Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Constance Wu in “Crazy Rich Asians” – photo via WB

A couple of nights ago I had the opportunity to see a new romantic comedy called Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. It was the most fun I’ve had at the movies in quite some time. I’m not alone in my thinking. The film, as of this writing, has a 100% score on the Rotten Tomatoes website*. It’s a visual feast of lavishly shot locales, gorgeous people in beautiful clothes, as well as crave-inducing odes to food. At heart is, of course, a love story, in the Cinderella vein, played by two photogenic people whose chemistry is palpable. (I’m totally crushing on Henry Golding, who has emerged as a fully-fledged movie star in his first onscreen role. But I digress.) It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, which is something that many so-called “rom coms” have forgotten to be since the heyday of Nora Ephron.

The film is being lauded for its all-Asian cast, something that hasn’t happened in a big studio film since The Joy Luck Club, twenty-five years ago. Like that earlier film, Crazy Rich Asians has a lot to do with family, tradition and the Asian diaspora. It’s also being called the “Return of the Hollywood Rom-Com.”

Romance is the best-selling and fastest growing genre in all of publishing. The movie industry continually mines the mountains of newly published works to keep their engines stoked. Romantic comedy is a sub-genre of romance. So where have all the rom-coms gone?


graphic via Buzzfeed

To the small screen, mostly. Netflix has a new original called Set It Up (whose star, Zoey Deutch is second generation rom-com heroine. Her mom is Leah Thompson) and it is all kinds of old-school good.  It’s got a lot of classic elements: the meet-cute, the funny friends**, the two ingenues (who are the real leads) playing matchmaker only to discover they are the ones meant to be together, etc.

And of course, rom-coms are still alive and well on the Hallmark Channel. They sure are. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said before; I am a fan. Even though they all star the same 10 actors in various combinations and all disguise the same Toronto suburbs as multiple parts of the U.S. (including fake snow on trees in full leaf) I have been known to get sucked in on a Sunday afternoon and the next thing I know the day is gone. They are like potato chips; you can’t eat just one.  And the Hallmark Channel, despite its recent penchant for remaking movies in its image (I swear, I recently saw a G-rated version of The Ugly Truth), more often they look to books for their inspiration. Just not the books I read.  (Did you know there’s a brand new subscription service called Passionflix, dedicated to bringing the steamy side of romance to your television? They make their content from the romance novels that are probably on your nightstand and/or Kindle right now. Comedy is not their bag. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Again, I digress.)

With all the entertainment choices at our disposal these days, it is still my favorite thing to do to sit in a darkened movie theater with my popcorn. And I miss a good rom-com. I want to be wowed again like I was the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally or The Princess Bride with well written romantic comedies that were both romantic and funny with excellent production values and stars that had a magic spark you can see on screen.


But, for the most part, major film studios don’t make rom-coms anymore.  It’s almost as if they’ve forgotten how. How many times have we seen a studio turn what should be a simple story of two people falling in love into an overblown star vehicle? How much money did they lose on misses that sank under the weight of Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl? Heigl was the leading rom-com star for many years in the early to mid-00s. And with few exceptions, they were terrible.

For better or worse, the romantic comedy has always been seen as a genre for women, just as romance novels have. Hollywood has ever had a general antipathy toward “women’s pictures.” While anybody can fall in love, the assumption that these stories are “for” women is a way for Hollywood to write off romance as a story motivation. For at least the last fifty years, the target audience for most studio movies has been males age 18-25, so movies that star women, or that are aimed at female audiences have been placed in a separate category.

As rom-coms were fading away, the adaptation of YA novels became all the rage. These stories often centered on female protagonists, and there was usually a romance, but the love story usually took a back seat to other story elements (that would also appeal to the target male audience) that turned them into big special effects-driven blockbusters.

I’ll take a good rom-com over the generic romantic subplots in blockbusters any day. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail (or it’s original Shop Around the Corner.) Julia Roberts made a name for herself making rom-coms, but when she hung it up and moved on to “serious” roles, few up and coming actresses stepped in to fill her shoes. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed or seen as “less than” their male counterparts. Another shame, since the rom-coms that hold up over time also feature strong male leads as well (like When Harry Met Sally, of course, but how about It Happened One Night?)


semigratuitous pic of Clark Gable

All this is to say that if Crazy Rich Asians, which seems to have so much going for it, is, in fact, ushering in a rebirth of the big-screen, lavish, studio-backed rom-com, I’m all for it. That it is providing well-deserved screen time to underrepresented groups of actors is a ginormous bonus. There are other books in the series, but whether they get made will depend on whether all the positive buzz for the first translates into “butts in the seats.” I think it’s going to be huge. I hope so.

What say you? Do we need more romantic comedy on the big screen? What are some of your favorites? Do you plan to see Crazy Rich Asians? Let’s discuss!


*I’m not a huge fan of the site, but it’s worth noting because a perfect score is so difficult to achieve.

**Once you see the film, it will forever after be hard to top Awkwafina in Crazy Rich Asians. Just sayin’.