Over the past several years, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the romantic comedy. Is it a dying genre? Is it an evolving genre? Can it be saved? Has it been saved?
When it comes to the type of rom-com I’m looking for when I go to the movie theater every Valentine’s Day, though, it really shouldn’t be that complicated. In fact, the kind of movie I’m looking for is inherently uncomplicated: Two people meet. Maybe they hate each other; maybe it’s love at first sight. There’s an obstacle, one big enough to keep them from making it work. But just when it seems like all hope is lost, they overcome that obstacle—and, for lack of a better phrase, they live happily ever after.
When I sit down in the theater on Feb. 14, I’m not asking for a movie that’s “good” in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, I’m asking for a nothing-more-than-entertaining rom-com, which means that a film that’s about 10 percent decent story, 15 percent humor, 25 percent cheesy moments, and 50 percent undeniable chemistry between its stars.
These movies don’t have to be realistic; they don’t have to be unpredictable. In fact, they shouldn’t be. We’re talking specifically about the type of movies that aren’t necessarily great films but are perfect, fluffy fun for Valentine’s Day or lazy afternoons. And with that in mind, there’s one percentage point where these kinds of movies have repeatedly fallen short as of late: the chemistry.
At the end of the day, a fluffy rom-com’s plot doesn’t matter if you can’t fall in love with its central pairing. Take recent-ish movies like No Strings Attached, This Means War, The Proposal, and The Ugly Truth, for example: The actors in these films weren’t bad, per se, but none of these pairings left the audience begging for more. Chemistry is essential to the rom-com experience; the right central couple can elevate a less-than-decent film to something that’s worthy of multiple viewings. And when chemistry is strong enough to make viewers want to watch the same actors inhabit completely new characters—and fall in love all over again—it clearly means something’s working.
In the history of modern romantic comedies, really there have been just three pairings whose chemistry was so memorable that they went on to do more than one film together. Obviously, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks worked together on Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail, some of the all-time great rom-coms. In fact, their films were better than most of what I’m looking for now—but a key part of that greatness was in Hanks and Ryan’s connection. Their chemistry was strongest in each movie’s humorous moments. They were funny, and they were normal. Together, they felt like a real, down-to-earth couple, the kind viewers could relate to. If they could have an amazing love story (or three), why couldn’t you?
Then there’s Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, who felt less like a real-life couple and more like two stunning movie stars. Their romantic—and sexual—chemistry was almost palpable. When he looked at her, viewers felt it. And when she laughed, we couldn’t help but fall in love with her too. They were the ideal—what every couple wanted to be.
As a duo, Roberts and Gere quickly became known for their chemistry, first with Pretty Woman and then with Runaway Bride. With these two, the fan obsession was strong enough that, in all honesty, Runaway Bride could’ve been the world’s worst movie—but people would still have gone to see it, if only for the chance to relive the connection they felt between these two in Pretty Woman.
The last couple to have that sort of chemistry? That’d be Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, who had the kind of connection that made you believe they had to be dating in the real world. In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, their chemistry was effortless. Where they excelled was in the everyday moments—holding hands while riding a ferry, laughing while eating hot dogs on the boardwalk. Together, they seemed to achieve a comfort level that made their love utterly believable. Sure, they went on to make Fool’s Gold—which failed in comparison—but Hudson and McConaughey’s connection was enough of a draw for some people.
Fool’s Gold debuted in theaters seven long years ago. So the question remains: Who’s going to be the next duo that fans get behind? There are a few candidates: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone certainly showed potential in Crazy, Stupid, Love, but their time together in that ensemble movie was so minimal that it’s hard to say. Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, were lovable in Going the Distance, but didn’t quite blow me away. In fact, in the past seven years, I can’t recall a time that I saw chemistry worth reliving—the kind that’s so strong it nearly transcends a movie.
So, I’m wondering: Is there a couple worthy of being the next Roberts and Gere? Or are we past the days of repeat rom-coms?