Not your usual romantic comedies

The kinds of romantic comedies that even men can admit to liking

by Steve Withers Feb 13, 2015 at 3:02 PM

  • Whilst we might not like to admit it, everyone secretly loves a romantic comedy.
    We all enjoy seeing a film where two people overcome various comic obstacles before finally getting together in time for the end credits. Yes, these films often follow a similar pattern of two people who initially don’t like each other but ultimately realise what the audience already knows, that they’re soul mates. The established plot line that we’ve just described has been the basis of almost every romantic comedy since the early days of cinema.

    However this particular genre has really gained in popularity over the last thirty years. In fact all the studios churn out romantic comedies on a fairly regular basis and most of these follow a tried and tested formula. Invariably there’s a guy and a girl, a best friend for comic relief, a few misunderstandings and a reunion scene at an airport. The template for just about every modern romantic comedy was established in Rob Reiner’s 1989 film When Harry Met Sally.

    That particular film had everything - a pair of charming leads, a pair of best friends and plenty of excellent one-liners. It also had something fresh and interesting to say about modern relationships, which is undoubtedly why it has been so influential. However we’re going to try and avoid any of the obvious examples of the modern romantic comedy and choose ten films that offer something a little different; films that perhaps you wouldn’t even consider as romantic comedies.

    So, for example, you won’t find Annie Hall on the list because, despite being the granddaddy of the modern romantic comedy, it just seemed too obvious. We also haven’t forgiven it for robbing Star Wars of Best Film at the Oscars in 1978 but that’s another story. So without further delay and just in time for Valentine’s Day, here’s a slightly left-field selection of our favourite romantic comedies.

    Groundhog Day (1993) - Columbia Pictures - available on Blu-ray and Amazon Prime

    The high concept of this Bill Murray comedy vehicle - a man must live the same day over and over again until he gets it right - often obscures the fact that it’s actually a romantic comedy. Yes, Murray’s acerbic weatherman becomes a better person over the course of his infinitely-repeated day. But it’s only when he earns of the love of Andie MacDowell’s Rita that he escapes his torturous time loop. Murray has never been better as the sarcastic Phil Connors, and thanks to a great script and tight direction from the late Harold Ramis, the result is a genuine modern classic.

    Aside from its romantic and comedic elements, the movie also acts as a clever commentary on film itself, as scenes are continually repeated. It’s title even created a new phrase which the dictionary actually defines as a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way. If the film has any flaws it’s that you secretly prefer nasty Phil to the nice version, and frankly Rita is a bit boring. However Groundhog Day is genuinely funny, with some laugh-out-loud moments, and a satisfying romantic conclusion. So it makes our list, although by the end you’ll never want to hear Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ ever again!

    The Sure Thing (1985) - Studio Canal - available on Blu-ray

    Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally may be excluded due to over-familiarity, but his first foray into romantic comedy makes our list by adding that other staple of modern cinema - the road trip. The Sure Thing was only the director’s second feature and back in it couldn't have been easy trying to follow This is Spinal Tap, possibly the funniest film ever made. Thankfully Reiner proves he’s no one-hit wonder with this charming and highly amusing tale of a pair of students who must travel across country together. The film stars a young John Cusack in one of his first starring roles, as the intelligent but slobbish Walter ‘Gib’ Gibson. Daphne Zuniga’s Alison Bradbury is his polar-opposite - highly organised, studious and buttoned-down.

    Unsurprisingly they immediately hate each other and are horrified to discover they must share a car from when travelling from New England to California for the Christmas holidays. Gib’s best friend Lance, played by an equally young Anthony Edwards, has a arranged a ‘sure thing’ - a girl who is guaranteed to sleep with him. The film follows the mismatched pair on their comedic misadventures as they go from one calamity to another before finally reaching California and the inevitable conclusion. Whilst the film manages to cover all the cliches of both the romantic comedy and the road trip, it does so with a wonderful sense of comic timing. The result is an often overlooked little gem that really benefits from Cusack’s undeniable charm and some genuine chemistry between the two leads. If that wasn’t enough, you even get a young Tim Robbins as fellow student who loves show tunes.

    Clueless (1995) - Paramount Pictures - available on Blu-ray, Amazon Prime and Netflix

    When you consider that Jane Austen’s novels are full of protagonists who initially dislike each other but ultimately fall in love, not to mention various misunderstandings, obstacles and comic minor characters, it’s no surprise that they lend themselves to being adapted into romantic comedies. So it is with Clueless, which retains all the spirit of Austen’s 'Emma', whilst updating the story for a modern audience. Alicia Silverstone has never been cuter as valley girl Cher and her attempts to play matchmaker whilst being so utterly clueless in her own love life form the basis of the film's plot.

    A very clever script and some great direction from Amy Heckerling, along with a fantastic supporting cast make Clueless a no-brainer. Dan Hedaya is very funny as Cher's father, whilst Paul Rudd makes a great romantic foil as her step-brother Josh. His innate charm makes you glad that his career has been revived by Judd Apatow in the last few years. There's also the late Brittany Murphy as Tai, the girl that Cher tries to mould in her own image, and Breckin Meyer as stoner skateboarder. What's really remarkable is how similar Clueless is to 'Emma' whilst retaining a modern sensibility and remaining completely relevant in its own right. Who would have thought we'd ever be recommending a romantic comedy and Jane Ausen in the same sentence.

    Bridget Jones' Diary (2001) - Universal Pictures - available on Blu-ray and Amazon Prime

    Whilst all the other films on this list are American, there have also been plenty of excellent British romantic comedies - most of them courtesy of Richard Curtis. He’s written The Tall Guy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually but it’s his adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary that makes the list. This time taking its cues from Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', right down to naming one of the characters Darcy, the film charts all the usual romantic comedy tropes. However a very witty script, some imaginative direction and a genuinely charming performance from Renee Zellweger help raise the finished article above the crowd.

    There’s also the fun casting of Colin Firth playing a character who, in the original book, was described as looking like Colin Firth in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. However the film’s secret weapon is Curtis regular Hugh Grant, playing against type as the caddish Daniel Cleaver. Grant, who gets some of the best lines, has never been better and the film simply comes alive when he’s on screen. A strong supporting cast of some of the best British character actors makes Bridget Jones’s Diary the quintessential romantic comedy. It also takes place in an England that only exists in Richard Curtis’s imagination; a world where it snows at Christmas and everyone is frightfully posh.

    Jerry Maguire (1995) - Columbia Pictures - available on Blu-ray, Amazon Prime and Netflix

    Cameron Crowe could have made this list with his seminal 80s classic Say Anything but it's just too serious to be classified as a comedy. Still who doesn't remember John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler holding a boombox over his head as he tries to woo Ione Skye. Cusack really was the 80s equivalent of Hugh Grant when it came to romantic comedies. However Jerry Maguire does make the list because, despite the sports agent storyline and Cuba Gooding Jr. scene-stealing his way to an Oscar, the film is ultimately a love story. The sharply-observed script by Crowe himself is perfectly crafted, like a Swiss watch, and full of fantastic one-liners. But it doesn't shy away from the more serious aspects of the story.

    Despite its comedic elements, let's not forget that Jerry essentially has a nervous breakdown. But at the film's core, it's the love of Renee Zelweger's single mum that saves him. The film is very funny too, not just thanks to Gooding Jr,. but also thanks to some surprisingly adept comic-timing from Tom Cruise. As for Zellweger in her first major role, well she's never been cuter and her devotion to her son and Jerry is truly heart-warming. You desperately want the two leads to get together, which is ultimately the definition of a romantic comedy. Like all great films, it's also provided our language with a new phrase: after all who hasn't said "you had me at hello" at some point?

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - Universal Pictures - available on Blu-ray, Amazon Prime and Netflix

    We said there'd be some left-field choices on this list and a romantic comedy written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) could never really be anything else. The conceit behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is brilliant - the idea that you can erase people from your memories when you break up with them thus avoiding all that pain. But what if you kept falling in love with the same person? Kaufman takes this idea and runs with it, fashioning a witty and very clever script (the company that erases the memories is called Lacuna Inc.) that manages to avoid his usual problem with third acts - something that he actually addressed in his screenplay for the film Adaptation.

    Kaufman's partner in crime is Michel Gondry, the French music video director, who brings a surreal eye to the proceedings. His use of practical effects is especially effective, giving the entire film a dream-like quality. Jim Carey delivers one of his best performances as the emotionally withdrawn Joel Barish, whilst Kate Winslet is winningly endearing as the unrestrained free-spirit Clementine Kruczynski. They stars are ably supported by a superb group of actors including Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst; all helping to breathe life into Kaufman's unique script. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is both funny and romantic but more importantly, it makes you think about the real nature of love, memory and relationships.

    WALL-E (2008) - Pixar/Disney - available on Blu-ray and Amazon Prime

    An animated Pixar movie, surely you can't be serious? Yes we are. WALL-E has all the hallmarks of a great romantic comedy with our literally star-crossed lovers overcoming various comedic obstacles to be together. WALL-E is probably the last great Pixar movie, with gorgeous widescreen animation and an endearing central character - a little trash-compactor droid who is diligently cleaning up a ruined planet Earth whilst pining for something more. His love of the film Hello Dolly is beautifully realised, whilst the entirely silent opening section perfectly realises his character through some very funny slapstick.

    When a more advance droid called EVE arrives to search for any organic life on the planet, she immediately tries to destroy WALL-E: you can't get any more initially hostile than that! But they soon fall in love and so WALL-E leaves the confines of Earth for a space-based adventure. The film addresses many issues including pollution, evolution and the future of humanity but at its core is the relationship between the chunky and dirty WALL-E and the sleek white EVE, whose design is clearly meant to invoke thoughts of Apple devices. As only great films can, WALL-E manages to cover a multitude of different subjects whilst appealing to all ages. And WALL-E and EVE dancing in space, with WALL-E using a fire extinguisher for propulsion, will melt even the hardest of hearts.

    The Princess Bride (1987) - Lions Gate - available on Blu-ray and Amazon Prime

    We know, another Rob Reiner film but what can we say, the director was on a roll. In fact we'd defy anyone to come up with a more impressive series of films than Reiner - Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men and Misery. Blimey! However the fantasy elements of The Princess Bride mean that it's often overlooked for what it really is - a romantic comedy. We have all the classic trapping including the star-crossed lovers, the various obstacles, the misunderstandings, the comic sidekicks and the happy ending. In fact the entire film is about true love; expressed by the simple words "as you wish". Whether that love is between a young couple, a man for his dead father or a grandfather for his grandson.

    The film also has a fantastic script by William Goldman, adapted from his own novel. The screenplay is full of great one-liners, fights, giants, true love, nasty villains and the ROUSs - what more could anyone want? Well, there's also a great cast, with Cary Elwes looking suitably handsome as Westley and Robin Wright doing a great English accent as the beautiful Princess Buttercup. Once you include Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, Peter Falk, Fred Savage and Billy Crystal, you know you're in good hands. The Princess Bride is the kind of film that you can enjoy as a kid and, when you grow up, suddenly realise that you don't mind the 'kissing bits'. It's also given a generation of men the chance to gloss over the fact they're watching a romantic-fantasy-comedy by going around saying "My name is Inigo Montoya. You Killed my father. Prepare to die!"

    High Fidelity (2000) - Touchstone/Disney - available on Blu-ray

    Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, the plot of High Fidelity is so universal that the film version transplanted the story from Camden to Chicago and didn't have to change a thing. Directed by Stephen Frears and co-written by star John Cusack (he really is the king of romantic comedies) the result is a perfectly observed study of what men really think and feel. This is achieved by having Cusack's character talk directly to camera; it's a tricky conceit to get right but the films pulls it off brilliantly. This is in no small part thanks to the undeniable charm of Cusack, whose character isn't necessarily that likeable but you root for him anyway. The plot involves a record story owner who goes through his top five break-ups in the hope of discovering why he keeps getting dumped.

    All the while, of course, he fails to see how perfectly suited is most recent ex-girfriend was for him. Cusack is ably supported by the two assistants who work at his record store, played by Todd Louiso and Jack Black. In fact the latter, in his break-out role, nearly steals the entire film and certainly gets the biggest laughs. However the rest of the cast are equally as good with Iben Hjelle playing the straight role of the ex-girlfriend; whilst Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tim Robbins both deliver hysterical cameos. The record store setting also means that the film boasts a fantastic soundtrack, making High Fidelity the romantic comedy that men can admit to liking. Be careful though, it might give your partner a bit too much insight into what you're really like.

    (500) Days of Summer (2009) - 20th Century Fox - available on Blu-ray and Amazon Prime

    Our final choice is a film that deliberately deconstructs the romantic comedy by using all the elements that you would expect to find and then completely subverting your expectations. It has romance, comedy, misunderstanding, obstacles and sidekicks but, right at the start, it tells the viewer it's not a love story. As the title suggests, the plot covers the 500-day span of the relationship between Tom, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Summer, played by Zoe Deschanel. However the film presents this relationship in non-linear order, jumping backwards and forwards within the 500 days. This allows the filmmakers to juxtapose different parts of the relationship, going from a moment of happiness to one of utter misery in a single jump-cut. The writers use this conceit to great effect, really getting to the heart of a modern relationship and tapping into emotions that we've all felt.

    It's also cleverly directed by Mark Webb, who went on to direct the recent Spider-Man films, although we assume his surname is just a coincidence. There are two stand-out scenes that show Webb's skill as a director. The first is Tom's walk to work after first sleeping with Summer, which turns into a song and dance number. The other is when Tom goes to a party that Summer is holding; Webb uses split-screen to show you Tom's expectations of the evening and the reality simultaneously. The two leads are exceptional and have real chemistry on screen, making the inevitable conclusion hard to take. Although the film is slightly cynical at times, it is at least honest, ending the relationship exactly as it promised at the start. So in a sense (500) Days of Summer is the anti-romantic comedy but even this cynical film can't help finishing on a satisfying and very funny note.
    (500) Days of Summer has romance and comedy but tells you upfront that it is not a love story.
    So there you have it, a list of romantic comedies that provide the required degree of humour and romance but hopefully in some unusual ways. Perhaps there are some of your favourites in there and maybe even a few that you haven't seen. Either way, we think these are kind of romantic films that you can admit to liking without feeling emasculated. But what are your favourites and can you think of any other films that might be romantic comedies masquerading as something else? We'd love to hear your views, so let us know in the thread below.

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