Call me dumb, call me uncultured, call me anything you want, but I’d choose to watch a cheesy romantic comedy over a “good” film like Fight Club or Pulp Fiction any day of the week. Don’t get me wrong, I know a good movie when I see one, but there’s just something about rom-coms that speak to me in ways that most other films don’t.
It’s definitely not because the characters in rom-coms look like me. At least in Western media, most rom-com heroines are straight white women who fall in love with straight white men. Meanwhile, I’m a bisexual Asian-American who could theoretically fall in love with anyone in possession of a heartbeat and a sense of humor.
No, it’s much deeper than that. While I can’t comfortably imagine myself as any classic rom-com heroine (or love interest), I could definitely see myself doing their jobs. As an amateur writer, there is no film genre that I see my kind more represented in than the romantic comedy. It seems that every rom-com has a lead or love interest that is a writer, editor, or publisher in some way or another.
Even when the lead doesn’t technicallywork as a writer, editor, or publisher, there are cases where the act of writing seems to creep its way into the story in some way or another. In To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, for instance, Lara Jean (Lana Condor) is not a writer in the traditional sense, but it’s hard to deny the amount of effort she puts into her various love letters. Sometimes, it seems that the only thing that American rom-coms value more than straight people is literacy.
In many romantic comedy films, the occupations of the writers take a backseat to the main love story. However, some films make the writers and their careers the stories’ driving force. Yet, to say that rom-coms portray writers wellwould be a stretch. In many 2000s rom-coms, writers often crossed the line between ambitious reporting and unethical behavior. In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, protagonist Andie (Kate Hudson) manipulates and humiliates Ben (Matthew McConaughey) in order to write her article before falling in love with him and seeing the error of her ways. In 27 Dresses, male lead Kevin (James Marsden) writes an article about Jane (Katherine Heigl) without telling her about it.
Confusingly, Andie and Kevin are meant to be seen as serious, legitimate writers. The articles that they write in their respective films are meant to be their last puff piece articles that they write before the can move on to “real journalism” and cover news that matters. How are viewers supposed to reconcile blatant betrayals of journalistic ethics shown by these films with what these films tells us about the characters’ ambitions in the first place?
Maybe we can derive the answer from the question, “What is the point of writing so many love stories about writers?”. After all, there’s hardly any rom-coms about construction workers, accountants, or museum docents. Rom-coms do not strive to create a realistic picture of modern love, complete with people in realistic occupations. No, rom-coms are fairy tale-esque fantasies with near happily ever afters. Just like fantasy stories use magical beings and talking animals to tell us more about humanity, rom-coms use writers to tell us more about who we are as people.
Similar to how vampires were once metaphors for sexual predators and the Beast from Beauty and the Beastprovides a metaphor for looking past appearances to see true beauty, writers represent one of the most important factors of a romantic relationship: communication.
It’s no mistake that some of the most time-honored tropes when it comes to love stories are miscommunicationand misunderstanding. This can even be traced back to Shakespearean times. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s the miscommunication between Puck and Oberon that creates the conflict between the four lovers. On a more tragic note, it is miscommunication that dooms the titular lovers in Romeo and Juliet.
In contrast, it is communication in love stories (both old and new) that saves the day. The happy ending of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothingonly happens because the leads are finally able to confess their love to one another. Moreover, more recent love stories such as When Harry Met Sally, 10 Things I Hate About You, and The Proposalhave all included sweeping declarations of love as their respective climaxes. In love, miscommunication kills, and honest conversation leads to happy endings.
Just in case the message isn’t already clear enough, the storytellers behind our favorite rom-coms make sure to emphasize this point by making their characters writers. After all, is there no profession that embodiesthe need for communication more than that of a writer?
The act of writing, whether it’s a news story or a poem, parallels the act of loving. Writing something good, much like finding a good partner, looks easier than it actually is. Writing means making mistakes over and over again, thinking that you’ve done something right and then finding a typo, and letting whatever you’re writing get away from you until absolute magic happens. Doesn’t that sound like the structure of a good love story? Making enough mistakes to get you to where you need to be, falling in love with the “perfect” person and then realizing that your realsoulmate is someone you could have never predicted?
We need writers in rom-coms because it is far too easy to mistake common tropes (such as following someone to an airport, fake dating, or running after someone in the rain) as signifiers of true love instead of plot points manufactured to create drama. Such actions are neutral on their own, but when watched through the lens of a rom-com, it’s easy to assume that they create the foundation of a relationship in and of themselves.
In the end, however, they’re just catalysts for true communication to occur. At the end of the day, what makes a great relationship isn’t fun banter or the ability to fake date really well, it’s the ability to talk to each other and be honest with your feelings. Placing the writer at the forefront of the love story allows for the communicationaspect of the great love story to leave the realm of subtext and become explicit text.
In rom-coms, writers embody both the mechanism for forming a good relationship (communication) and the evolution of a relationship itself. Just like every great relationship needs communication, every great rom-com needs a writer (or editor, or publisher, or journalist. Literally anyone who works in communication).
In fact, one of my favorite quotes about love from a romantic comedy isn’t about love at all. In Set It Up, writer Harper (Zoey Deutch) gets some tough love advice when she struggles with writing a good article: “Of course your first draft is going to be bad. It’s gonna be terrible. Then you know what you do, Harper? You go back and make it better. But you can’t make it better until you actually do it.”
No matter how good of a writer you are, it’s inevitable that your first draft is going to be bad. Maybe that’s why in some rom-coms, writers start off in not-so-great places. In films such as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Daysand 27 Dresses, the articles that the characters write never end up being what they initially intended. As the characters’ love stories develop into something better, their personal stories do too. Writing, just like love, is a journey.
No matter how hard writing or confessing you love is, it’s necessary work. Writers need to write to survive. You can’t just not writeand expect yourself to suddenly come up with the next great novel at the drop of a hat. You need to practice; you need to write bad things, and then write okay things, and then write good things.
In love, you can’t just hide away and expect your soulmate to find you. You need to be open with how you feel. You need to confess your love to the wrong person and get rejected over and over again. You need to learn how to say “I love you” the right way, so that your partner knows that your feelings are true. You need to make enough mistakes so that when the right love story comes your way, you’ll be ready, and you’ll know exactly what to say.