Five Romcoms You Should Side-Eye.

After a brief conversation about John Hughes’ 1984 teen romcom classic, Sixteen Candles, this morning, I was reminded of something I’ve always suspected by never taken the time to truly analyze: romantic comedies are never as innocuous as their writers would have you believe. For all their spin about happy endings, they’re about as kind to women as Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and for all their denigration of women, they’re equally damaging to dudes.

Think about it. We all know the setup: the stars meet cute; they quarrel; and they reconcile over strains of an ovary-tingling, Lilith Fair-friendly jam. But let’s just stop for a minute and really dissect these “quarrels.” If a guy cheats on his new love interest in a romantic comedy, she’s getting off easy. Most of the time, it’s a whole lot worse than that. In fact, were many of the scenarios you find in classic romantic comedies to surface in real-time, they’d be downright unforgivable offenses.

Here are five romantic comedy “quarrels” that should’ve ended in restraining orders, rather than reconciliation:

1. You’ve Got Mail

Kathleen Kelly’s children’s bookstore, Just Around the Corner, is her life. Not only is it her main source of income, but it’s also her biggest tangible connection to her long-deceased mother. She inherited the store and is determined to carry on her mother’s legacy of charging 75 bucks per hardcover classic to upper-crust Manhattanites. Yes, Kathleen’s dream is unrealistic–even if this film takes place a good 15 years before the Kindle. But she’s pretty attached to it. She’s a precious, cutesy, storytelling, sweater-set-wearing nitwit, then, for letting the man who bankrupted her shop with his Barnes & Noblesque megastore also steal her heart.

I like Tom Hanks as much as the next guy and he was particularly hot in that movie. But if you force me to close down a store my mother ran for forty years, you’re not gonna be able to bring me daisies, mock my attraction to an internet pen pal who happens to be you, stand me up for a blind date with said internet pen pal, and then effectively woo me. While Kathleen tearily breathes, “I hoped it would be you,” as Joe reveals his identity as her online love, I’m still mourning the loss of the handtipped pop-up books she lost to his steamrolling.

2. Sixteen Candles

This one’s not so much a quarrel as a general side-eye to John Hughes for trying to sell Jake Ryan as a “dream guy.” The lowly sophomore Samantha wants the most popular boy in school. Despite being Molly Ringwald, Samantha laments her homeliness and invisibility, while pining over the unattainable senior. But Jake’s no prize and you can’t convince me otherwise. Because while we’re all swooning over the romance of him trying, in his high school way, to pursue her, we forget he’s also pimping out his current girlfriend to Anthony Michael Hall. He actually says, before pouring her passed out body into a car, “I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to.” Then, the next morning, upon finding out that Hall has, in fact, violated her (neither claims to remember, but sex was had, which means she didn’t consent), Jake tries to get retroactively protective. “Do you want me to beat that guy up?” No. I want you beat up. Before you’re doing the same thing to a passed out Samantha next year.

3. Sabrina (1995)

Sabrina, the chauffeur’s daughter, is hopelessly in love with her employer’s wayward, playboy son. So what does his responsible, ruthless brother do? He courts her, convinces her that he’s falling for her and wants to move to Paris with her, then brutally confesses that he’s really been trying to pay her to leave the country alone all along. Look, I don’t care if you are ’90s era salt-and-pepper-hot Harrison Ford. Nobody deserves a love redux after a diss that harsh.

4. Love & Basketball

I know this is going to tip a few sacred cows, but lemme throw caution to the wind right quick: Quincy was an asshole. I’m sure it’s really heart-warming to see him bouncing his daughter and watching his WNBA-playing wife from the sidelines, secure in his self-worth and masculinity, but should Monica have put up with all that to get us here? And by all that I mean, being blamed for having ambition, being cheated on, then dumped pretty publicly outside the college dorms, and then being beaten in the game-for-his-heart because he thought she needed to be taught some kind of lesson (What lesson, you ask? I’m still wonderin’, too. You hurt her on purpose. She hurt you by accident. Herb.)

5. My Best Friend’s Wedding

It’s true that Julia Roberts doesn’t actually get the guy in this movie, but she’s lucky she didn’t catch a case. Hacking into people’s email is a felony, Jules. If you kiss a groom three hours before his wedding, in an attempt to get him to cancel it, you should get a lot more than, “You’re the pus that infects the mucus that cruds up the fungus that feeds on the pond scum,” as a reprimand. And you for damn sure shouldn’t be still allowed to participate in the wedding. I don’t care how many songs you loan the happy couple that used to belong to you and the groom when y’all were kickin’ it.


slb (aka Stacia L. Brown) is a writer, mother, and college instructor in Baltimore, MD. Check her out here: and here:
  • Scipio Africanus

    The writeres write this type of stuff because they believe it will/should hit the right buttons with the members of the target audiences for these movies.

  • I caught some of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and forgot that she was allowed to be in the wedding after kissing the groom.

    And Quincy WAS an asshole.

    I was going to write a similar post about nice guys who got screwed in romantic movies (like James Marsden in “The Notebook”)

    • quick: name a movie in which James Marsden doesn’t get screwed.

      • slb

        Death at a Funeral. He walked away with Zoe Saldana *and* most of his scenes. (He was one of the few funny parts of that film, for me.)

      • I was going to say “27 Dresses” but he ended up with Katherine Heigel so I don’t know if that’s a win

        • slb

          I have seen that movie more times that I care to admit. Not because I like it. Because I like FX, especially when there’s nothing else on. And for a while there? It was *always* on FX.

          He was kind of playing against type in that one. I liked him a little, but interestingly, I only liked him when he started doing The Marsden (i.e. “I cried at that wedding”/Bennie and the Jets).

          But, as a writer, I never think the “being duplicitously journalistic” trope is all that egregious. They trot this one out a LOT: 27 Dresses, Hitch, Never Been Kissed. And I don’t know. Stack that against lying about being in love with someone so that they’ll leave the country (and your family fortune) alone, and it just doesn’t seem that bad.

          • I’ve seen “27 Dresses” more than I’d like to admit (more than once) also due to FX. Wasn’t FX supposed to be like a Guy channel? What happened there?

            • slb

              i don’t know. it’s pretty guy-centered. on girl days, they’ll rock out 27 and that other clunker, Made of Honor (omg. HATE!). if i’m lucky, i get Devil Wears Prada. or even Mr. & Mrs. Smith. but more often than not it’s some big explosive joint from summers long past.

        • @Seanathan: i laughed.

  • This could apply to James Marsden in 25-35% of his total filmography. Remember how Jean Grey did him in X3? He stayed losing for a while there.

  • Don’t forget “The Best Man.” I know this is grounds for treason in the black community, but there was nary a functional relationship in the movie. He was a ho, so she slept with his best friend? Messy. Taye Diggs’ wooden acting, borderline cheating on Sanaa out of self-centered nostalgia AND she takes him back? Messy. Merch getting with an Audre Lord-quoting shake dancer? Messy. Terrence Howard? A green-eyed mess. That movie was fun to watch, but was really a display of what I would NOT want in my friends, engagement, wedding or marriage.


    • I wish there were a like button. I never did get the “romance” of that flick. Or Love Jones. They weren’t together long enough/consistently enough to have a love that was “urgent as a mf-er.”

      • people will look at you look like you’re crazy if you don’t worship at the altar of those two breathtakingly mediocre movies.

        i don’t get it.

        • Because honestly a lot of us haven’t been privy/exposed to functional, healthy, loving black relationships, or we think they are some mythical beasts. This movie gets me so fired up! lol. woo-sah

          • slb

            I’ve been thinking about this lately, as I keep catching re-airs of Deliver Us From Eva and Two Can Play That Game, both of which I’ve seen for the first time in the past year.

            I have a lot to say about both of these. But not here. Not like this. lol

            Eva actually belongs on this list. How could I have forgotten that?!

          • i honestly think the “exposed to functional relationships” thing is kind of a myth. it gets repeated a lot to justify why we should like these movies — overstating the case — even though there’s not a lot of evidence, i think, that it’s true. or, at least not a lot of evidence that that would be specific to Negroes.

            • Ok, what I meant to say (telling on myself here) :

              Many, not all, of my colleagues (self included) have not had strong black relationships as examples. So when movies like “Best Man” “The Wood” “Love Jones” etc. comes out, we are expected to gobble it up, not because it is especially amazing (all the casts are exactly the same – mike epps, taye diggs sanaa lathan, nia long, regina hall), but because they show middle/creative class Negroes doing sh*t. And while it surely makes for entertainment, it is not the best form art/storytelling, imo. What’s interesting is that people act like that sh*t is manna from heaven, ambrosia from the gawds. #gtfoh.

              • yep, yep. in total agreement.

  • I think there are a lot more romantic comedies that can get the side eye. How about High Fidelity? Rob cheats on Laura while she’s pregnant. Of course, he didn’t know she was pregnant, but when he finds out about the abortion, he makes her feel all guilty about it.

    • slb

      Oh, Rob was reprehensible. I didn’t even think of HF because I was targeting cutesy romcoms that everyone touts as romantic. HF acknowledges how effed up Rob is. it doesn’t feel romantic in the way that traditional romcoms do.

    • I never felt like their reunion was borne of a strong desire to be with one another, at least on her part. He had regrets about their relationship and she just kinda gave up trying not to be with him. I always appreciated the honesty of that.

  • quadmoniker

    I’m the only person alive who liked the Sabrina remake.

    • slb

      no, i really really love that movie. like, really love. but that’s *crazy,* isn’t it? i don’t know if “save me, Sabrina fair, you’re the only one who can” would’ve been enough for me.

      • quadmoniker

        I mean, Harrison Ford would have been enough for me. At that time.

        • slb

          now that you mention it: YES. he was perfectly cast and Greg Kinnear was woefully miscast… although i guess anyone could’ve played that. it just seemed like he was outclassed, acting-wise. he’s a much better actor now.

  • OMG! This is hilarious.

    I couldn’t stand Julia Robert’s character in My Best Friend’s Wedding, but I LOVE the movie for Rupert Everett. He, alone, makes the entire thing (Cameron Diaz included) worthwhile.LOL

    Oh, I have another one for the James Marsden rule: Enchanted. Dude, when you can’t get the girl and you are LITERALLY Prince Charming, hang it up. LOL

    • Haha! When someone is seemingly perfect but just isn’t the one, they should be referred to as a Marsden

      • so it shall be.

  • slb

    Now this is a quotable: “Dude, when you can’t get the girl and you are LITERALLY Prince Charming, hang it up. LOL”



  • Amber

    I felt sorry for Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Cusack was a total douche in that movie! Seriously, forcing Diaz to give up her education because he’s too selfish to not move around for a few years while she finishes school? And the way he talks to her is infantile. I hoped that Roberts would win him back, because Cusack and Roberts totally deserved each other in that movie.

    • thewayoftheid

      Oh, that wasn’t Cusack. That was Dermot Mulroney. And I think that was the last thing he was in. Poor dude. MFBW is one of my favorite movies BECAUSE Julia Roberts doesn’t get the guy.

  • tedra

    How is it possible that no one has mentioned “Pretty Woman” yet???

    Richard Gere BUYS Julia Roberts. But we’re supposed to think it’s all romantic that they “fall in love.” EWWWWWW.

  • Coward

    How about “Say Anything”? Cause if you show up in the middle of the night and blare music on my front lawn I’m calling the cops …

  • Firmi

    I prefer when lists like these stick with examples where the film is actively telling us that dreadful behaviour is romantic/reasonable/immediately easily forgiveable – don’t think “My Best Friend’s Wedding” really belongs on here.

    Surely the film’s main point is that Julia Roberts’s character *thinks* she’s the rom-com heroine for whom everything is justified because it’s for True Love, only to realise gradually that she’s actually being a horrible person. I’m not JR’s biggest fan but it was actually quite an unusual take on rom-com traditions, in which the hero/heroine’s impending marriage is always misguided and disposable…

    • slb

      I think someone else here mentioned that even the main romance in this movie is a bit sketchy. Diaz is being emotionally blackmailed into giving up a degree in architecture to follow her much older husband around while he covers sporting events.

      When he gets angry, his tone with her is demeaning and scolding. They’re not gonna make it as a couple, but *that* is sold as a better romantic pairing than he and Jules.

      And then there’s my main example: after her behavior, it’s true that it’s great she didn’t get the guy and he didn’t find her antics romantic. But he did find them “flattering.” And he meaningfully gazed at her and hugged her after breaking away from his new wife to say goodbye to her. I don’t know; after almost getting me fired and breaking up my wedding, we’re not going to be sharing meaningful, the-way-we-were gazes at my wedding reception. I get that the moral is that she grew and ain’t forgiveness grand. But, like the rest of the would-be suitors in these films, she got off too easy, even if she didn’t win the guy.

  • Pingback: Weekly Feminist Reader()

  • Renface

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned The Switch, with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman. To quote the movie, he “hijacked” her pregnancy. Does it make it better that he did it while he was super-duper drunk and didn’t remember for years afterward? Nope. I can’t tell if this movie can even be called a romcom, or if it’s a horror film. o_O

    • slb

      The Switch wasn’t on my radar. At all. But yeah, that sounds absolutely irredeemable.

  • scrumby

    I once took a film course on romantic comedies and wrote my final paper on You’ve Got Mail which is the pinnacle of neoconservative rom-coms (neo-coms.) It absolutely trashes women and nontraditional families, going out of it’s way to show you how weird and perverse single motherhood and divorce are. To top it off it takes all this conservative family values crap and packages it in a wave of the future wrapping. Old stuff like small bookstores and absent fathers are a thing of the past; today it’s all email and submitting your life to your husband.

  • Pingback: Romance, comedy, and a side of sick feeling in the pit of your stomach | Critical Sass()

  • Heff

    My main problem with Love Jones is that they both were terrible poets. I can believe that people can feel something “urgent as a motherfucker” after only a short time together.
    Also, why do these movies seem to insist that you can only meet the love of your life if you are in disguise pretending to be someone else, participating in a bet, pratfalling on the streeet, or 12 yearls old? How bout meeting somebody at a bar or a dinner party, like just about every actual couple I know?

  • I love 16 candles! That’s about the only “romantic comedy” I’ll ever watch!