Entertainment Weekly posted a list of “24 RomCom Cliches We’d Retire.” I’ve spent the past eight months studying romantic comedy at Popcorn Dialogues, the last twenty years writing romantic comedy, and the last forty-five years watching it, and I feel this is a topic I have some expertise on. So this is a list of 17 reasons why Entertainment Weekly’s thinking on romantic comedy is biased, sloppy, and often dumb, plus seven things they got right. Sort of.
24. The heroine works in the media.
I have no idea why this is a romcom cliche. The reporter on the trail of a story is a staple in fiction; see Russell Crowe in State of Play. Why should some jobs be off limits? Unless they’re thinking it’s weird women are in the media. No, they’re in the media, they can’t be that close-minded. Makes no sense.
23. The Last Minute Sprint aka The RomCom Run
This is practically a drinking game at PopD so this one I’ll agree with.
22. Introducing Magic into the Plot
The two examples given are Simply Irresistible and Practical Magic, both of which are movies about magic. It’s not introduced to solve a problem, it’s a central thread of the movie. The sisters in Practical Magic are witches, for heaven’s sake, how is magic a cliche? Are they bitching about Harry Potter’s wand or Luke Skywalker’s Force or Wolverine’s fingernails? No. Of course, those are guys. So magic is only a cliche for women in love? I don’t think so.
21: Mischievous Dogs.
Romcom heroines shouldn’t have dogs? Don’t make me come over there and slap you.
20. Working Girl Needs Balance
Since when is being a workaholic a girl thing?
19. Mr. and Mrs. Right in Front of You
Suddenly discovering your best friend is your one true love is a popular trope in romcom, so at least on this one they’re not being ridiculous. But I’d defend this one as not a cliche but as a subgenre, like the buddy cop movie. If they’re going to call buddy cop movies a cliche, I’ll give them this one. If buddy cop movies are a subgenre, then so is this.
18. Love at First Fight
They meet and don’t like each other and fight and fall in love. It wasn’t a cliche when Shakespeare did it and it’s not in Ten Things I Hate About You, either. It’s a character thing.
17. Clumsy Heroines
You know, I’ve watched 36 romcoms in eight months, and I can’t remember a clumsy heroine. They cite several, but if it’s a cliche, shouldn’t it have turned up sometime in there? Unless they’re thinking all romcom heroines have to be graceful? But then wouldn’t that be a cliche?
16. Blooming Wallflowers aka The Makeover
Yep, this is a cliche. The transformative power of love usually does not involve a new hairstyle and a slamming gown.
This one’s weird. I’d have been with them if they’d said the Relationship Montage, the one that summarizes what happens after the first step to commitment, the one that shows them walking on the beach, shopping for quirky things, putting ice cream on each other’s noses, and other cute Us Moments that show that now they’re in a relationship, that montage, yes, that’s a cliche. But I don’t remember seeing any Lonely Montages this year, although now that I read EW I find that I did in When Harry Met Sally . . . I’ll give them this one just because I think romcom abuses the montage more than most genres, but I don’t see the Lonely Montage as a huge problem. It’s a Montage-in-General problem.
14. Bad Influence Buddies
The hero’s best friends give him bad advice. I haven’t seen any of the movies they cited, but of the 36 romcoms I have seen this year (and countless others), I don’t remember any that did this. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, just means I never said, “Oh, not this again.” Unless you count Jim Belushi telling Rob Lowe that the best thing that could happen to him was an industrial accident. Great line. Also, aren’t there Bad Influence Buddies in all the guy comedies, too? I think if it’s a romcom cliche it has to have something to do with that genre particularly (the romcom run, the romance montage) rather than a reflection of one gender’s inability to provide good advice across the spectrum.
13. Ridiculous Proofs of Love aka The Sign
“If we’re meant to be together, a rose will bloom on the site where we met.” I’m with them on this one, unless the premise of the movie contains real magic in which case, there’s a logical reason for it. Not sure it happens often enough to be called a cliche, but it’s annoying as all hell.
12. Easy Sex
This is the one where the girl says yes and the guy refuses because he loves her too much to sleep with her under those conditions (drunk, upset, etc.). I don’t think it’s a cliche–again, that means it has to happen a lot–and I don’t think it’s unbelievable that a good guy would refuse to sleep with a drunk or distraught woman. Maybe I have more faith in men than EW.
11. Schlubby Guy, Pretty Girl
EW must have a heart of stone. Only good looking people fall in love with each other? They’d have had a better chance of convincing me if they hadn’t used Albert and Allegra from Hitch as their example. Do not doubt the power of Albert and Allegra. Then they followed it up with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in Roxanne. Please.
10. Heroines as Bad Drivers
They cite two movies to show this is a cliche. I have news: it’s a cliche in real life, too, but that doesn’t make it a romcom staple.
9. People Pretending To Be Who They Aren’t aka The Big Misunderstanding
Because nobody ever goes undercover in cop movies. Still, I’m going to give them this one because I think the whole “you lied to me” conflict is such a loser, and it’s part of this. However, I would call this one The Big Misunderstanding, the thing that if they just TALKED to each other would not be a problem. The old “You spent the night in your apartment with her!” “She’s my sister!” climax. Yeah, that’s a cliche.
8. PDA Climax aka the PDAC
I hate this one with the passion of a thousand firey suns. It’s not real love unless you declare your passion in front of a crowd, preferably one that’s willing to cheer. Bleah. The Rom Com Run can be done well, the Big Misunderstanding is just annoying, but the PDA Climax makes me want to throw something at the screen.
7. The Top of the Stairs Moment
This is the one where the heroine appears at the top of the stairs transformed and the hero is stunned by her beauty. Except we did this back in #16 Blooming Wallflowers and I’m not giving credit twice.
6. Eating for Two or Three
I don’t get this one at all. Heroines with hearty appetites are a cliche? I’m not seeing this repeated, the example they give (Two Weeks Notice) makes no sense since she’s ordering Chinese for dinner not snacking through the day, and I’m very suspicious of anything that implies that a heroine is eating too much. That’s Hollywood for you.
5. Egregious Girl Bonding
They don’t like scenes where girls bond by laughing and singing together. They’d hate my life. What are we supposed to do, watch the game instead?
4. Wet Climax
The old last scene where they kiss in the rain. Wasn’t that in Spiderman? The two they cite are Four Weddings and a Funeral and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Two examples do not make a cliche, and you want to come over here and say that again about Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Wait a minute. Breakfast at Tiffany’s wasn’t a romantic comedy. Jesus, people, what did you do, get drunk and say, “I got an idea for a column, let’s make up stuff about romantic comedy”?
3. The Dress Montage
This is the one where the heroine tries on a lot of dresses. I do not remember seeing this a lot. There’s definitely one in 27 Dresses, but, uh, check the title. The dresses were part of the plot. Cher did the whole computer dress thing in Clueless, but again, part of character development, not egregious. They also cite Sex and the City. Sex and the City is not a romantic comedy, the entire movie is a dress montage. Also, I gave credit for montage as a cliche in romcom and I’m not doing that twice.
2. Singing into Objects
Again with the bias against singing women, which they already expressed above. Redundancy is not good in magazine articles. Also, lots of people sing when they’re alone. It’s not a cliche, it’s a fact of life.
1. Quirky BFF aka the Funny Friend
Yeah, that’s a cliche and has been all the way back to Ruth Hussey and Joan Blondell. Let’s make the wisecracking friend the heroine and give her a beautiful BFF. And while we’re at it, let’s do the same for the guys. Oh, wait we can’t do that because then a schlubby person would get a pretty person and who would believe that? Damn.
So after we get rid of all the non-cliches and the repeats, we’re left with the RomCom Run, the Makeover, the Montage, the Sign, the Big Misunderstanding, the PDAC, and the Funny Friend. But here’s the thing: every one of these can be wonderful if done well, so suggesting they be retired is dumb. Storytelling cliches are cliches for a reason: People like them. Some of the best movies of all time were cliches when they were made. Or as my creative writing prof used to say, you can use any cliche you want, you just have to do the best job of using that cliche in the history of storytelling.
One other thing. You know what the top cliche in magazine articles is? Lists. I’d retire that if I were you, EW.