Definitely See This Rom Com
Romantic comedies (forthwith called “rom coms”) and I have a love-hate relationship. I love that a rom com can make me believe in the power of love, particularly the mushy-gushy kind. But I hate that the vast majority of rom coms rely on the same devices to manipulate the viewer into being invested in that love. Thus, previous to last night, my top 5 list of rom coms was as follows:
- When Harry Met Sally
- High Fidelity
- Groundhog Day
- Annie Hall
I would love to include There’s Something About Mary or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on that list, but the former is mostly just a comedy and the latter is mostly just a drama, so I left them off. And yes, it may be mistaken to place Annie Hall below Hitch, but Annie Hall just doesn’t make me want to fall in love or appreciate the love I have, so it’s not quite doing the job of a rom com.
That list has changed as of today, due to this movie. There are spoilers following the photo, so I’ll just say this now: Definitely, Maybe may have a pretty bad title, but it is almost completely void of the common rom com devices, and in addition, it just so happens to be a great movie. I really, really liked it, and right now it’s on top of my rom com list. Without spoiling anything, it’s about a guy who tells his daughter about the three women who once had his heart as his daughter tries to determine which one of them ended up being her mother. Go see it, and then come back and read about all of the things it did right and the cliches it avoided.
There are so many reasons why I like this movie, and many of them are cliches and devices that weren’t used. The following is a list of those reasons, in no particular order:
- No lies. Rom coms often use a big lie (like a guy makes a bet with his friends that he can take the “ugly girl” to the prom, and later divulges this lie to the girl) to create a story. Sure, people lie in real life, but watching people make big lies doesn’t make me feel good about relationships and love.
- No big cheating. There’s little cheating in Definitely, Maybe–stolen kisses and one act of sex–but no big cheating that creates conflict. Again, cheating is part of real life, but leave it to the dramas, not uplifting rom coms.
- Strong women. Rom coms are plagued by a lack of strong women. Sometimes they’re made to appear strong, like if they wear power suits and have high-powered jobs, but when it comes down to relationships, they need a man to open them up or encourage them to follow their dreams. The woman in Definitely, Maybe act like real-life strong women, not fickle, petty, emotionally manipulative women.
- The love makes sense. In rom coms, I rarely believe the love that is spoon-fed to me. Usually a character makes a sudden decision that they love someone, and they music plays, and they kiss, and you, the viewer, think for a brief moment that you’ve just witnessed true love. But then you realize that you have no idea why these two people love each other. It’s never explained. In Definitely, Maybe, it makes sense, many times over. There is unique love between Ryan Reynolds and the three women who have his heart at different times, and each one feels real and makes sense.
- No race to catch the guy/girl at the end. Why do rom com writers think that viewers fall for the forced urgency created by a chase scene at the end? Why is the guy/girl always leaving town, never to come back, at exactly the same time that their lover realizes that he wants them? And why does the person who’s leaving always stay? (This really pissed me off at the end of Garden State–the dude’s luggage was on the plane–if you really decided to stay, now you have no underwear, and you just wasted money on a plane ticket.) Anyway, there certainly is a drive to get the girl at the end of Definitely, Maybe, but the girl isn’t leaving town or about to marry the “wrong” guy–she’s just at home, watching TV.
- No bad guys. Why is there always a bad guy in rom coms? He’s there so you feel like the protagonist is the “right” guy for the girl. It’s a lazy writing move, because if you have a bad guy, you don’t have to make the good guy’s character as believable. You just have to show him doing a few good deeds, like petting dogs or volunteering at soup kitchens, followed by shots of the bad guy doing typical “bad” things, like wearing black clothing, scowls a lot, or kicks children, and BAM! The viewer knows who to like and who not to like. There’s no bad guy in Definitely, Maybe, and it could be said that Ryan Reynolds’ character isn’t completely hashed out, but you definitely know what kind of a guy he is and what he’s capable of.
- No constant pining or choosing between people. In rom coms that include two women or two guys that a person is choosing between, the protagonist is constantly pining about who he/she should choose. Most often, that person chooses the person he’s not with, and we’re supposed to think that the power of true love is at hand (why else would a person leave a perfectly good relationship for the “spunky” girl he spent one night with or the “earthy” guy who showed the girl how to love?). In Definitely, Maybe, Reynolds chooses the girls with certainty. He proposes to one, almost proposes to another, and practices proposing to a third. He knows what he wants, and even though that isn’t always the case in real life, I appreciated his certainty.
- No plot-changing coincidences followed by unasked questions. Sure, Reynolds runs into the three women at different times over the course of 6 years. But he’s living in New York City, so it’s completely believable that he’d run into these women. Unlike other rom coms, there are no plot-changing coincidences followed by unasked questions–for example, the guy never walks in on the girl holding hands with another guy, walks away, and then refuses to answer the girl’s calls, even though she’s just calling to explain that the guy was her brother. There was only one big coincidence/predicament of timing in Definitely, Maybe that I didn’t like (when April came back from Crete on the same day that Reynolds was buying an engagement ring for another woman), but I understand it, and I’m okay with it.
- Character-driven plot. The characters in this movie drive the plot by decisions they make, not, as said above, coincidences that push them in new, unexpected directions. This was fresh to watch.
- Takes its time. As noted above in the comments about no forced urgency or coincidences, Definitely, Maybe takes its time. There’s no outside force dictating that everything must happen within a short time frame. It seems like in other rom coms, the producers determined that stories that don’t start and finish within a few weeks will bore the viewers. Definitely, Maybe takes place over a span of 15 years. Yeah. It feels so much more real and natural that way.
I know this is a long entry, but I’m in awe that Definitely, Maybe managed to cover all of the bases and avoid all of the devices and cliches that plague most rom coms. I think it’s probably the first rom com I’ve watched that pulls it off. If I ever write a rom com, which I hope to do someday, I’m going to use this as a checklist for what to do and what not to do. My hat’s off to you, Definitely.
Oh, and I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet: The women in this movie are hot. Really hot. And yet cute and believable at the same time.