Do We Really Need a New Crop of Romantic Comedy Stars?

By  · Published on May 22nd, 2014

Universal Pictures

This week sees the opening of Blended, a comedy ostensibly fashioned as a romantic(ish) outing that stars Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, who have previously made a pair of mostly charming rom-coms together over the last sixteen years (yes, it’s really been that long). Although the film is rife with classic Happy Madison humor – rhinos humping! women being kinda shrewish! Shaq in a supporting role, for zero reason! – Blended is rooted in some real world issues that should feel quite relatable to plenty of movie-goers. Both Barrymore and Sandler play single parents looking for love, despite being ill-equipped for the job. The film’s title refers to the process of blending families, as such relationships don’t just hinge on how the actual lovers feel about the situation, but how their kids feel, too.

Still, there’s rhino-humping.

Yet the themes of Blended echo a new trend in the world of the romantic comedy – more mature storylines for more mature talents. The traditionally youth-focused rom-com genre has been circling the drain for quite a while now (it doesn’t help that no one has really stepped in to fill the shoes left vacant by talents like Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Kate Hudson, and Matthew McConaughey from the height of their rom-com years), and while that might initially seem like a bad thing, maybe we really don’t need a new crop of rom-coms about ditzy twentysomethings, perhaps these more adult outings are actually better.

As of now, the standard issue romantic comedy seems to be laying somewhat farrow. The next twentysomething-focused rom-com on the horizon is What If, the Daniel Radcliffe– and Zoe Kazan-starring feature that used to be known as The F Word. That film got some very positive buzz out of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and when it hits screens in the beginning of August, it will provide rom-com lovers with a genuinely fresh new film. Earlier this year, the About Last Night remake delighted both movie fans and movie producers (it pulled in nearly $50m at the box office), while That Awkward Moment also managed to make $40m in worldwide returns.

Still, during the heyday of the rom-com (read: any time Meg Ryan starred in a film), genre films could make over $200m (Sleepless in Seattle made $227m, and that’s not accounting for inflation). A glance down BoxOfficeMojo’s “Romantic Comedy” genre page reveals that romantic comedies just aren’t making what they used to. The last one to crack the $100m domestic mark was Silver Linings Playbook, and it’s hard to actually make a case for that film as traditional romantic comedy (despite the dancing). Even films that boasted mega-casts, like New Year’s Eve didn’t break through (though its predecessor, Valentine’s Day, did fantastic at the box office).

But those films aren’t necessarily good, and they sure don’t offer traditional single story lines that people can fall in love with. (They did, however, all include storylines that focused on more grown-up meet-cutes and romantic problems than we’ve come to traditionally expect from such films.)

But you know what is good when it comes to rom-com town? Just about everything Nancy Meyers has done, especially It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give, a pair of romantic comedies that focus on older lovers and second chances. Despite centering her action on topics like divorce – just, a lot of divorce – and finding love for the second or third time, Meyers’ films (and her stacked casts) are appealing and entertaining for a wide audience. If stars like Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton still want to woo on the big screen, should we even bother to find a “new Meg Ryan” or a “new Kate Hudson”?

Probably not, and it sure doesn’t help matters that no one has really stepped up to claim the romantic comedy throne, though Katherine Heigl made a play for it years ago, though it never panned out for her in any kind of significant way (read: people don’t really like her, and that’s hard to sell for a rom-com queen).

Even if Keaton’s newest romantic comedy, And So It Goes, looks kind of insane, and Streep’s Hope Springs was cringeworthy cinema of the highest point, these are still seeming “classic” rom-coms storylines made into more mature stories that can be portrayed by proven stars. Do we really need to see another film about a driven career woman and a doofy guy and the meet-cute that sees them hating each other and then falling in love to the tunes of an Adele song or similar? Not if films that focus on real world issues – with a cute edge! – with stellar casts are on the cusp of breaking through. Now can someone call Kate Hudson and see if she has any interest in a film about divorcees falling in love?