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Rules of the Romantic Comedy

Love ? I love love love you.

Love ? I love love love you. (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I’ve seen a lot of romantic comedies and after awhile they all start to look the same. There’s a reason for that. Whether the movie leans more toward the romantic or comedic side of rom-com, there are certain rules that every rom-com follows, for the better or worse of the genre. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are a few Rom-Com clichés that won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

Rule #1-It’s funny because they’re total opposites:

This is a biggie, that’s why it’s rule #1. The man and woman must be complete and total opposites. It would be completely improbable that they might fall in love with someone that they share a common interest in or maybe interact with on a regular basis. (see Rule #5) Where’s the fun in that?

Depending on the setting, how they are different will change. The most common ones are popular jock/ nerdy outcast, richie rich/ wrong side of the tacks, or my personal favorite, uptight, no-time-to-love heroine/ laidback, all-you-need-is-love slacker dude a.k.a. Matthew McConaughey (see Rule #10)

(examples: Pretty in Pink, Sabrina, The Cutting Edge, Along Came Polly, Knocked Up, Drive Me Crazy)

Rule #2-“So, how’d you two meet?”:

The meet-cute is the scene where the two main characters first meet. It is usually very contrived and unrealistic. It makes girls go “awww” and guys roll their eyes. It could be something harmless, such as his Great Dane drooling all over her new skirt at a park, or a couple friends/ colleagues making a bet over who can get a date first, which will set the stage for the third-act twist (see Rule #7).

(examples: Head Over Heels, While You Were Sleeping, The Proposal, When Harry Met Sally)

Rule #3-The comedy relief:

The sidekick is a staple of many movie genres. A rom-com sidekick plays a very important role. They are the best friend/ family member that the main character confides in and lets the audience know what they are thinking without a voice-over inner-monologue. They will usually be a bit quirky and will have the most funny and memorable lines of the entire movie. Think Joan Cusack in … well … any Joan Cusack movie.

(examples: Failure to Launch, Win A Date with Tad Hamilton, Runaway Bride, Going the Distance, Notting Hill)

Rule #4-From geek to chic:

The leading woman in a rom-com is going to be beautiful. She may start out an ugly duckling type, but there will be one pivotal scene where she’ll get a big makeover and come out looking drop dead gorgeous. There will a big reveal, she might be in slo-mo, and the camera will start at her feet and pan up with a quick shot to the guy so you can see his reaction while he picks his jaw up off the floor. (I know, it’s a huge shocker, who knew Sandra Bullock was so pretty.) This scene will typically come right before a big party or dance (see Rule #6, which will be a catalyst for Rule #7).

(examples: Miss Congeniality, She’s All That, Grease, Never Been Kissed, Pretty Woman)

Rule #5-Decisions, decisions:

The love triangle, this one’s a classic. One of our two main characters, usually the girl, will have two guys she likes to choose from. One of them will be Mr. Perfect, they like the same things, have the same goals, same backgrounds, same everything. The other will drive her crazy and be her opposite in everyway. Who will she choose? (see Rule #1)

(On a sidenote, anytime you’re watching a movie with James Marsden, he won’t get the girl.)

(examples: The Notebook, Sweet Home Alabama, Wedding Crashers, The Wedding Singer, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Bridget Jones’s Diary, How Do You Know)

Rule #6-The big date:

As briefly mentioned in Rule #4, there will be some major event in the lives of our characters that will be a turning point for the rest of the film. This could be a prom, wedding, major holiday, company party, doesn’t matter really. It’s basically any scene with lots of people, all dressed-up, with drinking and dancing in the background.

In this scene everything is laid on the table. There may or may not be a huge fight, but feelings will definitely get hurt which leads to rule #7.

(examples: Overboard, 10 Things I Hate About You, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Two Weeks Notice)

Rule #7-“I never want to see you again.” (Until the last 10 min.):

The inevitable break-up. This is also known as the part in the movie where the guy screws up. Now, get ready for a montage set to a song that is popular at the time but will now forever be known as that one song from that one movie every time it comes on the radio.

The montage will be quick cuts, back and forth, from him to her showing the audience that both are moving on with their lives, but miserable without the other. Then the guy will realize he wants her back.

(example: All of them)

Rule #8-The completely plausible romantic gesture:

How he gets her back will be dramatic and over-the-top and make every girl turn to her boyfriend and go “See, why can’t you be more like him.” It could be a gift, or just a declaration of his love, but it will probably involve him sacrificing himself on the alter of dignity in a very public way.

If there’s some sort of deadline involved, i.e. she’s moving or marrying someone else, there’s going to be a mad rush to get there in time. Airports will usually be involved and it will probably end with him getting arrested for sneaking past airport security.

(example: Definitely, Maybe, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Say Anything, Music and Lyrics, Just Like Heaven)

Rule #9-But, I love you:

The final ten minutes of a rom-com can make or break the entire movie. Nine out of ten times it will break it. No matter how much you enjoyed the rest of the film, you’ll get to the end and it will be ruined by a long, drawn-out, sappy monologue by the guy about how she changed him and how she makes him better and he can’t go on without her that will make you want to vomit.

Not to mention the fact that his speech is a cue for the big sweeping orchestra music to start in the background. Then she’ll fall for it and the two will live happily ever after because all their problems are instantly forgotten.

(example: Love and Other Drugs, He’s just Not That Into You, Sleepless in Seattle, No Strings Attached)

Rule #10-It’s all about the casting:

This one isn’t a rule so much as a guideline … or warning. These actors and actresses just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to the genre. Anytime you see one or more of the following names, chances are you’re in for a rom-com: Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Sandler, Ashton Kutcher, Sandra Bullock, Kate Hudson, Drew Barrymore, and/or Jennifer Aniston.


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