The romantic-comedy is one of those genres that relies on its own predictability and conventions to be successful. Like with fans of the horror movie, it’s nice when something new comes along but, for the most part, we’re happy for some mindless entertainment to pop into the DVD-player at the end of our day. But with the ‘death’ of the rom-com frequently alluded to whenever a new Jennifer Aniston vehicle rears its ugly head, is there still hope for this well-worn genre's survival? Here are some examples of those all-too-rare cases when a simple boy-meets-girl story takes a turn for the bizarre, unique or wonderful:
With a season of Aniston-esque rom-coms ahead of us, let's take a look at some more inspiring efforts...
Annie Hall (1977)
This charming tale of love and loss is probably everyone’s
favourite Woody Allen film. Previously known for more broad comedy after his stand-up days, the semi-autobiographical story of a man’s love for the eccentric Annie Hall introduced more serious undertones to Allen’s work and may have allowed the romance to ring truer than similar films released at the same time. It’s also known for breaking the fourth wall with direct pleas to the audience, subtitles illustrating the characters inner feelings, and animation placed amongst live action. All these things help to illustrate a more authentic love story whose legacy can still be seen in films today.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
As obstacles go, having to fight off seven evil exes on the way to your dream girlfriend is a real doozy. Pitched as the rom-com for the video-gamer generation, Scott Pilgrim tells the story of a self-assured bassist who falls in love with the damaged and inscrutable Ramona Flowers, if only he can put up a good fight against her past lovers. Michael Cera plays against type as the title character and a great supporting cast make this a completely different type of rom-com. Blending genres like ice cream sundaes, the movie manages to create a love story for the attention-deficit afflicted, while also putting the visual and manic tone of the original graphic novel straight up on screen.
 Days of Summer (2009)
The filmmakers behind 500 Days of Summer wanted their film’s title to sound like a pop song, and the movie behind it is filled with as many naïve ideals, delirious infatuations and devastating heartbreak as all the best love songs. Armed with a non-linear narrative, two compelling leads (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel) and a cracking soundtrack, the film could take the most hardened rom-com naysayer by surprise with its smart script, non-traditional storytelling and inspired male perspective. Levitt’s Tom is an everyman in a far more relatable way than Hugh Grant’s bumbling English gent-type could ever capture, and he drives the viewer along, rooting for him all the way and over again.
Garden State (2004)
Written, directed and starred in by Zach Braff, Garden State is much more focused on its main character than most traditional rom-coms. But, even though we begin and end with Braff’s depressed and passive protagonist, Natalie Portman’s love interest drives the story along, before changing his life forever. The film breaks the mould simply because it doesn’t focus on the love story as the be all and end all, preferring to take their romance as the product of a character's development instead of its cause. Portman is delightful in an early role, and the indie cred of its production makes this a suitably alternative option.
Love Actually (2003)
We have this Richard Curtis schmaltz compilation to blame for more recent US efforts like Valentine’s Day and He’s Just Not That Into You, so it’s tempting to lump this imperfect, but charming Christmas cracker right in there with them. Love Actually now seems to be hated and loved in equal measure but, for the king of homebred rom-coms, Curtis creates a kind of greatest hits unfolding over two hours and a dozen different storylines. Sometimes it works wonderfully; sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, sentimental, or crass. Although the film as a whole is flawed, it gets brownie points just for sheer ambition and star wattage.
My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
A rom-com where your two leads don’t end up together? Where your main character is not only manipulative and desperate, but also pitted against a never more delightful Cameron Diaz? Well that’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, a movie where Julia Roberts not only loses her man, but ends up with no one but her gay best friend for company. Yes, it’s formulaic in places, but Roberts is a rom-com staple and she has rarely given a better performance. While most films of this type can be written by the viewer from start to finish, My Best Friend’s Wedding keeps you guessing until the end, waiting for the other shoe to drop before the credits role over the now classic ‘Say a Little Prayer’ restaurant rendition.
Benny & Joon (1993)
Understandably, mental illness isn’t something the romantic comedy tends to swing towards a great deal. The star-crossed lovers of the story must have obstacles in the way of their romance, but Benny and Joon bravely explores the love between the schizophrenic Joon and new houseguest Sam, played by a very young and buoyant Johnny Depp. The Benny of the title is Joon’s brother and full-time carer, whose relationship with his sister is as important to the film as hers with Sam. It’s a three-part love story if anything, and each member is looking out for the other’s best interests, ultimately just getting in the way.
The backlash surrounding Juno’s political stance on abortion started early, so people forget about the sweet romance between Ellen Paige’s title character and her baby-daddy, played by Michael Cera, which bookends the film. The film is about Juno's journey but, like her, the audience realise by the end that she must be with little Paulie Bleaker in order to be happy, baby or no baby. The love story is not the focus of the movie, but it is what starts and finishes the story, and the pair play it beautifully and understated throughout.
For some reason, almost all romantic comedies are set in the real world, with relationships we might recognise and problems we’ve all encountered. Then why is the romance between WALL-E and EVE, two robots who meet and fall in love on a now inhabitable earth, more heartbreaking and poignant than 90% of its fellows? Pixar have tried their hand at almost every type of film, character, and relationship (within reason) over the years, but WALL-E is probably their most grown-up effort to date. In the end the filmmakers understood that it doesn’t matter if the two leads of your film are non-talking robots of differing models, as long as they can inject the story with plenty of heart.