The Wedding Planner is perfect. Really. And if you haven't seen it, stop reading this now, because I'm about to tell you how it ends.
JLo is sitting on a fallen tree at an outdoor movie theater in San Francisco, sadly tossing all of the non-brown M&Ms to the side. Matthew McConaughey, in his rom-com prime, appears out of the moonlit mist and asks her why she's throwing so many perfectly good M&Ms away.
"Because someone once said they have less artificial coloring, because chocolate's already brown," she tells him. "And it kind of stayed with me."
He tells her that she kind of stayed with him, too. There's a dance in the moonlight and a kiss. It's all very metaphorical with the M&Ms. It's cheesy. It's perfect.
Yes, I really think The Wedding Planner is perfect. And it's hardly the only gloriously wonderful rom-com of the last two decades.
Notting Hill? Julia! Hugh! Sublime.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Let's watch it right now.
Hitch? Claims of misogyny and tone-deafness be damned, I love it.
We don't see many rom-coms like this anymore, at least not of the sort that were dominant from the early-1990s to the mid-2000s. Blame it on the rampant misogyny that does indeed pervade many of these films. Chalk it up to peak saturation, that point when Katherine Heigl literally appeared in three rom-coms in three years. Listen to rom-com veteran Drew Barrymore's musings in LA Weekly:
"I wonder if women grow up and they become slightly more disinterested in the romantic comedy because you realize that a happy ending is so fleeting and untrue."
For the sake of argument, let's look at these films through the Pollyanna-no-more lens. Women grew up, leaned in, and took on the mansplainers. Films featuring Kate Hudson and Reese Witherspoon landing a man and losing their hang-ups no longer spoke to the feminist masses because the plots were so toxically unrealistic and backwards.
But that holds rom-coms to an unfair standard. It's escapism, the whole genre. And how is wanting to enjoy a silly, unrealistic romance for two hours any different than imagining yourself as Liam Neeson in Any Action Movie or Kevin Costner in Any Sports Movie?
Now, before you go labeling me some Stepford-Wife type who's ruining the cause for women everywhere, let me say that I'm certainly not defending every rom-com ever made. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Fool's Gold (McConaughey past his rom-com prime, each) — I could go on and on. But I could also go on and on for any other genre, and feel far less compelled to write a think piece defending my affection for some of the films. Why do we hold rom-coms to such a different standard?
The biggest, most oft-used attack on the genre is that it reinforces the female-as-damsel-in-distress scenario. Somehow, because these movies claim to star women instead of merely feature them, this is an issue. When a film is supposed to tell us a story starring a feisty, can-do gal, everyone suddenly gets bent out of shape about her interactions with men. This is not a problem with rom-coms. This is a problem with Hollywood, society, and you.
Give women credit. We can separate what we see on screen from how we'll be wooed in the real world. These movies are not the blueprint for our worldview. They're a nostalgia rush, a security blanket, and maybe a throwback to a more Pollyanna, teenage time. What's wrong with that?
Romantic comedies "are so predictable, but that's why I love them so much," Mindy Kaling says. And it's true: Most of what I love about rom-coms is the easy-to-follow formula. I don't need to do background reading before I watch these films. I can drink a glass of wine or have a beer, and I'm not going to miss anything. And I know that in two hours, I will feel happy, not sad, confused, or existentially troubled. Sometimes, that's all you need on a Friday night.
The romantic comedy genre isn't dead, either. It's just moved (like an awful lot of other genres) off the big screen and onto your television set. Kaling's The Mindy Project, Liz Meriwether's New Girl — and, yes, the upcoming remake of Hitch into a TV series. What are these if not romantic comedies for a Netflix-trained audience?
So this Valentine's Day, sleep well in Seattle, keep the drama at your best friend's wedding to a minimum, and maybe try letting your 30-year-old self off the hook for a night and watching the rom-coms you loved as a 13 year old.