I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the current state of the romantic comedy is not so good. It’s been steadily deteriorating since the rise of the soulless overstuffed ensemble holiday movie and the beginning of the dark reign of Katherine Heigl. Meg Ryan has been ritualistically sacrificing her face in protest for years.
Romcom junkies like myself mourned the passing of our patron saint, Nora Ephron, by breaking out the classics. When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle are the gold standard. But there was a time when Hollywood was kinder to us, and also churned out a series of relatively cheap and mostly inoffensive romantic comedies that are now largely relegated to the Wal-Mart $3.99 DVD bin. I’m here to point out a few of those films that deserve a better fate. Read on for six romcoms that I deem tragically underrated.
If you watched Just Friends once and thought it was just okay, I beg you to watch it again. And then watch it three more times. And from that point on, you will think it’s the funniest goddamn thing you’ve ever seen. It’s just that kind of movie.
Just Friends has everything you need in a Saturday afternoon Comedy Central movie: Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit; Anna Faris as a psychotic Britney-esque pop star (“You and I are gonna be the greatest musical manager team since Jessica Simpson and her father. Only you and I get to reooowr and they can’t, ’cause it’s illegal. I looked it up.”); the mom from What About Bob?; and some ruminations on whether we can ever truly escape high school.
It’s also immensely quotable, both in surprisingly clever one-liners (“You’re Chris Brander. You’re Hollywood, you date models. He’s Jersey, he skis in his jeans.”) or nonsensical outbursts (“TJ!”) And bonus for this time of year: it’s a Christmas movie! That means it will be on cable thousands of times over the next week, and you can quickly knock out the recommended number of viewings. PS: …Anna Faris.
Bob’s beloved wife Elizabeth dies in a car accident. Grace (Minnie Driver) is very sick, but gets Elizabeth’s heart in a transplant. Bob is completely destroyed until he meets Grace, who basically brings him back to life. The premise of this one is saccharine for sure (it’s the SAME HEART THAT LOVES HIM ALL ALONG), but don’t let it put you off. Return to Me is so simple and gorgeous, it’s stuns me every time I watch it. It’s a charmingly old-fashioned film completely devoid of irony and cynicism.
That’s not to say that Return to Me lacks raw emotion. Nope, nope, nope. Elizabeth’s death is brutal, and the movie lets poor Bob (and their dog, sob) mourn her. My favorite part is after Bob has first meets Grace and he makes an excuse to go back to her family’s Irish-Italian (yes) restaurant where she works. He gets on a step stool, takes a box down from a closet shelf, brushes off the dust, and puts on his good shoes for the first time in who knows how long. All my creys. No movie like this would be greenlit today, and that makes me incredibly sad.
Return to Me‘s other charms include: David Alan Grier and the fabulous Bonnie Hunt; signing gorillas; a Dean Martin-heavy soundtrack, obviously; the cutest old people YOU WILL EVER SEE; and permanent entry on my Common Law Top 5: David Duchovny.
Sanaa Lathan is a thinking woman’s romcom queen (Love and Basketball, Something New), but Brown Sugar is far and away her best. Dre (Taye Diggs) and Sid have best friends since childhood, when their favorite thing to do was go to the playground and listen to their neighbors freestyle. They grew up right along with hip hop and both take its preservation and legacy personally – so much so that Syd became a respected music journalist and Dre started his own label to rediscover “the real deal.” They’re also so clearly in love with each other that it almost makes sense that they choose to ignore it. You can see the wheels turning in their heads – this is going to be it for them, but neither one of them is quite ready for it yet. There’s too much work to do. But then boyfriends and girlfriends are entering the picture, and waiting starts to seem like a really dumb idea.
The rest of the cast is killer. Queen Latifah and Mos Def play their equally frustrated sidekicks, while Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe are the aforementioned SOs. Seriously, everyone in this movie is hot. And they have flawless houses and wear really nice sweaters. Exhibit A:
Edward Norton’s directorial debut stars him and Ben Stiller as, well, clerical bros. Rabbi Jacob Schram (“OH RABBI JACOB SCHRAM!”) and Father Brian Finn are basically religious rock stars in their native Manhattan or, as they like to call themselves, “The God Squad.” They’re freakin’ adorable.
Their friendship is shaken for the first time by the reappearance of the third childhood Musketeer, Type-A business lady Anna Riley (Jenna Elfman). While she and Jake realize that they’re might be something there, Brian struggles with the first real feelings of desire and regret that have ever threatened his chosen way of life. (“I mean, she’s like your sister!” “Thank you for adding new depth to my confusion.”)
I’m not religious. At all. But I did make my mom really mad once by telling her that I would go to church if Edward Norton were my priest. #Truth
If you’ve ever wanted to see Gollum do the “Thriller” dance with Sidney Bristow, Kitty Sanchez, and the Hulk, then this is the movie for you.
Jennifer Garner is just lovely in 13 Going on 30, a Big-esque story about a girl who wishes her way into adulthood and finds out what her life would be like if she decided in high school to devote herself to becoming a cool, mean girl. This is Your Life, Regina George.
I can identify with this movie, because I often find my inner-tween making my life decisions. And the moral of the story here is that that may not be such a bad thing sometimes. Also, be super nice to your nerdy junior high best friend and lock that shit down, because he’ll probably grow up to be Mark Ruffalo.
Ahhh, Friends with Kids. As the only movie on this list made in our current decade, you are my hope for the future.
First of all, THAT CAST. Wiig. Hamm. Rudolph. O’Dowd. *coughMeganFoxcough*. And Jennifer Westfeldt (who also wrote and directed) and our co-reigning Sexiest Man Alive, Adam Scott, as two platonic friends who decide to have a baby together without doing the whole relationship thing. Their friends are, well, less than confident.
This is a movie made by grown-ups, about grown-ups, and FOR grown-ups, which these days is about as rare as finding a unicorn in Central Park. And you get to hear Ben Wyatt say stuff like this:
So Hollywood business-types, if we could get a little more Friends with Kids and a little less Playing for Keeps, that would be peachy. I promise we can handle it.
Readers, did I leave off your favorite romcom underdog? Leave it in the comments.