“All rom-coms are the same.”
I was just on a trip with one of my best friends, and I showed her “Dirty Dancing” and “10 Things I Hate About You” – it was the first time she’d seen either one. Lying together in the dark, we laughed and cried and clutched our hearts, swooned at Heath Ledger and cheered on Baby. When she texted one of our male friends that we were watching Dirty Dancing and that rom-coms were her favorite genre of movie, he replied that “All rom-coms are the same.”
I have always been infuriated by the idea that rom-coms are just “chick flicks,” only for women, and therefore must be vapid and insubstantial. Yes, a lot of rom-coms are just wish-fulfillment glitter, without much merit. But a lot of action movies are equally pretty shallow, as well as horror movies and raunchy comedies. Just because women like rom-coms doesn’t mean that they are especially fluffy and dumb, or should they be gross and boring to men.
In my opinion, there are many rom-coms that actually are much more layered than they seem at first. “Dirty Dancing,” one of my favorite movies ever, is a brilliant and subtle commentary on classism, privilege, women’s rights and family dynamics. The plot, incredibly subversive for its time, shows the dangers of illegal abortion and gives much of the sexual agency to the teenage female main character, Baby. Beside, the movie also has great dance numbers, a gorgeous soundtrack; not to mention, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray. There’s something for everyone.
Other rom-coms have similar combinations of light romance and deeper complexity. “10 Things I Hate About You” updates Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” with a witty script, strong acting, ‘90s quirk and a feminist perspective. “Pretty in Pink” tackles class politics with sensitivity and optimism, and examines social standards. It also honors the desires of its main character, Andie, rather than having her end up with her sweetly doting best friend who she doesn’t like back. These movies have style and sparkle; they also have plot holes and too-neat endings. They’re not perfect. But if you look below the surface of these rom-coms and others, you’ll find that they are not all the same, nor are they boring. They are funny, moving, smart and instantly quotable. I won’t let anyone put them in a corner.