Unpopular Opinions: Romantic Comedy Protagonists

Valentine's Day is coming up and the Arts Desk cannot wait! Thus, they’ve decided to critically analyze rom-coms in anticipation of the big day.

People generally tend to fall on two extremes with romantic comedies: they either desperately want to love them or they consider the plots just too cheesy to be appreciated. A critical breaking point for every rom-com is its protagonist. As formulaic as the genre is, the unique charm the lead character and actor bring to a film can elevate a paint-by-numbers plot — or further illuminate the problems embedded within it. This is Unpopular Opinions: Romantic Comedy Protagonists.

Hitch, “Hitch”
Will Smith oozes with charisma on and off screen. The Oscar-nominated actor is funny and utterly electric in anything he does, so it was no surprise that he got around to doing a romantic comedy in between action movies like “I, Robot” and Oscar bait such as “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Smith’s performance as the titular, smooth-talking love doctor is magnetic, and he commands every comedic beat with slick confidence, even when we see Hitch utterly fail at his own practices. Hitch does not fit into the lazy goofball or rigid, aged lover archetypes of other rom-coms. He is essentially a professional rom-com superhero, but what’s so lovely about his arc is how Hitch is forced to question the legitimacy of his own methods in a manner that doesn’t resort to cliches. Moreover, he is such a lovable protagonist that, with the help of Smith’s performance, the movie overall becomes an endlessly repeatable watch. The character deserves to be championed alongside other rom-com leads, especially since Smith’s effortless wit constantly reminds you how fun and heartfelt the genre can be. — Guru

Juno and Paulie, “Juno”
This offbeat comedy was more of a cheesy back-to-school flick in high school than a Valentine’s Day film, but regardless, Juno is easily one of my favorite big-screen rom-coms of the ‘00s. From our protagonist’s wildly left-field sense of humor to the lullaby-like score arranged by Kimya Dawson, we can’t help but remember this is a story of high school puppy love. This is most notably highlighted by the contrasting romantic interests — Juno, a witty teen thrust into the adult responsibilities of pregnancy who is deemed “mature for her age,” and Paulie Bleeker, an infantile junior in high school coddled by his mother and with an affinity for orange Tic-Tacs. It’s lighthearted — considering its subject matter — it’s cute, and it portrays love without drama, frills or the like. It’s a very real movie with equal parts fun and wit. — Nicole

Tom and Summer, “(500) Days of Summer”
Despite being a cult classic for its portrayal of the manic pixie dream girl archetype (played by Zooey Deschanel), “(500) Days of Summer” often gets ignored in critical consideration of the top rom-coms of our generation. Perhaps this is because the film is an anti-rom-com. It even says so in the introduction, in a deep and familiar voice after introducing the possibly star-crossed lovers, “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.” And, truly, it’s not. Tom and Summer never make it out alright and the audience knows this from the get-go. After all, Tom is a hopeless romantic and Summer, well, Summer cut all her hair off at a young age because she felt too attached to it. This is all to say that “(500) Days of Summer” is modern. The roles are reversed. Summer doesn’t believe in marriage and Tom doesn’t think he’ll start living until he finds the one. Summer excels in her job and Tom, wallowing in their breakup, almost loses his. Summer moves on immediately. Tom does not. In this sense, “(500) Days of Summer” is one of the most feminist rom-coms out there. This is a story where boy meets girl and girl leaves boy. This is a story that says that it’s okay to be a Summer and it’s okay to be a Tom. And, more importantly, it’s okay to not have your love story just yet. — Claire

Lara Jean, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”
I know this movie was a runaway hit for Netflix when it dropped last year, and I get why. High-schooler Lara Jean keeps a box in her closet of letters she’s written to her five crushes — including her older sister’s now ex-boyfriend Josh, the current object of her affection. But when her sh*t-stirring little sister Kitty — the true queen of the film! — mails the letters, Lara Jean and another former crush, Peter, decide to pretend to date so that Lara Jean can convince Josh that she’s no longer interested, and so Peter can make his ex jealous. I understand the movie’s appeal — High school drama! Cute boys! — but I’m sorry, the story makes no sense. I guess the whole “write down your feelings to deal with them” thing squares, but why would she address them? And more importantly, why would she toy with poor Peter’s emotions that way? She knows that he knows that she had feelings for him before, she kisses him before they agree on their plan and then she strings him along — albeit unwittingly — for months? Not cool, Lara Jean. — Alex

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