netflix is reviving rom-coms with ‘to all the boys i’ve loved before’
The once-maligned genre is enjoying a renaissance.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before
This past weekend, Netflix released rom-com To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Based on a 2014 YA book of the same name by Jenny Han, it’s witty, heartwarming, and here to save the genre.
Rom-coms have been facing a slow extinction for a while now. Cinemas were once a place punctuated by Hugh Grant’s floppy hair on one side of the Atlantic and Katherine Heigl’s glossy blonde hair on the other. But in a world of dwindling box office sales, rom-coms have taken a backseat. As Business Insider writes on the decline of the genre, “A big factor is the studios realised that comic book movies were where the money was (especially overseas, where rom-coms rarely ever make coin).” This is evidenced by the top five films this year: superhero films (Black Panther), Marvel superhero films (Avengers: Infinity War) animated superhero films (Incredibles 2), dinosaur films (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), and comedy-superhero films (Deadpool 2). Also, Hugh Grant got old and wanted to do other things.
Fortunately for those who still pine for the genre, we now have Netflix. We can now lament our loneliness by watching happy couples from the comfort of our own beds. Or, for the couples out there, use the genre as the bedrock of Netflix and Chill. To quote arguably the hottest living trendsetter alive -- Harry Styles -- in the intro to banger Woman: “Shall we just search romantic comedies on Netflix and then see what we find?”
Now, the streaming juggernaut has cottoned onto the popularity of the genre. Earlier this month, Matt Brodlie -- director Netflix’s original film division -- told the LA Times that people were still thirsting for the rom coms of the 90s and 2000s. He said, “We realised there weren’t a lot of these films being made theatrically any more and we wanted to fulfil the need for people to watch a satisfying romantic comedy,” in a piece titled, Where has the romantic comedy gone? To Netflix. The Times and Refinery29 soon too published pieces about the genre’s growing renaissance.
Netflix are calling it the “Summer of Love”. And, while the first original rom-com they released in May this year flopped (The Kissing Booth only got 13% Rotten Tomatoes), its most recent two have been met with rave reviews. The Set-Up, was a funny, self-aware sleeper hit that played up to its genre in a somewhat meta way: “We need a meet cute,” its lead Harper says while manufacturing a romance for her boss; “Like, every great romance has a meet cute.” It also got a shout out from Reese Witherspoon, an undisputed veteran of the genre:
But it’s Netflix’s latest release, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, that has really got the Twitter mill churning. Based on a 2014 young adult romance novel from Jenny Han, it’s about a teenager who writes secret letters to her crushes, only for them to be ‘leaked’, so to speak, to the crushes themselves. It’s got all the elements of a classic rom-com: witty dialogue, a gripping if slightly implausible plot, raging sexual chemistry between the leads, and a cool parent (John Corbett, more commonly known as Aidan from Sex and the City).
But it’s not just how it aligns with rom-coms that’s earned it high praise. It’s how it deviates from it. TATBILB stars an Asian-American lead, a refreshing break in the glaringly white rom-com canon. Incidentally, it was released the same weekend as
Crazy Rich Asians took the top spot at the box office, making $35 million across its initial five days. CRA is the first rom-com to nab prime position in three years, and the first Hollywood film featuring an all Asian-American cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.
The success of both of these proves that there’s still an appetite for the romantic comedy, particularly when they challenge the of their undiverse predecessors. If Netflix can keep pushing the genre forward, while avoiding fat-shaming shitshows like Insatiable, then maybe the rom-com can live on after all.