Roberts herself made comments recently about audiences perhaps not understanding just how good we had it with the quality and quantity of rom-com releases in the 1990s (her own portfolio in that decade included Pretty Woman, My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill).
She left it over 20 years before making her splashy return to the category in a lead role with Ticket To Paradise (let’s not discuss Valentine’s Day), having last properly rom-commed in America’s Sweethearts in 2001 with John Cusack, Billy Crystal and Catherine Zeta-Jones. That’s a pre-Chicago Zeta-Jones, enjoying the first bloom of her Hollywood career after The Mask of Zorro. A lot of time has passed, people!
Of course, I’m not saying it’s been a full rom-com famine for the last two decades, there were still some gems of the genre to enjoy, past the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan one-two punch of Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, in the early and mid-noughties like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Maid in Manhattan (yes, I first saw Ralph Fiennes in this before moving swiftly onto Schindler’s List), Just Like Heaven, No Reservations and The Proposal. I’m now going to stop naming rom-coms to avoid the accusations of missing everyone’s favourites – yes, we were spoiled back then.
However, we quickly morphed into the Judd Apatow era of rom-coms, where it became more about broad, gross-out humour in films like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (Bridesmaids is an exquisite film), but the ‘rom’ was definitely scaled back to focus more on the ‘com’.
We’ve since seen rom-coms produced – if at all – as TV series, like Partner Track, or lower-grade movies for streamers, such as The Hating Game, without known stars attached. No shade to those releases – of course I’ve inhaled them – but, like it or not, we have been living in the darkest days of this genre’s history, with a dearth of proper blockbuster rom-coms coming out complete with an A-list cast attached. One of the last major popular ones was probably 2006’s The Holiday, featuring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black, which has nestled itself nicely into the regular festive viewing calendar (shh, not you Love Actually).
But why is it that we aren’t seeing rom-coms in that top of the marquee position anymore? Instead, we are living in an era where studios are obsessed with superheroes, Star Wars and mega franchises like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Rom-coms are simply shunned or streamed, and it’s taken Ticket To Paradise landing on our shores (after a brief delay) to point out how starved we’ve been of this content. But give me a rom-com over a superhero film any day.
Ticket To Paradise is Roberts and Clooney sparring and sparking off one another as exes who reunite to save their daughter (played by Kaitlyn Dever) from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years previously. Alongside the chemistry of stars who have been pals for years, the script is tight and genuinely amusing, the movie is set in Bali and there’s an unexpected comic revelation in the form of Emily in Paris’s Lucas Bravo.
Rom-coms provide heart, humour, entertainment and escapism – and given what we’ve all experienced in the past two and a half years, where on earth have they been hiding? We’re up to our necks in mega-bucks action and fantasy productions, which can be amazing but are definitely competing in an over-saturated market.
A lot of the rom-com relapse is down to the dismissal of the genre; a sneering, sexist attitude towards them as fluff. I think it’s no coincidence that both Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Grant’s much-lauded career revivals coincided with them moving away from rom-com leading men roles. Now, I won’t begrudge a single second of Grant in Paddington 2, nor McConaughey his Oscar, and yes there were some dodgy choices made along the way – but they both leave behind them some absolute rom-com classics: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Wedding Planner, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Two Weeks Notice… These do not deserve to be shooed to the back of anyone’s filmography.
Curiously, this disdain is not the case with oldest of rom-com royalty – films like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday from the 1930s and 40s don’t receive backlash to their popularity, nor any ‘well, it was good for this type of film’ caveats to their praise. Maybe it’s because they got their own slightly different name – screwball comedy – but they share all the same ingredients of a central love story, usually a rivals/enemies-to-lovers arc, comedy zingers and a happy ending. Critics happily reference these movies routinely in ‘best of’ lists, but that same red-carpet treatment has yet to be rolled out for the likes of Miss Congeniality (yet).
So, can we give it a rest please and stop rolling back on the rom-coms? Ticket To Paradise proves we are long overdue a proper A-list, blockbuster rom-com to make an impact. It also proves that it’s fine to know where a story is going but to nevertheless enjoy the journey getting there, a few laughs along the way and a great chemistry between co-stars. Notice how in that sentence I could have been taking about Robert Downey Jr’s star-making turn as Tony Stark in the Iron Man and Avenger films? Genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist flirting his way all over the shop with his assistant is clearly pinched from the classic rom-com playbook.
I am more than ready to be swept off my feet by feet by a glut of top-drawer romantic comedies, with all the money, talent and fanfare thrown at them like the old days. Give me the meet-cute!
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