I hope we’ve all stopped pretending that we’re above watching rom-coms (looking at you, film bros). It’s 2022 and we’re done with intellectual snobbery. Life’s too short to keep acting like we don’t watch anything that’s not on Mubi.
You’ve had a long, taxing day at work, you get home, make something resembling dinner and ask yourself the dreaded question: “what should I watch?” You can’t handle an action film with heads getting blown off or arthouse flicks that send you spiralling into an existential crisis. What better time, then, to watch a silly romantic comedy, packed with laughs and a wholesome ending?
But in recent years, the output of blockbuster rom-coms has dwindled. We’ve had a few straight-to-streaming flicks, sure, but nothing close to the greats of the ‘90s and ‘00s. The good news is that things seem to be changing. Meg Ryan will soon return to screens with What Happens Later and, earlier this year, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum fell in love in The Lost City.
While you wait for Ryan’s big return to the genre, get loved up and cosy with these perfect rom-coms.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and filmed across 80 Parisian locations, Amélie is the ultimate love letter to Paris. Following the life of the eccentric – you guessed it – Amélie (Audrey Tautou), the film is as funny as it is introspective. Being forced to live her early years within the perimeters of her home due to her father’s mistaken concerns about a heart defect means that Amélie is used to living in a fantastical world of her own creation.
Her life changes forever when she discovers a long-lost box in her apartment and decides to reunite the box with its owner. The happiness with which he reacts to the act inspires Amélie to devote her life to the pursuit of joy, although she does very little for herself. As she anonymously does things to help those around her, she becomes enamoured with Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), a mysterious Photo Booth image collector. You can’t help but melt as the quirky Amélie takes love into her own hands.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Thirty three years have passed by since its release, yet the 1989 classic by Rob Reiner still reigns supreme. When Harry Met Sally starts in 1977 as Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) share a car trip from the University of Chicago to New York. The strangers don’t hit it off during the contentious ride, whereby most of their time passes as they debate whether or not men and women can be friends.
We meet Harry and Sally during different stages of their lives, as they go from strangers who can’t stand each other to best friends. But even as the years go by, the same question stands: will Harry and Sally be able to stay platonic pals, or is there something more that binds the two together?
Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
While we love a good rom-com, it’s important to acknowledge that the genre is historically very heteronormative, and often plays into patriarchal norms that now seem wildly outdated. Kissing Jessica Stein is one that departs from this tradition, exploring a sapphic love story; the film embraces a queer audience that has traditionally been left behind by the genre.
The 2001 film follows Jessica Stein’s love life, or, shall we say, the lack of it. Frustrated by her unfulfilling experiences with men, Jessica responds to an ad in the “women seeking women” section of a newspaper.
Helen Cooper, also jaded by her experiences with blokes, has placed the ad. The two meet and quickly find themselves in a romantic relationship, but tensions arise when Jessica’s struggles with accepting her bisexuality come in the way of their relationship. Will the two women find the companionship they failed to find in men, in each other? Watch along as Jessica grapples with love and accepting her identity.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Shakespeare, Keanu Reeves and beautiful Italian scenery. What more could you ask for from a film? Kenneth Branagh, who we have to thank for re-popularising Shakespeare adaptations, did the Bard proud again with his 1993 rework of Much Ado About Nothing.
Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) are soon to marry. It seems the young couple haven’t quenched their thirst for love with each other because they hatch up a matchmaking scheme, teaming up with Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) to trick their friends Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson) to fall in love.
While it seems like all is well, Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother Don John (Keanu Reeves) looms in the shadows, working on a master plan of his own. Except he isn’t quite as well-meaning as Hero and Claudio. What consequences will his plans have?
Standing the test of time, Much Ado About Nothing is a rom-com centred around misunderstandings, love and deception that you should watch – like, right now.
Love Jones (1997)
Theodore Witcher’s directorial debut Love Jones explores love amongst Chicago’s creative class. Poet Darius (Larenz Tate) is about to give a poetry reading at a smoky jazz bar when he meets photographer Nina (Nia Long). Enamoured by her beauty, Darius retitles his poem A Blues For Nina and recites it in front of her.
The two can’t deny the sexual chemistry between them, but Nina is hesitant while Darius believes what they have goes beyond just sex. Things get complicated when her ex-fiancé finds his way back to Nina. Will Nina and Darius get over this hurdle, embracing each other as the love of their lives, or will their entanglement remain a messy situation between two young creatives?
Love Jones is a must-watch for anyone who loves a rom-com, but especially for those with an interest in African American cinema and the impact the Harlem Renaissance had on young Black creatives in the ‘90s.
500 Days of Summer (2009)
Maturing is realising that Summer Finn (played by twee poster girl Zooey Deschanel) was in fact, not a bitch – unlike the general feeling around the film went for some time after its release. Marc Webb’s indie-rom-com 500 Days of Summer has reached iconic status, with the lift scene amongst the many unforgettable moments. “Driving in your car /Oh, please don’t drop me home,” sings Morrissey, blasting out of Tom’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) headphones, as Summer overhears. Summer tells him she loves The Smiths and that he has good music taste before stepping out, leaving behind an infatuated Tom.
A total meet cute, right? That’s what Tom thinks, too. Although Summer is upfront with Tom about her reservations towards love and relationships, Tom is convinced they are meant to be. We witness their relationship across 500 days, as they go from friends to lovers to everything in between. Will Tom be able to convince his manic pixie dream girl that love is real, or will he face the bitter truth that relationships don’t always turn out like the ones on the silver screen? Watch the film that spawned a generation of fringe and tea dress enthusiasts, to uncover Tom’s fate.
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Young author Calvin (Paul Dano) is battling writer’s block when his therapist suggests using a manual typewriter. In a desperate attempt to write, Calvin follows this advice and, well, it works. He starts to type and creates a romantic heroine he dubs Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). The next day, Calvin wakes up to find that Ruby has transcended the written word and has become real. Now, Calvin’s words can dictate Ruby’s entire fate, all while she has no idea that she is, in fact, a fictional being.
Unlike your typical rom-com, Ruby Sparks delves into the often overlooked ethics of the genre. Exploring male fantasy, obsession and control, the film might not be a go-to if you’re looking to indulge in a cheesy love story. But Ruby Sparks teaches a valuable lesson on the dangers of how watching too many rom-coms without a critical lens can encourage harmful romantic projection.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Another recommendation with Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Don’t mind if we do. Adapted from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You begins with Cameron (Gordon-Levitt) joining Padua High as a new student. He immediately falls for Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik), but there’s a bit of a setback. Bianca’s overprotective father has decided she isn’t allowed to date until her sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does.
Kat is an ill-tempered punk feminist. In other words, she’s a badass and every snotty male teenager’s worst nightmare. She meets her match in Patrick (Heath Ledger) when he’s hired by Cameron and another one of Bianca’s admirers to woo Kat. Will the mysterious bad boy succeed in winning over Kat, or will he lose himself in a love story he set out on for monetary gain?
With its distinct characters, 10 Things I Hate About You is unforgettable and the perfect rewatch. Big ’90s fashion, feminist literature and Heath Ledger, who can say no to that?