How Netflix gave a dying genre the kiss of life and saved the rom-com
Around the same time as the film industry observed a growth in streaming and a decline in theatrical attendance, an interesting thing happened. The rom-com died.
And it wasn’t like it died a sudden death, as if it was hit by a bus under a stormy sky, its head cradled in the arms of its lover; it died slowly, its last few years spent on life support provided by Judd Apatow and Nancy Meyers. In recent years, very few romantic comedies have witnessed the sort of success that we saw in the late ‘90s or the early 2000s. Gone are the days when Sleepless in Seattle or Notting Hill could do the business of a small Marvel movie. Gone are the days when Adam Sandler could deliver a dozen $100 million home runs. In a row.
The box office success of the recent Crazy Rich Asians came after an almost year-long dry spell that the genre had experienced. Here’s the thing: As streaming became more accessible and ticket prices increased, audiences decided that not all movies deserve a trip to the theatre. So now, theatrical releases are divided into very clear categories: Indies and event movies. Mid-budget films have all but disappeared, and they’ve taken the romantic comedy down with them.
But during this unfortunate time, while we were all mourning the demise of our guilty pleasure genre, it was witnessing a resurgence online. And for that, we have to thank the unlikeliest of human beings: Mr Adam Sandler.
You see, while the rest of the industry was scratching its head, wondering why people weren’t turning up to see the latest Julia Roberts joint, Sandler realised that his core audience was too lazy to watch his movies in theatres. So he signed a four-picture deal with Netflix, and introduced another generation to the sort of movies they can watch half-asleep, while doing their laundry or something.
In any case, if it wasn’t for Sandler’s foresight all those years ago, we wouldn’t be in the middle of what the internet has collectively decided is ‘The Summer of Love’ - a wonderful few months in which Netflix released several (very good) romantic comedies. And because these films arrived so close to each other - basically between March and August - this moment is being hailed as a sort of resurgence for the genre.
And here are the films responsible for it. Keep in mind, while we’re going to play it fast and loose with the definition of rom-com, the only qualification is that the film has to be a ‘Netflix Original’.
Set it Up
No other movie on this list owns the rom-com title with more pride than Set it Up. And like each film you will read about here, it’s the cast that elevates their largely familiar stories. It was recently reported that Tom Cruise was so impressed by actor Glen Powell’s Top Gun 2 audition that he had a role written specifically for him. With Set it Up, Powell and his co-star Zoey Deutch prove that they are stars. The last time a romantic comedy did this for an actor was in 2009, when Emma Stone blew everyone away with Easy A.
To All the Boy’s I’ve Loved Before
Along with Set it Up, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has sort of acquired pop-culture phenomenon status. And both movies have been instrumental in providing a launchpad for other rom-coms on the platform. Memes were made, think pieces were written, and slightly shady lust was expressed for actor Noah Centineo (who is basically a Mark Ruffalo clone and will remind every self-respecting romantic comedy aficionado of the classic film, 13 Going on 30).
Here’s the thing about the movies listed here, as many of you would’ve noticed already: They aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel. Most of them, and especially the ones we’re talking about here, adhere very strictly to the tropes of the genre. And Happy Anniversary is no different. Ben Schwartz and Noël Wells (playing yet another role in which she spurns her lover, after Master of None) star as a couple that realises their relationship has arrived at a standstill. To set itself apart, the film juxtaposes two parallel plotlines - one about the terrible third anniversary they’re having, and the other that tells in through flashback of how they arrived there.
It’s interesting to note how Netflix originals have in the last couple of years. It initially seemed as though the idea was to produce serious awards fare - the slate began with Cary Fukunaga’s Beast of No Nation, remember? - but that plan (if it ever was a plan) has been all but abandoned now. Like Father is precisely the sort of film that is no longer released in theatres - it doesn’t exactly have the indie vibe of Happy Anniversary and nor is it like The Hangover. And technically speaking, the rom-com aspect is rather secondary to the story, which is mostly about an estranged father-daughter duo forced to reconnect aboard a cruise ship. But how can you ignore Seth Rogen as the romantic interest - maybe the first time he’s played such a role since Knocked Up or Zack and Miri Make a Porno?
I Feel Pretty
It is important to note two crucial details about Amy Schumer’s film. A, while it wasn’t technically a Netflix original, it was rebranded as such outside the US and hence, it qualifies; and b, that film whose opening weekend record Crazy Rich Asian broke was Trainwreck, which is, of course, another Schumer vehicle. Honestly, while I Feel Pretty often bites off more than it can chew - no pun intended - seen simply as an empowering tale respecting yourself and not as a revolutionary call-to-arms, it works.
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