I’m in a long-term relationship with rom-coms, but it hasn’t aways been easy.
Between Hollywood and Bollywood, I grew up on films featuring meet cutes, cheesy one-liners and dudes running through airports to confess their love to The One. I entered my 20s expecting to literally bump into the love of my life while rounding a street corner with an armful of books, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I started to realize that my love of rom-coms made me overlook the genre’s many clichés—and the unrealistic expectations they generate.
As an avid rom-com viewer, Priyanka Chopra Jonas gets it.
“I love romantic comedies. It’s one of my favourite genres of films to watch,” she says, citing Love Actually, Jerry Maguire and the Bollywood classic Maine Pyar Kiya as some of her go-to flicks. But reflecting on the movies that she grew up with during a recent phone interview, the 36-year-old actor says they also have had an impact on her romantic expectations.
“Expecting super grand gestures—not that I haven’t got them, I mean I’ve been very fortunate in love that way—but having an expectation from your partner is something that I realized as an adult that was definitely rom-com influenced,” she says. In fact, a 2015 study from the University of Michigan found that films like There’s Something About Mary made women consider stalking, a straight-up criminal offence, to be romantic. But Chopra adds that not only did rom-coms enforce some problematic standards, they also made it seem like women didn’t get to live happily ever after unless a guy showed up outside their window with a boom box raised over his head.
“All of those validations that come out of romantic comedies are the tropes that I don’t love,” she says.
Enter Isn’t It Romantic, a rom-com that directly calls out the genre. On its surface, the film is about Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a single New York architect who is career driven and disillusioned with love and with rom-coms, films which she says are all “lies set to terrible pop songs.” After fighting off a man attempting to mug her in the subway, Natalie hits her head and wakes up in a world where New York smells amazing, all female colleagues are enemies and everyone looks like a soap opera star. If it sounds cliché, that’s because it is—intentionally.
“I think with Isn’t It Romantic, what’s super clever about it is that it leans into the tropes but at the same time, it’s so unique and different,” says Chopra, who plays model and “yoga ambassador” Isabella in the film. “It’s the first of its kind, I feel.”
Chopra considers the the satirical rom-com to be “groundbreaking,” and it’s also one of many films trying to breath new life into this once-beloved genre. As box offices sales dipped in recent years, there was a noticeable decline in rom-com releases, with 2017 seeing a 28-year low. But last year, audiences seem to rediscover their love for this genre, and with the massive success of films like Crazy Rich Asians and Netflix’s Set It Up, many media outlets declared 2018 to be the year of the rom-com comeback. It’s also worth noting that these 2018 films weren’t the cliché-heavy rom-coms we grew up with. Instead, Time writer Eliana Dockterman attributed the success of the new rom-coms in part to their ability to “refocus on what women want—beyond a man—and celebrate equal partnerships.”
And that gets at the exact trope that Chopra hopes to stop seeing in not just romantic comedies, but films in general.
“I wish that the end of a movie wouldn’t be when a girl gets a guy, or that her validations of herself and how she feels about herself didn’t have to do with her romantic relationships,” she says.
After years of being served the same clichés, it’s hard to say where the genre should or could go from here, but Chopra says that films like Isn’t It Romantic that call out rom-com tropes, are an important step forward. “Movies are a reflection of society in a way,” she says. “I think as that changes and as we get progressive as a society, cinema is going to change according to that.”
Here’s hoping, because if that’s the case, I might just fall in love with rom-coms all over again.