Sorry guys, but the secret’s out: the romantic comedy genre is incredibly sexist and problematic. If women are not expected to “improve themselves” to get a man (see She’s All That), either their entire arcs surround their relationships with men or they are two-dimensional manic-pixie dream girls. This genre has women as the co-lead yet usually doesn’t know what to do with them. Here are four great films that could definitely fall into the romantic comedy genre, but develop independent and three-dimensional women.
1. ‘The Incredible Jessica James’
“Of course you do, everybody does, I’m freaking dope!” As soon as Jessica ended an argument with her British love interest by using this statement, I knew this movie would soon become one of my favorites. “The Incredible Jessica James” involves a central romantic arc but never loses focus of its main protagonist’s journey. Jessica is a struggling playwright, passionate about her craft while recovering from the end of a long-term relationship. She is snappy, confident, kind and flawed, and even when her romantic relationship is in turmoil, she doesn’t lose her sense of self-worth.
The movie follows the unexpected love interest cliche, but it shows how sweet yet complicated relationships can be, especially when both partners have just left long-term ones. Jessica’s love interest Boone never tries to dominate her or conform to toxic masculinity roles but instead admires her independence and encourages her career endeavors. Not only that, but the move is sex-positive, celebrating not only Jessica’s sexuality but her best friend’s. All in all, “The Incredible Jessica James” is a fun and relatable romantic comedy for the modern woman.
2. ‘Bend it like Beckham’
One of my favorites since childhood, “Bend it Like Beckham” follows Jess, an Indian-British young woman, whose passion for soccer (and her coach) goes against the customs of her culture. Jess does have a romantic story with her coach, Joe, but that is not the central part of her story. Joe is not only her romantic interest but one of her biggest supporters, something often overlooked in our portrayal of romantic relationships. The movie portrays racism, sexism, discrimination and religion as it occurs in reality. Both Jess and her best friend Jules are criticized for not being feminine enough, mostly by their own mothers, and both have to prove they can play soccer just as well as the men.
Although not without its flaws, the movie’s jokes about lesbianism can be construed as lesbophobic. In particular, from Jules’ mother, who shows the fear that her daughter might be a lesbian just because she likes soccer and cuts her hair short. Overall, “Bend it Like Beckham” is a laugh out loud romantic comedy that shows the balancing of two cultures in a nuanced fashion.
3. ’10 Things I Hate About You’
I have no shame in saying that Kat Stratford is one of my role models, especially considering the first time I saw “10 Things I Hate About You” I was a young, naive middle-schooler figuring out what it means to be a feminist. Kat calls out f*ck boys, the patriarchal school system and toxic masculinity all in a day’s work. Yet, she shows her love and kindness to her sister and best friend, and ultimately to her love interest, the rebel Patrick Verona. Kat’s relationship with Patrick is not portrayed as an attempt to “tame” her, but instead, it is what causes her to become more open to love.
In a world that constantly tells feminists to be less radical, otherwise men will find them unattractive, Kat’s activism is one of the things Patrick loves about her. If you’re a riot grrrl at heart or you simply want to see a strong female character get her romantic happy ending, this is the movie for you.
Teen pregnancies are always dealt abhorrently in Hollywood, but “Juno” showcases its title character as a smart, mature and precocious teenage girl struggling with her unexpected pregnancy.
Juno’s parents react calmly and support her through her pregnancy, a stark contrast to the classic parent freak out scenario we always see on screen. Juno’s love interest Bleeker is not your traditional love interest, he is awkward, inarticulate and sweet. In a role reversal, Juno is the one that initiates their relationship and wins him back at the end with a romantic gesture. Bleeker lets Juno make her own decisions about the pregnancy without swaying her, but providing his support with puppy-dog eye sweetness.
Romantic comedies may never be perfect, and even the ones I’ve mentioned have their flaws in some ways. But it’s time we as women demand more nuanced portrayals of ourselves in romantic arcs; we are not just the male prize at the end of the film, and the women on screen should reflect the ones we see in our everyday lives.