5 Beloved Rom-Coms That Have Aged In Weird Ways
More than perhaps any other genre, romantic comedies aim for that timeless feel, creating evergreen love stories where the only way you can gauge the time is by recognizing which generation of Macbook the protagonist uses to write that promotion-worthy cooking article. But in our time of rapidly evolving value systems, even contemporary romcoms can quickly start feeling positively prehistoric, proving once and for all that not every happy ending is suited for all ages. For example ...
Love Actually Tried To Woo Audiences With Workplace Harassment and 9/11 References
Ah, Love Actually, the not-very-Christmas gift that keeps on giving. No movie about romcom wrongs can be right without the inclusion of this 2003 classic whose ideas of romance boils down to cue card stalking, weddings with flash mobs, dry humping and a naked Bill Nighy.
And 9/11. 9/11 was super romantic, right? Love Actually believes this sincerely enough that the movie, which tries so hard to become a Capra-esque timeless classic it hurts, immediately dates itself by opening with a 9/11 reference. At an airport. As proof that love is real. This is what Hugh Grant's stammering Prime Minister posits when he says: "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" right before the title pops on the screen. What a weird choice to make for a movie that was always destined to be everyone's third choice in an in-flight DVD menu. British Airlines agreed, cutting out the 9/11 reference before showing it on its planes.
But like the cheap wine in Harvey Weinstein's hotel minibar, this movie also keeps getting sourer with age. In 2017, filmmaker Richard Curtis returned Love Actually to the spotlight for a quick Comic Relief sketch. A choice he would soon regret, as 2017 was also the beginnings of the #MeToo movement. That cultural combo made quite a few critics realize that, of the roughly 42 storylines in Love Actually, 158 of them involve middle-aged men inappropriately hitting on their 20-something employees. Like Alan Rickman's Harry, a middle-aged executive whose entire plot revolves around buying a sexy gift for his twenty-something secretary so he can cheat on his wife.
Or Jamie (Colin Firth), a middle-aged author who wants to marry his 20-something non-English speaking Portuguese housekeeper based solely on the facts that she looks good wet and washes his dirty Y-fronts without complaining.
And then there's David, the aforementioned middle-aged Prime Minister of Great Britain who believes that the planes crashing into Tower 1 and 2 were as full of love as Cupid's arrows. He catches a 20-something staffer he fancies getting sexually harassed by the U.S. President (somehow both dated and prescient in 2003) and gets so jealous he has her reassigned with no more of an explanation than "just a weird personality thing," the polite British equivalent of saying she's just too difficult to work with.
And if it starts to feel that Love Actually is low-key justifying workplace harassment of female subordinates, you're just not realizing that these women were obviously asking for it. The movie goes out of its way to highlight that Firth's housekeeper makes the first move by taking off her clothes -- before dutifully jumping in a lake to save his manuscript like a trained retriever. Meanwhile, Rickman is the victim of one of those typical nymphomaniac homewreckers you find in every accounting department and Grant's assistant rightfully offers a formal apology to her boss for being so silly for allowing herself to get sexually harassed by the most powerful man in the free world. Maybe Love, Actually's resident creep Colin was right: you really can get away with anything as long as you have a posh English accent.
Crazy, Stupid, Love Doesn't See Anything Wrong With Giving Nudes To Minors
Crazy, Stupid, Love is the story of an everyday schlub played by Steve Carell whose life is turned upside down with the magical appearance of an impossibly ripped hot blonde guy who teaches him how to reclaim his manhood. It's basically the Fight Club of romcoms. And just like Fight Club, this movie had no idea how frustrated teens could abuse its messages.
Crazy, Stupid, Love has some backward views on modern romance. No, this isn't about Ryan Gosling's sociopathic pick-up artist who says things like "The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise." Sadly, that archetype has aged gracefully into some of the most famous school shooters of our times. Instead, it's the movie's very casual stance towards nudity -- specifically taking and receiving underaged nudes.
In the movie's C-plot, we follow the precocious (if that's a synonym for "saving up to buy a fedora") 13-year-old Robbie and his unhealthy obsession with his babysitter Jessica who is a Hollywood 17 i.e. obviously 24. But Jessica isn't interested in Robbie as much as she is horny for his dad, Steve Carell's character, to the point where she takes a series of naked pictures to desperately seduce this guy who looks like every assistant-manager of a Gap. (So far, so every other video on Pornhub.) But in a twist ending, Jessica has a change of heart and decides to hand over her NSFW envelope to Robbie as a middle-school graduation gift.
Now, that kind of weird May-slightly-later-in-May relationship may have flown in the screenwriters' Porky's/Revenge of the Nerds inspired eighties' childhood. But Crazy, Stupid, Love takes place in 2011, a time when underaged sexting and its corresponding laws were on the verge of being taken very seriously. Even at 17, Jessica showing her boob pics to a 13-year-old would get her convicted as a sex offender in most states, including California (where the movie takes place) which also puts her up for a felony charge under the California penal code 288 with a prison sentence of up to eight years.
But what's perhaps even more unbelievable for our contemporary eyes is the idea that someone supposedly born in the mid-90s would a) know how to operate a digital camera and b) think it a good idea to give identifiable nudes to the kind of teen creep who once shouted in a public space that he jerks himself numb to the thought of her. Any Millennial with half a brain would know that those pics will wind up on 8chan before she gets home.
Zack & Miri Make A Porno Was So Close, Yet So Far When Predicting The Future Of Porn
There's not a lot of things I trust Kevin Smith to know. Like how to pull off a wide-angle shot, or how to handle his weed. But just one look at the style and substance of the auteur of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Chasing Amy and you know he's a man who knows a thing or two about amateur porn. So unsurprisingly, despite being a bad com and a worse rom, Zack & Miri Make A Porno seemed to nail the burgeoning online amateur porn scene of 2008. A bunch of disillusioned twenty-somethings who have no idea what they're getting into? Check. A cosplaying porn parody of a famous nerd IP? Check. Awkward sex featuring a beautiful woman and a hairy dude who looks exactly like Seth Rogen? Check and check.
But then Z&MMAP loses all credibility by committing the cardinal sin of porn: overshooting the climax. In the movie's epilogue, it's revealed that the titular Zack and Miri (and all the friends they made along the way) have started their own amateur porn studio called Zack And Miri Make Your Porno. Their niche? Shooting and editing the sex tapes of regular couples looking to spice up their relationship -- because nothing fixes intimacy issues like inviting a film crew and some three-point lighting into the bedroom. And we don't know what's a worse business idea going into the 2010s, asking someone to pay thousands of dollars to shoot five minutes of amateur rutting when GoPros and iPhones are readily available or, in the age of revenge porn, asking people to leave their sex tape in the hands of a Kevin Smith protagonist.
Which is a shame, because with but one minor adjustment, Zack And Miri Make Your Porno could've been the Netflix of porn (in prescience and volume). In the ten years since the movie's release, boutique family-unit production companies have indeed become very profitable in porn, but not for filming private videos of their clients, but for them. Bespoke porn or "customs" are made and paid for by a single customer wanting to satisfy a very particular fetish, and these lonely dudes pay upwards of $30,000 for a single high-quality production. So instead of teaching awkward couples how to appreciate each others' bodies, if Zack and Miri were still around today Zack would be eating Miri's cake farts while dressed as Barney Rubble for the masturbatory pleasure of a single shut-in in North Dakota.
Failure To Launch Mocked Moving In With Your Parents 5 Seconds Before The Recession Hit
It's fool's gold to expect financial realism in romcoms, where 90% of the economy seems to be fueled by architects, boutique cupcake shops, and the music of Sarah McLaughlin. But even with the bar set so low, 2006's Failure To Launch, starring Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Bradley Cooper, featured a fantastical brand of mid-aughts carefree capitalism that isn't just unrecognizable today but aged more rapidly and poorly than the portrait of himself McConaughey hides in his attic.
As one of the last of the 'chuck' films (aspirational rom coms aimed at pink polo shirt-wearing, Volvo driving suburban bros), the world of Failure To Launch is not our own. McConaughey's Tripp, a luxury yacht salesman, and his buddy Demo (Cooper) are handsome, successful and sexually adventurous men in their thirties who proudly live with their parents ... because they love the lifestyle. Opposite to that is Parker's character Paula, who somehow has been able to make a lucrative and legit career out of seducing immature men and tricking them into buying their own place. There's also a subplot about McConaughey constantly being attacked by random animals, culminating in a scene where a lizard bites his finger and then chuckles like it's an episode of The Flintstones, so it'd be stupid to pretend that anyone in this movie was trying to make cinema verite.
Which might explain why the makers of Failure To Launch didn't have a clue about the kind of reality their movie was going to premiere in, or how serious this premise was about to become, which resulted in perhaps the fastest a movie has dated itself since the 2002 Spider-Man trailer still featured the World Trade Center. Made during the height of the housing bubble, it was during Failure To Launch's theater run that the world was hit by the Great Recession, plunging countless hard-working Americans into poverty and making millions of millennials boomerang back into their parents' basement. By 2012, 63% of Americans aged 18 to 34 knew someone who was forced to move back home because of the economy ruining their life, which doesn't put you in the mood to pick up a DVD about the woes of an upper-class life coach and some dude who drives a Porsche and chooses to live with his parents because it makes it easier to dump all the hot women he's pulling from his yachting job.
Even in the movie's eventual cop-out, which reveals that McConaughey's character is actually depressed and unable to move on because his fiance died (making it extra cruel that his parents buy him a con artist and not, say, a Groupon for some therapy), that doesn't help get rid of it pre-Recession stink. Five years later and a romcom about a psychologically damaged man moving back in with his parents due to the trauma of a past relationship no longer gets you a cash-in like Failure To Launch, but an award-winning movie like Silver Linings Playbook, with the only similarity between the pre- and post-crisis versions being Bradley Cooper mugging like a goon.
'Reality Bites' Idea Of Selling Out Hasn't Been Fashionable Since Grunge
It took a while for Reality Bites (Rent for people too jaded to even do vocal warmups) to grab people's attention. But by the end of the nineties, it was considered a cult classic thanks to its universal themes of young adult aimlessness, the dangers of casual sex and artistry in a time of economic instability. More importantly, the movie cemented itself as a quintessential Gen X film for its thesis on the dangers of selling out. And by doing so, Reality Bites performed the impressive feat of depicting its twentysomethings in a way that both sides of the generational gap look at them like they're a bunch of whiny, overprivileged babies.
You'd think that a movie where a 90's sitcom dad turns out to be a misogynist monster who tells the protagonist "I could get an intern to do you job for free" surely has to be relevant to this day. But Millennial and Gen Z young adults won't find comrades in their late-capitalist struggle in the protagonists of Reality Bites. Fresh out of film school, Winona Ryder's Lelaina Pierce lives with her best bud in a Friends-style massive apartment. She also has a well-paying job in her industry of choice that involves nothing more than her writing cue cards and getting her host his daily cup of coffee (which she refuses to do, telling the man who signs her checks to "espress yourself").
Meanwhile, her only creative contribution as an artist is a shaky camcorder documentary about her and her twenty-something friends hanging out on rooftops and ironically reciting pop culture catchphrases -- something so commonplace in the mid-nineties those VHS tapes could have been used as a post-apocalyptic currency. Yet in no time, her freshman effort gets bought by a major network. Today, that kind of life makes you the envy of your old NYU WhatsApp group text. But in Reality Bites, all of that just means you're selling out, man.
The main characters' obsession with not going corporate is why the movie expects us to applaud Lelaina when she refuses to drive her dad's second hand BMW, a symbol of bourgeois oppression. Or to admire her for ruining her career by pranking her boss on live TV. Or eventually refusing to sell her documentary when she finds out it has been re-edited it to fit a house style because national broadcasters are just too square to air sloppy student films sight unseen. Like any romcom, Ryder's character also has to choose between two gentleman rivals. But because this is a Gen X anthem, the movie's version of the sensitive bad boy is an asshole slacker who can't even crush it at his weekly open mic and its rich dud is a sweet go-getter who has built a successful career working for an alternative MTV-style channel. Obviously, she goes with the asshole creative type, because working hard and being realistic about your goals are all signs of being a soulless corporate yuppie.
And that kind of Gen X voluntary bohemianism dressed up as artistic integrity has never been harder to swallow than right now, when selling out just means you no longer have to buy groceries with "exposure." A time when influencers intentionally make their posts resemble sponsored content because selling out just proves to the world that you have something worth selling. A time when most creative types are burned out spending 18 hours of their day churning out content for a $3.42 check from YouTube and an unaccredited retweet from some Gen X'er who once made a movie in a weekend and whose idea of artistic integrity never needed to involve setting up an OnlyFans account to afford your four-figure rent.
For more free selling-out, you can follow Cedric on Twitter.
Top Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment