Are we entering a new golden era of romantic comedies?

anyone but you glen powell
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With Anyone But You proving to be a force to be reckoned with and Bridget Jones 4 heading into production, are we entering a new era of great rom-coms? Some thoughts. 

Rom-coms tend to have a bit of a bad reputation. They’re associated with women dragging their boyfriends to watch another generic movie, probably starring Sandra Bullock, when the men would rather watch the latest Marvel adventure. 

Everything about the above association is misogynistic and frankly, kind of underestimates men and their tastes. True, most romantic comedies are marketed towards women and  focus on women, but then again, with roles for women in decline, you got to give us something at least. 

Last month, we reported that a fourth Bridget Jones film would begin production in May, while Anyone But You, starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, has exceeded all expectations at the global box office since its late December release date. 

It begs the question: are we entering a new era of romantic comedies? And more importantly, are they getting better? 

anyone but you (1)
Credit: Sony Pictures

Anyone But You received mixed reviews from critics. Reviewers found the traditional narrative a little dull, but many praised the chemistry and energy of both Powell and Sweeney. In the UK, there were no press screenings for the film and members of the press only saw it if they managed to nab a highly sought-after junket slot with the talent. 

At the time of writing, Anyone But You has still managed to gross just shy of $200 million at the global box office. Considering the film was made for only $25 million, that’s a pretty hefty profit. It seems that if you cast two incredibly magnetic, talented actors as lovers, people will show up to watch that. 

Last year, Pixar released their first romantic comedy, Elemental. The film was initially considered a failure at the box office after a slow start, but Peter Sohn’s delightful and sweet animation proved successful in the long run, as we wrote here. The film follows two elements, Wade (water) and Ember (fire), who seem like an unlikely couple but the two connect and there’s an undeniable spark between them despite their obvious differences.

Also released last year, Red, White And Royal Blue adapted a popular book into a film, which we put on the cover of Film Stories magazine last year. We’re still getting frustratingly few romantic comedies centred on queer stories, and from that perspective, Red, White And Royal Blue was a breath of fresh air. It was a traditional love story, told from a completely new perspective, which made it feel brand new. 

Rye Lane
Credit: Searchlight

And who could forget Rye Lane, one of 2023’s best, if somewhat overlooked films? The film recently won Best Breakthrough Performance at the British Independent Film Awards for Vivian Oparah for her work. Set in the vibrant South London, it was like a soothing salve in a year that was dominated by news of endless layoffs and Warner Bros shelving films left, right and centre. 

The fourth Bridget Jones film heading into production initially had me scratching my head. My immediate reaction was, aren’t we past this particular flavour of feminism? Back in 2001, we were asked to sincerely believe that Renée Zellweger’s Bridget was ugly and fat. Sure, Bridget Jones’ Diary included many deeply relatable scenes, and lots of us struggle with our body image, but in 2024, Bridget Jones’ Diary does feel dated. However, the film was refreshingly frank in its approach to sex, as was Helen Fielding’s original book. Bridget simply wanted a good shag and really, don’t we all? 

Bridget Jones’ Diary and its two sequels still catered to the dated idea that Bridget needed to end up with a man, whether that was Colin Firth’s Mark, Hugh Grant’s delightfully sleazy Daniel Cleaver or in the third film, Patrick Dempsey’s dashing Jack. She wouldn’t be happy or whole without a man to call her own at the end of each film, which felt reductive then and definitely feels reductive now. 

bridget jones diary
Credit: Universal Pictures

The fourth film now has a chance to do something truly revolutionary. I haven’t read the novel the film is said to be based on, but it looks like the film will follow Bridget as she once again enters the dating pool, this time as a fifty-something single mother. 

Hopefully, she’s still after a good shag. There’s not a whole lot of romantic comedies that focus on women past the age of 50 and even fewer that focus on those women having sex. Your usual romantic comedy protagonists are young, conventionally beautiful and very much cis-gendered. Granted, the genre relies heavily on providing the audience with a fantasy of sorts, but it could do with some variation.  

And Just Like That…, HBO’s sequel series to the iconic, but deeply problematic Sex And The City, recently wasted an opportunity to apply the same formula that made the original series so everlasting and popular to its characters decades later. At the beginning of season one, Carrie Bradshaw (still played by Sarah Jessica Parker) loses her husband, Mr Big (Chris Noth) to a heart attack. 

The series could have been a meaningful exploration of finding love, pleasure and happiness after losing your life partner. Instead, the series ended up mostly recycling some of its old tricks but with less oomph. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) discovers she’s attracted to women, but unfortunately, the series represents Miranda as a treacherous lesbian, who cheats on her doting husband with the non-binary Che (Sara Ramirez). 

and just like that sarah jessica parker
Credit: Sky

I’m not suggesting Bridget Jones should suddenly discover she wants to shag women, but there is an opportunity here to do something very few rom-coms have done before. Bridget Jones 4 could show that women of all ages are still entitled to pleasure and partnership, that your sex life doesn’t end once you hit 45. 

Romantic comedies have clearly entered a new era where they’re not just profitable, but potentially boundary-pushing. There’s still a lot of power left in this genre, and hopefully, Bridget Jones will take a few more risks than its predecessors…

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