Top 10 Rom Coms of all time
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The rom com is a storytelling staple in all movie-going societies, particularly western ones. We love the whole neatly-wrapped package (guys included, I don’t care what you say): two people meet; everything goes wrong but it’s funny; crazy sidekick friends give really bad advice; jealous ex-lovers pop by to sabotage the blossoming romance. And the dialogue should crackle and zing like a packet of pop rocks.
While the standard has fallen in recent times, and everything you need to know about the film’s funny moments are contained in the trailer, we have some brilliant examples of what a good romantic comedy is by digging into the annals of rom com history. Let’s see how it’s done, shall we?
10. The Wedding Singer
Maybe it’s because I’m an 80s tragic, and the hair, outfits and soundtrack made me nostalgic, and Adam Sandler played someone who didn’t need to be made into a functioning human being, but I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this is a good romantic comedy.
It offers numerous highly memorable one-liners (“Hey, aunt Linda. You a bitch.”) and the chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore works. Did I mention the soundtrack? And how Billy Idol makes a cameo?
9. Bridget Jones’ Diary
I think it’s fair to say that Bridget Jones is the best example of a messy heroine. It’s a truthful portrayal of someone who has low self-esteem, seeks validation in the arms of a cad, and channels her frustration through alcohol and cigarettes. OK, the romance parts are pure Hollywood, but not the mechanics of the relationships and Bridget’s thought processes.
That she’s a little overweight was the focus for many, but really, the story just has so many compelling elements. OK, yes, we have Colin Firth being a modern-day Darcy and Hugh Grant plays the aforementioned cad to a tee. But beyond that, the dialogue is wonderful. Bridget – played so well by Renee Zellweger – is likeable, even at her most shattered. Her friendships are believable, as are her stuff-ups. Oh, and it gave us the term ‘smug marrieds’ (first in the book upon which it’s based).
8. Some Like it Hot
If you’re not familiar with old school comedy, you could do worse than to spend a Sunday afternoon watching this Marilyn Monroe classic. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are superb as two guys trying to get work by pretending they’re women (they play in a band).
This one has everything. Men dressed in drag. Hidden identity. And a happy ending (of course).
You also get to see what the fuss is about Monroe. She’s sweet and funny and says lines like:
“I don’t have a drinking problem. I could stop if I wanted to, but I don’t want to”, before proceeding to take another swig.
While it has some of the cringeworthy silliness of old movies (the laughter is so shrill), it’s still a remarkably clever, irreverent take on the romantic comedy genre.
7. The Philadelphia Story
This a smart, fast-paced romantic comedy with a difference. Ex-husband shows up on the weekend of his former wife’s wedding to a new guy. The energy between them is intense and when they’re not about ready to kill each other, you get the understanding of how a truly passionate, heartwrenching love affair works when it involves broken people.
But it’s done with humour and poise, and it has Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in it, so you really have nothing to lose by investing viewing time.
Incidentally, it’s the inspiration for the Grace Kelly classic, High Society, which made it a musical version (just not as awesome).
6. Pretty in Pink
If only because he delivered us the line “Welcome to another day of higher school education”, we should celebrate at least one of John Hughes' definitive Brat Pack films. They were funny, dramatic and personal and no comedy list would be complete without at least one, amiright?
Pretty in Pink gets a special mention because it takes so many classic rom com staples and delivers them well: poor girl Andie (Molly Ringwald) falls for rich boy Blane (Andrew McCarthy); things get West Side Story-ish, minus people killing each other; Blane’s asshole friend is played superbly well by James Spader; and Andie’s best friend Duckie is played as superbly well, and with the right amount of quirkiness, by Jon Cryer (undoubtedly his best performance, ever).
It’s famous for Ducky’s heartbreak; the way he helps Andy get back together with Blane, even though Blane was getting freaked out and being a dick; and the way Andie butchers a nice pink dress, giving us the title of this 1980s masterpiece.
5. Mostly Martha
Before the Catherine Zeta-Jones’ travesty, No Reservations, there was Mostly Martha, which was the original German flick upon which it was based.
It’s hard to see how a story about taking on your niece after your sister dies in a car crash can be a romantic comedy, but it’s a beautifully told, delicately humorous look at how, even as adults, we may still have some growing up to do.
Martina Gedeck is great as an uptight but top head chef, but it’s Sergio Castellito who steals the show as the new recruit – an easygoing chef, who helps Martha become a 3D woman, not just a functioning hologram.
4. My Best Friend’s Wedding
This might be a controversial choice, but Julia Roberts realising that people aren’t like food, and that the best friend she’s been treating like crap for 10 years is actually the love of her life is a pretty well-made rom com. You will laugh; the ending might even make you cry. Cameron Diaz also does a good turn as the highly strung bride-to-be of the groom who you want to dislike but just can’t after she humiliates herself at karaoke.
It not only marked Roberts’ triumphant return to movies after some flops, it also reminded us of how enjoyable romantic comedy can be when it’s done without dumbing down the script, and allowing the darker side of human nature to feature.
It’s not sugary sweet; it’s a very human story of what happens when we don’t allow love into our lives. (Um, it’s bad, basically.)
3. The Princess Bride
I might be cheating here, but I’m going to argue this list has a loophole and it allows for THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE.
OK, that might be stretching things, but what is there not to like? It’s an incredibly funny spoof of the classic fairytale; it has ‘true wuv’ (you have to watch it to get it); Billy Crystal acting like a looney; and so many classic lines, global T-shirt sales wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if William Goldman had never given us Inigo Montoya, Buttercup and Westley.
Also, it’s super clever, has a giant in it, and while it’s taking the piss out of romance stories, manages to deliver one of its very own without making you worry about your insulin levels.
2. When Harry Met Sally
Moving past the deli scene and line that this film is most notorious for (“I’ll have what she’s having”), there are other reasons why it is so esteemed. That age-old “can guys and girls be friends?” deal is handled with humour and honesty. The dialogue is genuinely funny and the film in general makes pertinent observations about relationships and human behaviour, aided by Billy Crystal being, well, Billy Crystal, and Meg Ryan balancing the angst with warmth.
It was written by the late Nora Ephron, who also gave us spunky rom coms like You’ve Got Mail (also good and one of the first to deal with cyber lurve).
1. It Happened One Night
I’m guessing not everyone will agree with my choice for number one, but they’re not writing this list, so whatever.
Note: this is how romantic comedy should be done. Tough newspaper guy Peter Warne (Clarke Gable) wants exclusive story on runaway rich girl Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert). They’re stuck with each other (rom com staple); they have the requisite tension (another rom com tick); and in spite of themselves, fall for each other (yay).
The dialogue zings; their chemistry is palpable; so many of the scenes are memorable; and the characters themselves are a little messed up, but not in an overly-annoying way.
The sexual tension isn’t overbaked either. In one scene, Colbert’s Ellie Andrews outdoes Gable’s Peter Warne by hailing a car by showing off her leg.
Peter Warne: Why didn't you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie Andrews: Well, ooh, I'll remember that when we need forty cars.
So much win.
I don’t know why I couldn’t place this in the top 10, but I think there’s still a part of me that has trouble glamourising the Cinderella-is-a-prostitute who gets rescued by a ruthless rich businessman. It’s a great film and it’s known around the world, not the least because of the scene where Roberts goes back to a Beverly Hills store that had turfed her out earlier and, laden with shopping bags, says they made a “big mistake, huge!”
A modern reinvention of Jane Austen’s classic Emma, it’s more highly attuned to pop culture and intellectual comedy than it may appear on the surface. Just brilliant.
Stranger than Fiction
Maybe Will Ferrell is trying for an Oscar with the occasional serious role, but he does a splendid job in this quirky film about storytelling, love and living. The romance with Maggie Gyllenhaal is sweet and the “Eat a cookie!” scene is beautiful.
As Good as it Gets
OK, so it’s Jack Nicholson, who’s better known for playing creepy gangster sorts, but there’s something that warms the cockles of your heart in a film that covers mental illness. Forget telling someone you love them; when Nicholson tells his love interest (Oscar winning Helen Hunt) that he’s started taking his medication, he ends with: “You make me want to be a better man”.
This movie not only landed Cher an Oscar (remember the outfit?), but it’s also original in that it’s based around volatile Italian families. Nicholas Cage plays self-pitying man with a wooden hand extremely well, and Cher slaps him across the face at one point, yelling the immortal line: “Snap out of it!” Just so much to love.
(Lead image via movies.film-cine.com)