Earlier this week, my friend Jenn tweeted that she made a list of her top 25 Romantic Comedies and I called her out on it. “25?!” I said, “That is NOT a list.” I then challenged her to cut it to ten, because, come on, why even make a list if you are not going to try to be DEFINITIVE? Sure there are tons of great romantic comedies out there, but when you are talking about BEST, I feel like you should always cut things down to ten. My challenge was met with MUCH weeping and gnashing of teeth from both Jenn and our friend Jaime and I was called many names for remaining firm in my demand for ten. Finally as suggested by Chelsea, we compromised on 15.
I still say you should be bold enough to pick ten. 😉
It also just so happens that Jenn, Jaime, Sage and I have been discussing launching a podcast and this great romantic comedy debate felt like it would be a great topic for our first episode. So the four of us set out to choose our top 15’s and we will be coming together to discuss our choices and our rankings, as well as how we feel about the state of the romantic comedy as a genre (answer: not good) and what our individual parameters for good romantic comedy are. It’s been a lively debate already, and I am sure it will get much livelier.
So without further ado, here’s my list. Jenn’s can be found here and Sage and Jaime’s lists will be published by the end of the weekend…
15) One Fine Day (1996)
Melanie: Your Peter Pan complex is so 90s.
Jack: What Peter Pan complex?
Melanie: The one you’re so proud of.
Jack: Do you have any friends?
Melanie: I don’t have time for friends.
Jack: That’s because of your Captain Hook complex.
This vastly underrated gem of a film feels like an homage to the great romantic comedies of the 30’s and 40’s like Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night. Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney play single parents who in the span of a day meet, hate each other on sight, become reluctant allies, then friends…then maybe something more. I love that the movie takes place in the span of a day. I love that it is a love letter to my beloved New York City (up until Doctor Who‘s “The Angels Take Manhattan, I forever associated the Bethesda Fountain with this movie). And I love that it is a movie about two GROWN-UPS, which has been the problem with so many modern rom coms…the protagonists are getting younger and younger, and (to me) less relatable. Jack and Melanie are grown-ups with problems and EARNED neuroses. Finally…it’s Clooney at his Caesar-cut Clooniest. If you don’t swoon when he finally says, “What would you do if I kissed you right now?”, there is something wrong with you.
14) Runaway Bride (1999)
Maggie: I love Eggs Benedict, I hate every other kind. I hate big weddings with everybody staring. I’d like to get married on a weekday while everybody’s at work. And when I ride off into the sunset, I want my own horse.
Ike: Should I be writing this down?
I consider Runaway Bride to be the least of the Julia Roberts romantic comedy canon, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still better than most of the combined rom com filmography of Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl. What I DO love about this movie is that the love story of Maggie and Ike almost feels secondary to me…instead it’s really about Maggie learning to love HERSELF and figuring out what she wants outside of a relationship. It’s only when Maggie realizes that she has been using relationships to set her sense of self that she actually learns how to stand alone and be happy on her own…and THEN she’s able to be happy in a relationship. It’s quite possibly the most important lesson anyone can learn. Runaway Bride is filled with delightful supporting performances from Joan Cusack, Rita Wilson, and Hector Elizando and paints a lovely portrait of life in a small town.
Plus, Richard Gere is the definition of “silver fox” in it.
13) The Wedding Planner (2001)
Steve: I barely know you. I don’t know your dad’s first name, I don’t know if you ever wore braces, or contacts, or glasses and I have no idea how you came to be a wedding planner, Mary. But I do know the curves of your face. And I know every fleck of gold in your eyes. I know that the night at the park was the best time I’ve ever had. Pl-please say something.
Mary: I’m a magnet for unavailable men, and I’m sick of it. It’s simple, I love Fran, I respect her, and she loves you. So besides your tux measurements, that’s all I need to know. Please go away.
The Wedding Planner is pure fluff and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s one of those movies that I will almost always stop and watch when it is on cable…even though I OWN it on DVD. Jennifer Lopez had a run at becoming the next “romantic comedy queen” in the early aughts, but she was never more relatable than she was as Mary Fiore. She’s Type-A (yet lovelorn) without being abrasive or pathetically desperate for a man, which is the problem with SO MANY romantic comedy heroines these days. Mary is independent and THOROUGHLY competent in her job and while the script does include some pratfalls (her meet cute with Steve and the scene with her horse getting spooked), it doesn’t rely on them to make us like her. Where The Wedding Planner also succeeds is in making Steve’s fiancée Fran incredibly likable, especially when we are supposed to cheer for Steve and Mary to get together. It would be very easy to make Fran an uncaring shrew, but she’s not. She’s warm and friendly and smart, and she loves Steve…even if she is not necessarily right for him. Throw in lovely supporting performances from a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Justin Chambers, the ever-dependable Judy Greer, and a delightfully drunken Joanna Gleason and what do you get? A movie that is as comforting as a bowl of hot soup on a cold day.
12) The Wedding Singer (1998)
Robbie: [singing] I wanna make you smile whenever you’re sad / Carry you around when your arthritis is bad / All I wanna do is grow old with you. / I’ll get your medicine when your tummy aches / build you a fire if the furnace breaks / Oh it could be so nice, growin old with you. / I’ll miss you, kiss you, give you my coat when you are cold. / Need you, feed you, I’ll even let you hold the remote control. / So let me do the dishes in the kitchen sink / Put you to bed when you’ve had too much to drink. / Oh I could be the man to grow old with you. / I wanna grow old with you.
Made on the heels of comedy classics Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore (okay, fine. Classics to ME), The Wedding Singer showcased a side of Adam Sandler we had never seen before, mainly thanks to his delightfully unexpected chemistry with Drew Barrymore. The Wedding Singer is sweet and goofy, with just enough of the (at the time) signature Adam Sandler-ness to keep it from becoming saccharine. Barrymore’s Julia is the perfect foil for Sandler’s Robbie…they are both hopeless romantics who bring out the best in each other. The movie is also a delightful homage to the 80’s and also inspired a musical that I will shamelessly love forever.
Basically, whenever I go to a wedding, I think of The Wedding Singer. One wedding I went to, I was seated at the dreadful table 9 (“But the worst thing is: that Me, Fatty, Sideburns Lady, and the mutants over at Table 9, will never ever find a way to better the situation, because apparently we have nothing to offer the opposite sex.”) which just made me LAUGH. Also, I forever judge the first kisses on the church tongue/porno tongue scale.
11) The Holiday (2006)
Arthur Abbott: He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god’s sake! Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well. That was brilliant. Brutal, but brilliant.
Sadly, this is the most recent movie on my list, which is a definite comment on the state of the romantic comedy as a genre. If there is an heir apparent to the great Nora Ephron, it’s Nancy Meyers. Like Ephron, I feel like Nancy Meyers truly GETS romantic comedy and the kind of stories and dialogue it needs. I don’t feel like it’s Christmas until I have watched The Holiday (and Love Actually, but we’ll get to that later).
I had always been dying for my queen Kate Winslet to star in a modern romantic comedy and man, she nails it with this one. There are few characters I have related to more than Iris Simpkins. At the time of seeing The Holiday I was in a relationship very much like the one that Iris has with Jasper, so I cried watching her journey from a spineless doormat to a strong and self-assured woman with “something resembling gumption”. It was still awhile after I saw The Holiday before I got out of *MY* Jasper relationship, but I sometimes think that she gave me the strength to see my relationship for what it was.
And let’s be honest…both Jude Law and Jack Black (HOW IS HE SO SEXY IN THIS MOVIE AND WHY WON’T HE DO MORE STUFF LIKE THIS?!) are relationship PORN in this movie.
10) Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.
Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.
Benedick: Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.
Beatrice: A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.
Every sparring romantic comedy couple owes EVERYTHING to Much Ado‘s Benedick and Beatrice and Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation is pure perfection, even with the dubious casting of Keanu Reeves as Don John. It is sun-kissed, sexy, hilarious and makes you want to run away to a villa in Italy for the summer. Branagh and Emma Thompson are sublime as Shakespeare’s ultimate bickering would-be lovers. Let’s be honest…I’m still not ever the fact that they got divorced, okay? I’ve yet to see this summer’s Whedon film, but it has a LOT to live up to between this film and the delightful stage production starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.
9) While You Were Sleeping (1995)
Jack: And then you *leaned*
Lucy: And then I leaned.
Lucy: Okay, how did I lean when I leaned?
Jack: It was a lot different from hugging. Hugging’s very different. Hugging that involves arms and hands; and leaning is whole bodies moving in like this [leans toward her suggestively]. Leaning involves *wanting*… and *accepting*. *Leaning*…
Joe Jr.: Hey Luce! Is this guy bothering you?
Lucy: [Laughs] No, no.
Joe Jr.: Are you sure? Because it looks like he’s *leaning.*
Could this movie BE any sweeter?? I love Sandra Bullock in romantic comedies, and HAD this list been a top 25, more of hers would have been on the list. But While You Were Sleeping is her best one, in my humble opinion. Lucy is a good character anyway, but in the hands of Sandy, she becomes an outstanding one. What is so wonderful about WYWS is that it is not just a love story between Lucy and Jack, it’s a story of how Lucy, a lonely woman who longs for a giant family of her own, falls in love with the entire Callahan clan, and they with her. I love every single character in this movie. The scene where the family is eating Christmas Dinner (“These mashed potatoes are so creamy.”) ranks among my favorite dinner scenes in all of moviedom.
Yes, I have a list of my favorite dinner table scenes of all time. #sorrynotsorry
And yay for a Romantic Comedy where Bill Pullman finally gets the girl!!
8) How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (2003)
Andie: Our love fern! You let it die!
Ben: No, honey, it’s just sleeping.
It’s a shame that the second movie that Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey made together was pure crap because they are MAGICAL together in How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days. How to Lose a Guy has everything a good romantic comedy should: a great and quotable script (“Frost yourselves!!” “FROST THIS!”), two leads with palpable and electric chemistry, and a great supporting cast. Yes, there is definitely a formula to How to Lose a Guy…but there is a reason that formulas exist. Because when all the elements are added together correctly and in the right amounts, THEY WORK. I also think How to Lose a Guy has great insight into the modern dating landscape and it plays with all the concepts and dating stereotypes that exist today and does so in a truthful way.
And seriously Kate Hudson. She’s fantastic in this movie, cause Andie could easily come off as unlikable as she tortures Ben. But she does it all with a gleam in her eye so that the audience knows that she is in on the joke. It makes me sad that she has done SO MANY crappy rom coms after this one, because she is nothing short of incandescent in this one.
7) You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Joe Fox: You know, sometimes I wonder…
Kathleen Kelly: What?
Joe Fox: Well… if I hadn’t been Fox Books and you hadn’t been The Shop Around the Corner, and you and I had just, well, met…
Kathleen Kelly: I know.
Joe Fox: Yeah. I would have asked for your number, and I wouldn’t have been able to wait twenty-four hours before calling you and saying, “Hey, how about… oh, how about some coffee or, you know, drinks or dinner or a movie… for as long as we both shall live?”
Kathleen Kelly: Joe…
Joe Fox: And you and I would have never been at war. And the only thing we’d fight about would be which video to rent on a Saturday night.
You’ve Got Mail is not only a love letter to the great romantic comedies of old, it’s a love letter to New York’s Upper West Side, which is at its most picturesque in this film. Hanks and Ryan will go down in history as one of the all time great Romantic Comedy couples between this and Sleepless in Seattle. To borrow a line from Sleepless, they are just magical in the way they spar and in the way they turn the sparring into verbal foreplay. The concept of meeting someone online may be old hat in 2013, but they way Nora Ephron captures the excitement of finding someone you can relate to and fall in love with without ever seeing their face forever remains classic.
6) Notting Hill (1999)
Anna: I can’t believe you have that picture on your wall.
William: You like Chagall?
Anna: I do. It feels like how being in love should be. Floating through a dark blue sky.
William: With a goat playing the violin.
Anna: Yes – happiness isn’t happiness without a violin-playing goat.
The best romantic comedies always have a bit of wish-fulfillment aspect to them. After all who HASN’T dreamed of meeting the biggest movie star in the world and falling in love with them? The role of Anna Scott may not have been too much of a stretch for Julia Roberts, but she does a wonderful job in making Anna a fully rounded character with flaws and fears of her own. It was inspired to have the King and Queen of 90’s romantic comedies to do this movie together and it’s a pity that this is the only time Julia and Hugh Grant worked together, because they had a lovely chemistry together. Notting Hill has a fantastic supporting cast, led by Rhys Ifans’ delightful Spike and the screenplay remains one of my favorites. Anna’s “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her” line may be one of the parodied lines ever, but that is just a testament to its greatness. I need Richard Curtis to write another romantic comedy STAT.
5) Love Actually (2003)
Prime Minister: Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.
I often struggle with defining Love Actually as a romantic comedy because to me it is so much more than that. I get so overwhelmed with feels with the seriousness of the Emma Thompson (HELLO THE BOTH SIDES NOW SCENE) and Laura Linney stories that I tend to forget all the comedy in so many of the other stories. What I love about Love Actually is that it is about every type of love, not just romantic love. It’s about friendship, the love between a father and son, the love between siblings, the way love ages and changes during a marriage, crushes and unrequited love, and yes, romantic love. It’s the perfect ensemble movie, and has inspired a slew of imitators (He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve) that have never recaptured the magic of this one. Perhaps we should just leave the ensemble romantic comedies to the British? Or more specifically to Richard Curtis.
4) Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Mark: I don’t think you’re an idiot at all. I mean, there are elements that are ridiculous about you. Your mother’s pretty interesting. And you really are an appallingly bad public speaker. And, um, you tend to let whatever’s in your head come out of your mouth without much consideration of the consequences. I realize that when I met you at the Turkey Curry Buffet I was unforgiveably rude… and wearing a reindeer jumper… that my mother had given me the day before. But the thing is, uhm, what I’m trying to say, very inarticulately, is that, uhm, in fact, perhaps despite appearances, I like you. Very much.
Bridget: [Bitterly] Apart from the smoking and the drinking and the vulgar mother and the verbal diarrhea…
Mark: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.
Bridget Jones is the heroine to single women (especially those over 30) everywhere. She’s (refreshingly) a little chubby, she drinks and smokes and her life is generally a mess. In other words, she’s AMAZING. There was quite a stir when Texan Renee Zellweger was cast as the British Bridget, but I honestly can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. She plays it to perfection…and let’s be honest, she’s never been better looking than she was with the extra “Bridget” weight. Casting Hugh Grant as bad boy Daniel Cleaver was inspired, as up until then, he had always played the good guy. He plays Daniel with such relish that you can’t help but fall for him, even though you KNOW he is wretched. And don’t get me started on Colin Firth as Mark Darcy. Essentially if the rumors about Mark not being in the third book are true, I will pretend it doesn’t exist.
Bridget Jones is one of my favorite comfort movies. All the supporting characters are cast perfectly and the dialogue is endlessly quotable. I will forever wish that they never would have made The Edge of Reason, but when you look at Bridget Jones’s Diary as a standalone movie, it is damn near perfection.
3) My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
George: Suddenly, a familiar song. And, you’re off your chair in one, exquisite movement… wondering, searching, sniffing the wind like a dappled deer. Has God heard your little prayer? Will Cinderella dance again? And then, suddenly, the crowds part and there he is: sleek, stylish… radiant with charisma. Bizarrely, he’s on the telephone. But then, so are you. And then he comes towards you… the moves of a jungle cat. Although you quite correctly sense that he is… gay… like most devastatingly handsome single men of his age are, you think… what the hell. Life goes on. Maybe there won’t be marriage… maybe there won’t be sex… but, by God, there’ll be dancing.
I love My Best Friend’s Wedding for its bittersweet-ness. I love it for ending like how things would actually end in real life. I think this is my favorite performance of Julia Roberts’ and yes, that includes Pretty Woman, which, as you see, is not on this list for very specific reasons (tune into the podcast to find out why!). Julianne Potter is a tough romantic comedy heroine. She’s prickly, hates pretty much everything to do with love, and is downright devious in her schemes to end Micheal’s relationship with Kimmie (dear, sweet, chocolate covered, candy coated Kimmie). And yet…we still root for her, which is a testament to Julia’s performance. We may not want her to end up with Michael, but we want her to be OKAY, which is why the end of the movie is so wonderful. MBFW also gave us perhaps the greatest romantic comedy supporting performance of ALL TIME in Rupert Everett’s George. The segment where George visits Julianne in Chicago is comedy GOLD and then it immediately followed by the incredibly moving scene between Michael and Julianne on the boat. The first time I saw the movie, I wept through that scene (and for the last 15 minutes or so) and to this DAY I swear that if Julianne hadn’t choked during that moment, the movie would have ended differently.
Also…with all the movies being made into musicals these days…why has no one attempted to adapt MBFW?? It’s SCREAMING to be made into a musical! Can you imagine the “Say a Little Prayer” production number? Or the awesomeness of the song “Creme Brulee (You’re never gonna be Jell-O)”???
2) Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Sam: Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.
Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife?
Sam: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together…and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home…only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like…magic.
It is no coincidence that my top 2 were written by the brilliant and dearly departed Nora Ephron, who will forever be the queen of romantic comedy dialogue. Sleepless ultimately won out over MBFW for the number 2 spot because of the romance factor. How can a movie where the two leads don’t truly meet until the final scene be so desperately romantic?? Brilliant writing, that’s how. Tom Hanks has never been more dreamy than as Sam Baldwin. I teared up just READING his speech about his wife. They really don’t write characters like Sam anymore, and that is what is wrong with Romantic Comedies these days. And Meg Ryan’s Annie? She’s basically the biggest fangirl on the planet, so it’s no WONDER that we all relate to her!
Sleepless in Seattle is unabashedly romantic, which I definitely feel like is a factor missing from romantic comedies today. Most of the modern romcoms bury their hearts under a layer of cynicism and sarcasm and are afraid to just be purely HEARTFELT, as if the 2013 audience would reject something of pure sentiment. To quote Iris Simpkins, “I’m looking for corny in my life.” There is a way to write sentiment without it being falsely sweet and Sleepless finds that balance. Sleepless in Seattle makes no bones about being a bit sappy and corny…and that’s what makes it great.
1) When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.
Sally: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?
Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Sally: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.
Harry: I guess not.
Sally: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.
I’mma let you finish, but When Harry Met Sally is the greatest romantic comedy of all time and your argument is invalid. I don’t need to say any more. Period. Finito. End of Story. Drops the mic.
If you feel I need to say anything to prove my point about WHY When Harry Met Sally is the greatest rom com of all time, then you clearly haven’t seen it.
That’s my list! Stay tuned for Sage’s post, and let me/us know if there is anything EGREGIOUS we left out…and keep your eyes peeled for our inaugural podcast in the coming week!