As someone who can’t get enough of belly laughs and wonderfully cheesy reunion scenes, I am without a doubt a romantic comedy fan. However, I’m like a treasure-seeking-pirate currently adrift in a sea of beach side litter, due to the fact that there has been an appalling lack of quality rom-com action in the past several years. So, in the name of any other similarly distraught movie fans out there, who are even now sifting through garbage in an attempt to find that just-right, feel-good film, look no further! Below is a list of my all-time favorite romantic comedies, and I highly encourage you to go out and rent/download/pirate the ones you haven’t yet seen. Please feel free to leave comments with your own personal top-six lists, and we’ll get an exhaustive list, all in one place!
1. IT’S COMPLICATED
In the midst of a tense scene between Jane (Meryl Streep) and her ex-husband-turned-current-lover Jake (Alec Baldwin), Jane asks him, “Are you like, what? Unhappy at home? Does she not “understand” you? Did you just want to know what it would be like with someone my age?”. As viewers who have already seen half of “It’s Complicated”, we understand the irony of this statement— Jake left Jane for a much younger woman named Agness, who he then married. Now however, he is cheating on Agness by having an affair with his former wife, the older-yet-inexplicably-seductive Jane.
This explanation alone is enough to make one’s head spin, and we understand Jane’s frustration with the back-and-forth infidelity as she berates Jake. However, Streep delivers the line with a self-effacing resignation, almost laughing as she realizes the ludicrous situation in which she and her ex-husband have found themselves. A less talented actress than Meryl Streep (so namely, every other actress in film and television) might have spoken the line with a clichéd bitterness, but Jane’s character is developed with a depth and innovation that is rarely seen in the romantic comedy genre.
With “It’s Complicated”, we get all of the laughs, catchy soundtracks and fun montages of an ordinary rom-com, but with a refreshingly twisted plot and the stellar acting of Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin and John Krasinki. In summary: the best of both worlds. If this isn’t enough to entice you, let me add that Jane’s character is a prominent chef and bakery owner who lives in a stunning California ranch— the lingering shots of pastries, pasta, luxurious gardens and meticulously decorated bathrooms are reason alone to see this film. Rent “It’s Complicated”, but have a dinner reservation booked for afterwards— and maybe a stash of Jake’s favorite herb ready, if you’re feeling adventurous.
2. LOVE ACTUALLY
This is the era of half-baked, mind-numbing movies like “Valentines Day”, “New Years Eve” and “He’s Just Not that Into You”, in which directors evidently feel that if they cram enough big-name stars into one movie, we as audience members won’t notice the cringe-worthy, clichéd lines and minimal plot development. Like these other titles, “Love Actually” is a film centered around the intersection of multiple lives in the days leading up to a major holiday (in this case Christmas), but watching this movie after seeing those others is like tasting your first roasted marshmallow after a life-long diet of Peeps.
To be sure, it is chock-full of famous names— Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson and Bill Nighy all star in this playful and heartfelt film, and yet while watching “Love Actually”, you get the feeling that they are succeeding in their roles despite their collective celebrity status, not because of it. Even after multiple viewings, there are scenes in this movie that never fail to make me laugh, cry, squeal, and “aww” appreciatively. The acting is superb, the plot intricate and enjoyable, and the soundtrack very involved. On top of all that, “Love Actually” successfully conveys that warm, infectious Christmas glee; reason enough to put this film on your Netflix queue for the upcoming holiday season.
3. FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
A huge component in making the cut for my top rom-com list is playful originality, and this Nicholas Stroller film has that in spades. Like the two movies mentioned above, a huge draw of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is the organic charisma of its actors— Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Paul Rudd, Russell Brand and Jonah Hill all lend a hand, adding their personal spunk to create a lively, hilarious film that somehow still manages to resonate with you on a genuine level.
This movie sparked Brand’s acting career, and he has since gone on to become the Jack Black of recent years, aka the one-trick-pony who seems to occupy the same role in every film. His larger-than-life persona is perfect for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, however, and he adds zest to the already energetic cast. Segel, Bell, and Kunis, in particular, deliver their lines directly and plaintively as the three primary stars of the story, and this is what makes the movie stand out from its more generic genre-companions.
While watching, I could empathize with every character; and when the inevitable fight/misunderstanding occurred towards the end of the film, the one that happens in any romantic comedy love triangle, I found myself understanding each person’s anger and confusion, instead of feeling the typical frustration and urge to shout, “just kiss and make up already!”. It’s difficult to find actors that are more genuinely likeable than Segel or Rudd, and as you watch this raucous, hysterical movie, you’ll feel like you’re in on all of the tropical excitement.
4. MUSIC AND LYRICS
Who wouldn’t want to see Hugh Grant wiggle across a stage in white leather pants? After the opening scene alone, I was already laughing and intrigued by “Music and Lyrics”, a comedy about a washed-up eighties pop singer named Alex Fletcher (Grant), who pairs up with his zany new friend Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) in an attempt to write a hit song and thus regain his fame.
The best part about this movie is the dynamic between the two stars. Unlike many romantic comedies, where despite the leading characters’ repeated insistence that they have each found their special someone in one another, you still have that nagging doubt— “Really? What’s so different about her/him?”—here it’s a different story. In “Music and Lyrics”, the unexpected and obvious chemistry between Grant and Barrymore is easily explained— as the movie progresses, it is clear how charmed Alex is by Sophie’s blatant quirkiness, and as for Sophie, let’s face it, who wouldn’t be charmed by the ever-dry-British Grant?
The two stars manage to play off the usual clichés with refreshing pep and raw sensibility, and the plot, while barely skirting the formulaic rom-com strategy, nevertheless has some wonderful surprises. The delightful bonus contained within “Music and Lyrics”? Alex’s supposedly corny 80s songs are actually catchy, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along, long after the movie has ended.
5. MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING
Like the films mentioned above, this is another testimony to the fact that rom-coms can often jump from mediocre to satisfying if they are littered with talented actors. Here in particular, Rupert Everett steals the show with his supporting role as Julia Robert’s gay best friend. I’ve never necessarily been a die-hard fan of either Cameron Diaz or Julia Roberts, but in “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, both have never looked lovelier or played their parts more perfectly; Roberts as the alluring, scheming friend intent on breaking up a wedding and stealing the groom, and Diaz as the cheerleader-esque peppy fiancé who doesn’t smell foul play. Dermot Mulroney is also electrifying as the much sought-after groom-to-be.
All in all, this film has a lot of classic scenes often found in earlier romantic comedies (e.g. the karaoke bar, the bathroom stall before the wedding) that will combine to fulfill your rom-com craving, without the headache of bad acting and predictable endings. However, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” should perhaps come with a “do not try this at home” warning label— the plot may make several enthralled female viewers inspired to go out and break up a few weddings of their own!
In this witty, groove-inducing film, Will Smith does double-duty as he plays the funny-man and achieves heartthrob status all in one blow— as only Will Smith can do. Here, Smith plays the role of Alex Hitchens, a smooth-talking gentleman known as “The Date Doctor”, who helps socially awkward Manhattan men blossom into social butterflies in order to snag the women of their dreams. All of those guilty-pleasure ideal makeover/ rulebook scenes accompany such a premise, and Smith pulls them off with a dynamic ease that invites us to get caught up in his adventures. Equally compelling is Kevin James as Albert Brennaman, the most loveable dork to grace cinema in several years. I was highly entertained throughout the entire movie, and have never felt more delighted at the inevitable guy-gets-girl closing scene than when unattainable it-girl Allegra Cole (played perfectly by the sweet and sincere Amber Valletta) grabs James and kisses him passionately.
Eva Mendes also stars in this movie as Smith’s love interest, Sara Melas. Unlike the other characters in this film, the role of Sara is written to be somewhat less likeable, and therefore Mendes has a slightly more difficult task in gaining the audience’s favor and empathy. However, Mendes is both vibrant and committed as an actress, and on top of that, you can’t help enjoying watching two actors as beautiful as Mendes and Smith in a scene together and wondering what their post-final-scene kids would look like (apologies to Jada Pinkett Smith!). Hitch is definitely a comedy worth watching… and you might benefit from Hitch’s wisdom and pick up some suave one-liners as an added bonus!