by George Eliot, with its portrayal of a difficult marriage, "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."


On Society Today

With the increase of romantic comedy movies, there has been an apparent change in the way society views romance. Researchers[12] are asking whether the romance projected in romantic comedies are preventing true love in real life. The increase in use of technology has also led the society to spend a great amount of time engaging in mediated reality and less time with each other. Even though researchers have only started to explore the impact of romantic comedy films on human romance, the few studies conducted have already shown correlation between romantic comedies and the love delusion. Romantic comedies are very popular. They depict relationships that some scholars think affect how people view relationships outside of this virtual world. These scholars believe romantic comedies can cause their audience to be discontent in their relationships because romantic comedies cause women to place men as the center of their universe. Depictions of stalking, men fighting for women no matter what, and placing women’s happiness solely on men are depicted in romantic comedies.They can teach women and men that guys should make the first move in a relationship. They sometimes depict that the guy should be masculine and smart while the girl should be feminine and passive. They can place men as the key to women’s happiness and this causes women and men in real life to put too much pressure on relationships.

The Illusion of Love

In the past, love has not always been the real reason of people coming together. In some cultures,[13] arranged marriages were common to keep the caste systems or to join kingdoms. Today, love is the root of all romance, and it is over-emphasized through these films. It tells viewers that love conquers all and will ultimately bring a never-ending happiness that is rarely affected by any conflict. When people do not experience the romance portrayed in these movies, they often wonder what they are doing wrong. Although people should be able to tell between an overly romanticized love and realistic love, they are often caught up in constantly trying to echo the stories they see on screen.[13] While most know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some perceptions of love are heavily influenced by media portrayals.[14] Romantic comedies sometimes depict a positive view on stalking. One troubling way they may do that is by making stalking behaviors seem like a normal part of romance, according to a new study by Julia Lippman. She had a group of 426 women each watch one of six movies that had been edited down to a half an hour: a romantic comedy where a man pursues a woman and it’s depicted positively (There’s Something About Mary or Management), a movie where a man pursues a woman romantically and it’s depicted as scary (Sleeping with the Enemy or Enough), or a nature documentary (March of the Penguins or Winged Migration) as the control. After the screening, the women took a survey ranking their agreement with some stalking myths like: “Many alleged stalking victims are actually people who played hard to get and changed their minds afterwards” or “An individual who goes to the extremes of stalking must really feel passionately for his/her love interest.” Those who saw the scary stalking movies were less likely than the control group or the rom-com viewers to say yes to these myths. Women who watched the rom-coms endorsed these myths more if they enjoyed the movie, or thought the movie was realistic. The grand gestures of romantic comedies are often depicted as ultimate signs of true love. They may be seen as reflecting one of the great cultural myths of romantic love: that no matter how big the obstacle, love will conquer all.” Lippman files stalking under the broader umbrella of “persistent pursuit,” which can also encompass “more benign and even positively regarded behaviors such as some types of romantic courtship.” Is flying across the country and showing up at someone’s doorstep unannounced to declare your feelings a violation or a brave and vulnerable display of love? According to the National Institute of Justice, “stalking is conservatively defined as ‘a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.’” In romantic comedies, and also potentially in life, the continued of behavior from stalking to unwanted attention to romantic but assertive courtship can be hard to read. In one study, people (especially men) who had pursued an unrequited love “tended to overreport receiving signals that their love interest was reciprocating, and to underreport receiving rejections.”

Conducted Research

A study was conducted at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh to understand this phenomenon. They studied 40 top box office films released between 1995 and 2005 to establish common themes. Then they asked hundreds of people to complete a questionnaire to describe their beliefs and expectations in romantic relationships. Researchers found that people who enjoyed movies such as You’ve Got Mail, The Wedding Planner and While You Were Sleeping, often failed to communicate with their partners effectively. They also believe that if someone is meant to be with you, then they should know your needs without you telling them. Although this study is just one of a handful, it shows a correlation of how peoples expectations are distorted through watching romantic comedies.[12]Researchers at Heriot Watt University's Family and Personal Relationships Laboratory in Edinburgh completed a study of 40 Hollywood romantic comedies released between 1995-2005. They found that problems typically reported by couples in relationship counseling at their counseling center reflected misconceptions about love and romance being depicted in Hollywood films. "Relationship counselors often face common misconceptions in their clients — that if your partner truly loves you they'd know what you need without you communicating it, that your soul mate is predestined. We did a rigorous content analysis of romantic comedies and found that the same issues were being portrayed in these films," Dr Bjarne Holmes said. Researchers found that those who watched romantic comedies were more likely to believe in predestined love than those who preferred other genres of movie. These people were also more likely to believe that perfect relationships happen instantly, and were less likely to believe that couples needed to work at relationships. Dr Holmes asked around 100 student volunteers to watch Serendipity, a romantic comedy, and a different 100 student volunteers watched a David Lynch drama. In a questionnaire after the films ended, students that watched the romantic comedy were far more likely to believe in fate and destiny than those who had watched the David Lynch film. Scholars have invented two versions of this idea. One, social cognitive theory suggests individuals may actively observe media portrayals of behaviors in romantic relationships for insight into how they themselves could behave in their own relationships. A parallel theory suggests that even if viewers aren't necessarily taking notes in front of the movies they watch, what they see over a long period of time will still shape what they perceive as normal because of the repeated themes and images depicted in films.


See also


  1. Bill Johnson. The Art of the Romantic Comedy Available online at:
  2. Accessed June 20, 2011
  3. 1 2 "Comedy and Tragedy".
  4. Romantic comedy: boy meets girl meets genre. Tamar Jeffers McDonald. Wallflower Press, 2007. p.3
  5. Mernit, Billy. Writing the Romantic Comedy (Harper Collins, 2000)
  6. "Romantic comedy – Define Romantic comedy at".
  7. "She has a Meet-Cute (three, actually) with Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy)" – Roger Ebert, reviewing "Ella Enchanted". Available at
  8. Review: McGregor, Plummer delight in `Beginners' Accessed June 20, 2011.
  9. Roger Ebert (28 June 1979). "Lost and Found".
  10. Cited in Accessed June 20, 2011
  11. C.S Lewis, The Allegory of Love, p 19 ISBN 0-19-281220-3
  12. 1 2 Harrell, Eben (2008-12-23). "Are Romantic Movies Bad For You?". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
  13. 1 2 "Does Media Distort Love?". RELEVANT Magazine. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
  14. "Romantic comedies make us 'unrealistic about relationships', claim scientists". Retrieved 2015-10-13.
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