Rom-Coms: A Watchlist and a Warning


Jenna Ledley, Features Editor


Rom-coms, or romantic comedies, can always be found on television, even after Valentine’s Day falls away, disappearing behind the gray, gloomy days of March and April. Even now, I would not be surprised if your Netflix page shows a big picture of this year’s most popular romantic movie. And I would also not be surprised if this made you roll your eyes and quickly scroll past. Listen, I understand. Rom-coms have a reputation, and not a very good one. However, this is a stereotype. We often use a grain of truth in stereotypes in life, associating one bad experience with all the similar experiences that follow. Sure, you may have suffered through some really cringy rom-coms, but that does not mean they are all awful. Now I will readily admit that some of them are truly terrible, but there are also rom-coms that are sweet, down-to-earth, and even, dare I say it, enjoyable. So stick with me and I will walk you through my top two rom-coms, as well as the worst two that I have ever seen. Let this article serve as both a watchlist and a warning.



#1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before


Based on the popular trilogy by Jenny Han, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of my favorite rom-coms of all time. The first of the series, which came out on Netflix in 2018, stars Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, and other big names in the industry. The movie was followed by two sequels which are based on the other two novels of similar names: To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You and To All the Boys: Always and Forever.


The first movie follows shy high school student Lara Jean Covey, who, over the course of her life, has written love letters to five different guys. But when these letters, which were never meant to be sent, are received by each of her crushes, Lara Jean finds herself in a whirlwind of drama, heartbreak, and love. Trying to balance complicated relationships with her family, friends, and each of the letter recipients proves to be a challenge, and Lara Jean finds herself in a position she never could have imagined. Somehow, Lara Jean is dating the most popular boy in school and her long-time crush: Peter Kavinsky. Except she isn’t. Lara Jean and Peter start a fake relationship, hoping it will help them return their lives to the way things were before the letters were sent out.


First of all, I have to admit that the story is cliché. It does not take a genius to infer what will happen at the end (what do fake relationships usually lead to in movies?). However, To All the Boys feels much more genuine than other romantic movies because it addresses love in a realistic way. There are no love-at-first-sight or one-true-soulmate motifs, and instead, the characters gradually fall into love in a way that is relatable and real. Main character Lara Jean is witty, spunky, and adorable, and many of the family interactions in the movie are poignant and heartfelt, which makes for an overall amazing (and highly recommended) watch. 


The film has an approval rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Paste Magazine stated, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before… is not excellent ‘for a teen flick.’ It is not excellent ‘for a romantic comedy.’ It is excellent for a film.’” 


Another reason the movie is a personal favorite is because of the sequel films. I have always loved series, both in literature and film, as they allow viewers and readers to cling to their favorite characters and worlds for just a little bit longer before saying goodbye. And trust me, the characters in To All the Boys I Loved Before will become your favorite comfort characters.


#2. Mamma Mia!


The perfect movie to watch after going to see Harriton Theater Company’s adaption, as well as an absolute classic, this rom-com musical is truly unbeatable. I could go on and on about all the reasons I adore Mamma Mia!, but first off, the star-studded cast includes the fantastic Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried (Karen in Mean Girls), Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters (little-known fact: she actually played Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films), and Dominic Cooper. Second, the music is incredible. Based on the songs of the pop group ABBA, this soundtrack will have you singing and dancing for the entirety of the film. 


Next, the plot is actually pretty unique. The movie follows a young bride-to-be, Sophie, who decides it is a wonderful idea to invite three complete strangers, all of who could possibly be her father, to her upcoming wedding. The problem is that she does not know which, and neither does her mother, the eccentric Donna. The film is chaotic, ridiculously hilarious, and incredibly sweet. At its core, Mamma Mia! is a feel-good movie with a wonderful cast, fun music, and gorgeous scenery from the on-location filming in Skopelos, Greece.


Ever since its release, Mamma Mia! has been hailed as a classic movie. To this day, it holds spot number thirteen on the list of highest-grossing films of all time in the UK. The movie was also the highest-grossing live-action musical of all time from 2008 to 2017. Surprisingly, reviews were somewhat critical with many calling the film “campy,” and BBC Radio 5 Live saying the film was, “the closest you get to see A-list actors doing drunken karaoke.” As many of the actors are not singers, critics were quick to point out a lack of musical ability. New York Magazine compared Pierce Brosnan’s singing to a “water buffalo,” The Philadelphia Inquirer said it was similar to “a donkey braying,” and The Miami Herald concluded that it sounded like, “a wounded raccoon.” Nevertheless, Mamma Mia! went on to become internationally renowned and beloved. The movie has won many awards and accolades and was even followed by a sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which was released 10 years after the original, in 2018, with most of the main cast returning. Both Mamma Mia! films are funny, bouncy, and perfect if you are ever in need of a pick-me-up or a very hearty laugh. 



#1. Love Hard 


I have very few nice things to say about this 2021 romantic comedy, but I will try my best. The cast is great, as the movie stars Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, and Darren Barnet. As to the story… well, it was a good idea. 


The movie follows Natalie Bauer, a dating column writer who writes about her many disastrous dates. But when Natalie matches with a man and starts to fall in love, she decides to be spontaneous and travel across the country to his hometown of Lake Placid, New York, to surprise him for Christmas. Spoiler alert: bad idea. Shocker, the guy she has been chatting with on the phone is not who he said he is. Natalie has been catfished. Quick summary: from here the movie progressively goes downhill. First, to impress the guy she thought she fell in love with (who just happens to be a real person and living in the same town- movie magic at its finest), Natalie pretty much changes her entire personality. She lies about liking a poet she actually hates, claims she is an avid rock climber and goes on a bunch of really awful dates including to a steakhouse when she is a vegetarian. She also tries to dance and do karaoke for him at a bar, but a mix-up with kiwi, which she is allergic to, leads to disaster. 


I have never understood why film writers choose to overwhelm their audiences with  second-hand embarrassment, but apparently, that is what Love Hard was going for because the cringe levels are unmatched. Honestly, the entire movie is unflattering for the main character, who tries to come off as a strong woman and a feminist and only succeeds in looking like a two-faced, pretentious, mean girl with no true beliefs. This is actually mentioned by the man who catfished her (who she, by the way, lives with for the entire movie, and yes, the fact that they are total strangers is completely ignored), who says that she should not lie or compromise her dietary beliefs for a guy. He then proceeds to pressure her into fake marrying him. 


A truly chaotic scene where all of Natalie’s lies unravel leads to a dramatic ending where she is about to leave (for some reason main characters always make it to the airport, but never the plane), and then realizes she is in love with the guy who catfished her. Yes, the same creepy internet liar who has done nothing but reap the benefits of her disastrous visit, and who tries to come off as charming to audiences by following his dreams of starting a candle business that smells like peoples’ dead relatives (please, don’t ask). All in all, I would call this movie a complete flop. My only advice: do not watch it.   


#2. (Unpopular opinion) The Kissing Booth


I know, I know, people love The Kissing Booth. And yes, this 2018 teen rom-com has a great cast with Joey King, Jacob Elordi, and Joel Courtney. And yes, I enjoyed the friendship between main character Elle and her best friend, Lee. The rest of the movie? Well, not so much. 


The whole in-love-with-my-best-friend’s-sibling trope is incredibly overdone, and I did not enjoy Elle as the main character. With female leads, I always enjoy a strong, confident, spunky character, or at least a character whose arc allows them to grow into that sort of person. In The Kissing Booth, however, Elle is both metaphorically and literally pushed around by “big strong guys” for the entire film. At one point she ends up half-naked in the boy’s locker room, in another scene she is inappropriately touched by a guy while she is wearing a short skirt (then accepts a date with him?), and she is pushed to go into a hot tub when she does not want to. Her love interest, Noah, is also entirely unlikable. He fights with literally every male character in the movie, tries way too hard to act cool by riding a motorcycle, and then casually admits that he was accepted to Harvard University… one of the most prestigious schools in the country. No big deal. 


The Kissing Booth tries to be original by delaying the reconciliation that always occurs between the main characters at the end of the film. Elle runs away from Noah and misses when he professes his love for her in front of the entire school. All that did was make viewers angry. Then, the movie gives up on being original by having them literally ride off into the sunset. 


The Kissing Booth was panned by critics despite being popular on Netflix. Rotten Tomatoes wrote my exact sentiments, stating, “The Kissing Booth deploys every rom-com cliché in the book with little care given to achieving any real sentiment.” IndieWire stated another one of the many reasons why I hated this film saying that “unfortunately, the high school-set rom-com is a sexist and regressive look at relationships.” NBC News criticized the film’s, “problematic stereotyping of masculinity and relationships.” I could not agree more. 

Unlike Love Hard, I cannot even kindly say that The Kissing Booth tried to be a good movie. I honestly do not know how the script for this sexist movie (and two sequels!) ever got approved in the first place. But in the end, it is up to you which rom-coms you watch, though I strongly recommend the ones listed above and not either of these two film-fails. Whether you are looking for sweet and adorable, or fun and hilarious, I have some very good romantic comedy options for you. So give the genre a chance. It is not all just cloyingly sweet romances and mortification, I promise. So, remember this watchlist (as well as my words of warning), and I think romantic comedy might just become a genre of movies that you actually, dare I say it, enjoy.