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The downfall of the romantic-comedy genre

The 1990s and 2000s are universally known as the peak of the romantic comedy, or rom-com, genre. With movies like "When Harry Met Sally…," "10 Things I Hate About You" and "50 First Dates," it makes sense why many movie buffs consider the genre to have reached its prime in the years spanning from the late 1980s to the 2000s. But what has changed since then? 

One major rom-com, "Anyone But You," hit theaters in December 2023. It stars Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell in a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," told through the heart-warming love story of Bea and Ben. 

After sharing a classic coffee shop meet cute, a misunderstanding turns them against each other until they find themselves in the same wedding party months later. Forced to stay in the same beach house in Australia and get along for the sake of the wedding, the two rivals fake a relationship until they find themselves falling in love. 

Despite earning nearly $152 million at the box office worldwide, the film's collective rating is a weak 6.7/10 on IMDb and 3.2/ 5 stars on Letterboxd. 

Many audience members pointed out the mediocre acting, one Letterboxd user writing, "You could tell me there was a teleprompter behind the camera and I would 100% believe you."

Furthermore, rom-com fans seem tired of seeing the same type of conventionally attractive people star in romance movies, with many Letterboxd users comparing Powell to stars like Tom Cruise and Chris Hemsworth. 

One IMDb user describes the film as "neither brilliant nor dreadful," and accredits the film's mediocrity to the predictability of the storyline: two objectively attractive individuals falling in love, separating and ultimately finding each other again. 

Another similar outcome resulted from Netflix's "Your Place or Mine" (2023), which boasts a star-studded cast featuring actors Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher as long-distance best friends Peter and Debbie along with other notable actors such as Jesse Williams, Tig Notaro and Zöe Chao. 

After a single hookup in college, Peter and Debbie have stayed best friends for 20 years, even when Peter moved from Los Angeles to New York. Now a single mother, Debbie heads to stay with Peter in New York for a week to get her degree when the babysitter backs out.

Instead of postponing the trip, Peter insists on watching her son, Jack, himself. They stay at each other's places for a week, and Peter bonds with Jack. Debbie learns about Peter's goal to be a writer and his true feelings for her. 

The cheesy film has a low rating of 5.7/10 on IMDb and an even worse 2.2/5 stars on Letterboxd, with many reviewers pointing out flaws and major plot holes in the storyline that are hard to get past. 

For example, one Letterboxd review notes the ridiculous idea that Debbie would have to fly across the country for a single accounting class as well as the contradictions around Peter's character, a wealthy businessman who is referred to as "irresponsible" throughout the film for no apparent reason. 

Many recent romantic comedies have adopted the same formula, relying on attractive stars and aesthetics to overshadow weak, low-effort plotlines. This sets them apart from the more impactful films from the genre’s golden era.

For example, "When Harry Met Sally…" (1989) has a rating of 7.7/10 on IMDb and 4/5 stars on Letterboxd, not because of its star-studded cast featuring Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan and Carrie Fisher, but because of the memorable, thoughtful storyline that included their complicated love story told by Harry and Sally themselves.

While the film benefitted from its talented, attractive cast, it is ultimately remembered more for its originality in scenes like the one at the diner, in which Sally performed an unforgettable fake orgasm. The associated line, "I'll have what she's having," is still a topic of discussion with the film's star, Billy Crystal, 24 years later.

Not all newer romantic comedies are destined for poor reviews, though. A great example of this is "Palm Springs" (2020), which stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti as Nyles and Sarah, who meet at a wedding where Sarah is the maid of honor. After saving face for her during her speech, Nyles forms an alliance with Sarah that comes in handy when they find themselves stuck in a time loop. 

Forced to relive the same day over and over again, Nyles helps Sarah learn to enjoy life more by invoking chaos on the never-ending wedding celebrations, while simultaneously falling in love.

Acquiring a rating of 7.4/10 on IMDb and 3.8/5 stars on Letterboxd, fans appreciate the less-than-realistic approach to a love story as well as seeing two main characters that are realistically attractive.

"I love when two white people who you can tell weren't 'hot hot' in high school but are now 'definitely hot' as adults have incredible chemistry," said one Letterboxd user.

Overall, it is impossible to say if the romantic comedy genre is dying; however, if it is, it’s clearly a result of lazy writing and unoriginality. Movie producers need to realize that relying on A-list actors and overdone clichés is not enough to earn the approval of romance lovers and get to work on high-quality rom-com movies that people want.


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