In Defense of Romantic Comedies: How the Genre Empowers Women

When searching for powerful and relatable representations of women in film, most people probably don’t turn to the romantic comedy genre first. The leading ladies of romantic comedies typically have a perfect job as a magazine reporter in a stylish big city apartment, where they wake up every morning fresh-faced with a gorgeous hairstyle. A tall and handsome love interest will sneak his way into her life somehow when she least expects it, and they’ll live happily ever after. 

Unfortunately, life just doesn’t work that way for most women. But that doesn’t mean romantic comedies are unworthy of love from the female film community. They may not be the most prestigious pieces, but hold deep value for women who want to feel uplifted and hopeful when they’re consuming media.

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They Give Us Iconic Characters to Idolize

Throughout film history, romantic comedies have delivered some of the wittiest, most relatable female characters on screen — take Katherine Hepburn’s Tracy Lord in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ for example. Even though the film is over 80 years old, her quick one-liners and confident attitude are inspiring to see from a female character. She doesn’t sit idly by while Cary Grant’s Dexter treats her poorly during their marriage, she retaliates and ends up helping him become a better man in the process. 

In the same vein, Constance Wu plays NYU economics professor Rachel Chu in ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ who flies to Singapore to meet the family of her boyfriend, Nick. Nick has a highly overprotective mother that doesn’t think Rachel is worthy of him, but Rachel stands her ground and defends her value. While she may not be wealthy like Nick and his family, Rachel doesn’t let that stop her from being happy.

Possibly the most classic example of an iconic romantic comedy leading lady is Meg Ryan, who starred in ‘When Harry Met Sally,‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ and ‘You’ve Got Mail’ all in the span of nine years. Ryan managed to differentiate each role and the chemistry she shared with her co-stars, Billy Crystal and Tom Hanks, but her signature charm and humor comes through in all of them. 

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Everyone Deserves to Find Their Perfect Person

Romantic comedies are proof that women don’t have to settle for someone less than they deserve. Many times, the film opens with the heroine’s boyfriend breaking up with her or treating her poorly. Take the dinner scene from ‘Legally Blonde,’ where Warren breaks up with Elle instead of giving her a romantic marriage proposal. This seemed like a major setback for Elle, but it only fueled her motivation to pursue a legal career and find a partner actually worthy of her time. Every woman might not become a lawyer after a breakup, but this pop culture phenomenon should serve as a reminder that women are worthy of unconditional love, and should never be the afterthought of someone that doesn’t respect them.

In the most recent romantic comedy box office smash ‘Anyone But You,’ Sydney Sweeney’s character, Bee, faced pressure from her parents to get back together with her longtime boyfriend, even though she felt the spark burned out in their relationship. Being with him meant familiarity and security, but Bee argued that passion was just as important. Instead of taking the easy road, she pursued a relationship with Glen Powell’s Ben, who challenged her view of the world. Having a partner to quarrel with from time to time is healthy, especially when paired with the endearing humor of ‘Anyone But You.’

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Nobody is Perfect

Too often, it seems women put immense pressure on themselves to be perfect in every aspect of their lives. It starts by working hard in high school to get accepted into a major university, then graduating with honors and transitioning flawlessly into an idealistic career. If something goes wrong along the way, it feels impossible to bounce back.

Romantic comedies present how the female experience is messy and there’s no correct way to move through life. In ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary,’ Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is 32 years old and feels like she’s completely lost control of herself with a drinking problem and elaborate fantasies about her boss. Throughout the film, she finds an outlet by writing her feelings down in a diary and motivating herself to become a healthier, happier person. There’s always an opportunity for women to regain authority in their lives, they just have to seize it.

It’s Okay to Just Have Fun

In order to break the stigma surrounding romantic comedies, film audiences have to realize that there are times when directors, actors and other creators just want to make a fun project. Academy Award winning actress Meryl Streep has discussed how ‘Mamma Mia!’ was “just a deliriously happy shoot,” even though it’s by no means the most groundbreaking film in her catalog. When actors have a great time on set, their enthusiasm extends to audiences and creates comfort films that will never grow old.

This genre provides a special kind of escape for audiences where the world isn’t being taken over by aliens, but instead it’s a place that fosters love and deeper connections between characters. Sometimes people will randomly break out into song in a romantic comedy, like in the Disney film ‘Enchanted.’ The story is soundtracked to catchy tunes that never quite go out of style, and are easy to belt out upon each watch. 

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Whenever the real world gets too dark or stressful, it’s good to know that there are films out there specifically crafted to serve as comfort for the soul. So even if romantic comedies seem silly or unbelievable, they’re a critical part of the film industry that deserves to be celebrated.

By Kaitlyn Murphy

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