5 Great Romantic Comedies That Pass The Bechdel Test (And Then Some)

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Ever since I learned the ways of the world and the gosh-darned patriarchy, I’ve felt societally obligated to hate a lot of the things I once loved in order to fit the mold of what a feminist is supposed to be. However, to me, this is a load of bullshit. Because really, I’ve always been a feminist, I just didn’t know it before. And, god damn it, I’m going to watch my rom-coms and I’m going to like them.

The romantic comedies that I truly love, not the ones I’ve just semi-enjoyed in passing, all hold true to my core belief system built on equality and advocacy for women. They are all stories that showcase intelligent, dynamic women. But to a lot of the outside world, they are considered low-brow, mindless “chick flicks” that no respectable man or respectable feminist could ever enjoy. However, writing off these kinds of movies as mindless “chick flicks” is really what we should be fighting against, because the idea that any movie with a female protagonist or a love story is “superficial” and reserved exclusively for silly, vapid women is a problem.

Yes, I will acknowledge that there are some TERRIBLE romantic comedies. Truly terrible. But there are terrible movies of all genres. And, interestingly enough, most of the terrible rom-coms I can think of have come out since the year 2002 (“Bride Wars,” “Rumor Has It,” “All About Steve”). I think if you take a close look at why that is could be because of how movie executives approached the idea of rom-coms after the successes of many fabulous versions from the late 80s to early 2000s. My guess is, execs said to themselves, “chick flicks make a lot of money, let’s call Kate Hudson and churn out as many formulaic ideas as we can.” Stories about women became niche. And most of these movies often ended up being terrible and were financial flops. Because no one wants to see vacant characters in predictable scenarios.

The Dark Ages of Chick Flicks (2002–???) has led to what looks to be the death of the romantic comedy over the last few years. It’s great that we are rejecting the bad ones, depicting women in terrible ways, but now the good ones are gone too. A few great, independent romantic comedies have emerged amongst the crappy big-budget studio films, but I would love to see the studios bring the high-quality rom-com back into their repertoire and into the mainstream (and hey, maybe hire some more female writers and directors!). Rom-coms can be great, I promise!

I want to thank Mindy Kaling for putting it out there that well-educated, witty, feminist women can also love rom-coms and designer duds. Especially with the drought of high-quality chick flicks, it’s nice to see that there’s some hope for us rom-com lovers on network television. Kaling’s show, “The Mindy Project,” does a great job at fostering the kind of “will they or won’t they” romance I crave without losing a sense of multi-faceted characters and truly funny comedic moments. It’s something I’ve longed for since the days of Ross and Rachel, and although “The Office’s” Jim and Pam tugged at my heartstrings in the most extreme way, that show was always a little more about the workplace comedy and kooky characters than romance alone. (Also, shout out to Elizabeth Meriwether, because “New Girl” has also had some pretty great moments too. And to Lena Dunham, but I think “Girls” is in a league of its own in terms of genre at this point. But, in general, keep it up lady showrunners!).

With all this in mind, it’s important to remember the times when romantic comedies were good, heck they were great. Classic films like “The Apartment,” “Roman Holiday,” and “It Happened One Night” all fit the rom-com model and are hailed as some of the greatest films of all time. Even in later years, you had great movies like “Moonstruck,” “Annie Hall,” and “When Harry Met Sally.” However, what I’d like to showcase here are some of the films I watched growing up and have consistently loved from my youth through my adulthood. I’ve decided to curate a list of the Top 5 Romantic Comedies from my generation, 1998 to today. I’ve examined these movies through both the eyes of an clueless youth and an overly socially conscious adult, and they all hold up.

Before I reveal my picks, I think it’s important to note that I did not include “Love Actually.” Yes, I enjoy the movie–I’m a human being for God’s sake–but I’m just really sick of seeing thirty different statuses about drinking peppermint lattes while watching “Love Actually” every holiday season for the last ten years, or however long Facebook has been around. “Love Actually” gets enough attention. If you haven’t seen it, many people have already yelled at you about it. And you probably have made a conscious choice not to watch it at this point because of this. And I respect that, because I hate people too.

Also worth mentioning, I left out “The Wedding Planner,” because although I truly love that movie with all of my heart, it just doesn’t have the extra pow of female empowerment I was looking for when I made this list. But, ugh, do I love me some J.Lo and McConaughey. “The Wedding Planner” is still great and I will always love it. The same goes for “Hitch.” Long live “Hitch.”

I am also excluding high school movies from this list because I just want to deal with films that examine real, adult relationships, not high school puppy love. And if you’re a high schooler reading this who is offended by that– stop reading this blog. Fluorescent beige is a teen free zone. No youths allowed.

Anyway, that is not to say that there aren’t some really great high school rom-coms. Honorable mentions go to “Clueless,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” “She’s the Man,” and “Easy A.” Really, you can’t go wrong with a high school movie based on a piece of classic literature. Somehow it’s always a winning combination. Hey movie producers, more of this please. Also I was going to mention “Mean Girls” but that’s not really a rom-com, and if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen “Mean Girls”– go hang out with some teens, because you’re not allowed to read this blog anymore either.

I also left out “The Devil Wears Prada” because I don’t really consider it a rom-com. Same with “Pitch Perfect.” Okay I don’t need to keep explaining why I left things out, obviously this can’t cover everything and if I left something out that you like, well, you can just get over it.

Here is a final rundown of my favorites, in chronological order:

1. “YOU’VE GOT MAIL” (1998)

First of all, Tom Hanks’ best friend in this movie is played by Dave Chapelle. I just needed to acknowledge that before I said anything else about this movie. With that fun fact aside, I must say that not only does “You’ve Got Mail” make this list, but it also is my favorite romantic comedy of all time. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are at their most charismatic and the concept of anonymous email pen pals now feels as romantically antiquated as nineteenth century couples exchanging letters during wartime. “You’ve Got Mail” would never work if they had met on Tinder.

What I really like about this movie is how Tom Fox and Kathleen Kelly start off as peers, business rivals, who don’t get along but still see the other as equals. I also love their ages. Meg Ryan was 37 when this movie was released and Hanks was 42, and there’s no emphasis on how Ryan is an “old maid,” “spinster,” or that it’s strange for anyone to find love at this age. And Hanks isn’t falling for some younger woman, he’s falling for a peer. They’re both fiercely independent and there’s a mutual respect that you don’t see in a lot of these kinds of movies. Ryan and Hanks are truly a dream team, and their chemistry alone makes anything starring them worth-watching. But a combination of these factors makes “You’ve Got Mail”  stand out for me, that and Hanks’s amazing golden retriever, Brinkley.

2. “MISS CONGENIALITY” (2000)

This is a tricky one, because there are a lot of things in this movie that are far from perfect, and one of them is just the general premise. Sandra Bullock’s character is seen as an undateable man repeller because she doesn’t invest copious amounts of time into her appearance. But, as soon as she gets a makeover she achieves success in her career, gets the guy, and reaches a new level of self-actualization. Not a super great message on the surface. But, there’s a lot of really great things going on underneath if you look more closely.

Yes, Grace Hart gets her makeover and looks beautiful in order to compete in a beauty pageant, but she still doesn’t lose her personality or her focus on achieving her goal. Bottom line, she’s protecting the show from a terrorist attack, and like many women, she deals with not being taken seriously at work because of her gender.

With all that aside, one thing I really love about this one is how Grace ends up forging meaningful bonds with the women around her, women she had written off as shallow and unintelligent. Grace grows because she is able to see women who are different from herself as friends and allies, and she will stop at nothing to protect them. Yes, there is a romance element of the film, but its not the main focus. And yes it’s pretty cheesy at times, but it’s got a lot of heart. If you forgot why Sandra Bullock is America’s Sweetheart, watch “Miss Congeniality.” I mean this movie has Candice Bergen, William Shatner, and Michael Caine, what’s not to like?

3. “LEGALLY BLONDE” (2001)

I honestly can’t say enough good things about “Legally Blonde.” I almost had this movie memorized as a kid, and I credit it for taking part in shaping a lot of who I am today. I read an article on one of my favorite blogs recently that truly captured all my thoughts and more about this movie, so I figured it’s better to just share that with you rather than just regurgitate what someone else has already said. Here it is.

–ENTER THE DARK AGES–

“13 Going on 30” is okay. “He’s Just Not That Into You” has some decent moments. “27 Dresses” is bearable despite Katherine Heigl– other than that there’s really not much worth watching. There are a lot of post-”Sex and the City” attempts to make Sarah Jessica Parker a movie star. That was never gonna work. Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore have a mother-daughter sex talk somewhere in here. Yikes. Then for a while Hollywood tries to make Dane Cook as a romantic lead happen. These are scary, scary times.

More recently, we’ve started to see some signs of a potential Renaissance, but you have to dig deep. Nothing has really caught on enough to bring rom-coms back to their glory days, but here are a few good ones:

4. “FRIENDS WITH KIDS” (2011)

First of all, “Friends With Kids” can be pretty depressing because it shows a lot of the ugly realities that exist in relationships we’re not used to seeing on screen. But that’s another reason why I think this movie is so great. Writer and star Jennifer Westfeldt is delightful and dynamic (husband Jon Hamm is lucky to be with her). Her writing and performance truly capture a lot of the nuances in modern, adult relationships.

The main characters are friends in their mid-to-late thirties and in different places in their lives. The male and female characters all respect one another as equals but also acknowledge each other’s flaws. The love story is endearing, charming, and never feels forced or fake. The romance is complex and doesn’t get tied up in a bow the way it might in a more formulaic movie. It’s a refreshing take on a romance and the meaning of love. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll feel a little bit more normal about whatever confusing excuse for a love life you may have during this unsure modern age.

5. “FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…” (2012)

How this movie wasn’t the biggest hit of 2012, I’ll never know. This movie is GREAT and yet only like three people I know have heard of it, much less seen it because it had a tiny budget and an unknown female writer-producer (the amazing Lauren Miller). But, for the record, everyone I know who has seen it has loved it. Miller is adorable and her co-star and co-producer, Ari Graynor, truly sparkles. She’s like Barbra Streisand, Reese Witherspoon, and Ke$ha had an amazing baby. To be honest, there’s not much of a romance element in this movie, but it’s definitely considered a chick flick and it’s just so fantastic that I can’t not write about it.

First of all, this movie is utterly hilarious while still giving you that warm fuzzy feeling at the end. And I love the idea of showcasing respectable women essentially becoming sex workers. You’re rooting for them the entire time without any stigmas or stereotypes about what you might imagine a phone sex worker might be like. Ultimate props to this.

Furthermore, the movie really examines the beautiful friendships that can exist between women. And more importantly, it examines how, as women, we are inclined throw labels on other women and see them as the enemy. These women discover they are more alike than they originally thought and their greatest successes come when they join together rather than fight against each other. The result in this movie is beautiful, delightful, and truly sweet. More movies like this ASAP please!

So there they are, 5 rom-coms you can be proud to enjoy. There are many more worth mentioning, but these are just my personal favorites. I hope in the future we see an end to the Dark Ages of rom-coms and a true Renaissance begins, where we see real human stories being told with robust characters all across the board. Sometimes life is romantic and sometimes life is comedic, and more often than not it’s a combination of those two things. So it makes no sense that we’re not getting these stories right, or not telling them at all. Rom-coms 5ever. TC mark

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