Referential Rom-Coms Are There Everywhere This Valentine's Day, For Better Or Worst

Referential Rom-Coms Are There Everywhere This Valentine's Day, For Better Or Worst ...

The romcom we know (and love) is no longer alive. Stop trying to recreate it with half-brained zombie mash-ups, and let's usher in the next post (post?) modern era.

The glimmer of hope for the genre in postmodern Hollywood has only dwindled in the decade-plus since "(500) Days of Summer" seemed to revolutionize the rom-com industry by subverting trope after trope. Look how years old they have been! Instead, rom-com lovers looked for new genres, re-watched old ones, and even speculated on sequels — 20 years later.

The great modern rom-com stars of recent days past (think: Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, Mathew McConaughey, Julia Roberts, and even Reese Witherspoon) are long gone. It's a whole other generation now, one that may or may not recognize the former classics.

So why do contemporary films keep blatantly referencing them?

The referential rom-com, once considered as clever and quirky, has become the norm for a new generation of films. Is it really that every single romantic setup has been played out onscreen, and this is what we're left with?

There does appear to be a fashionable need for recent rom-coms to pay respect to those who preceded them, either out of pure fandom or in a desperate desperate attempt for relevancy. It's the Leonardo DiCaprio "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" pointing meme all over again: "Hey, I know that movie and liked it!"

"Magic Mike's Last Dance," a departure from a typical rom-com franchise and the anticipated "Magic Mike" franchise send-off, centered on drawing a parallel to a gender-swapped "Pretty Woman," with Channing Tatum's titular stripper as the Julia Roberts' sex worker if audiences couldn't grasp the notion of "poor working man falls for wealthy woman."

"Somebody I Used to Know" by Jay Ellis and Alison Brie

Screenshot/Prime Video

"My Best Friend's Wedding" is name-checked by Alison Brie and Dave Franco in a wink to readers who may disagree with the main plot premise, which the married filmmakers behind it swayably subvert.

Brie said of the reason we wanted to make this film: We are such fans of the rom-com genre that we're paying tribute while also being the anti-rom-com type. So you have to figure out that actors in today's rom-coms have seen all of the rom-coms that the audience has seen. And once you know those rules, you can have fun breaking them.”

rom-coms are exactly defined as rom-coms because of their aspirational approach to romance, as Kate Hudson mused during the 20th anniversary of 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,' a romantic comedy that arguably spawned a new feminist career trope for the genre. If they had never seen a romantic comedy, they would not have voiced that they were in one at the time.

"They're shiny and they're bright and it's like wish fulfillment. It's supposed to make you feel fuzzy, and they're timeless."

Whether intentional or not, breaking the fourth wall inadvertently shatters the hearts of viewers. If we can't see the perfect love story with funnyly flawed and adorably down-to-earth characters play out onscreen, we certainly don't want them to be too relatable and normalized to the point where we are left wondering: Where is our own cinematic love story if it's common?

In "At Midnight," Diego Boneta and Monica Barbaro play the roles.

Paramount Plus is a subsidiary company of Paramount.

The genre has stooped to a new iteration of self-referential jokes in order to be fresh in a postmodern world while simultaneously apologizing for its very ineffective "wish fulfillment," according to Hudson.

"At Midnight," a Paramount+ dud, borrows Julia Roberts' iconic "Notting Hill" monologue in the climatic moment of the two leads and love interests achieving their happily ever after. When they intersect, there is nothing romantic about it.

Aline Brosh McKenna, the scribe of "27 Dresses" and "The Devil Wears Prada," has crafted and directed a new romantic comedy by Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher. A film that has all of the qualities of an ideal romantic comedy, harkening back to the genre's 21st century glory days, felt like a cheap substitute for the real thing, and relied on fated love.

"Over the years, I feel like it's been difficult," said lead actress and executive producer Witherspoon of Variety. "I think the great thing about this one is that it's so grounded in reality. Our characters are so flawed in who they are, because really our only obstacle is ourselves. We can't connect because we're so narrow-minded about one another and we don't see the larger perspective that we have so much more in common than we realize."

Is it wrong to avoid rom-com reality (or real movie references) on our own? Let the genre exist on its own, be the ideal bubble we can fall in love with and truly escape into for 90-plus minutes. Comic book lovers have the MCU and the DCU without postmodern references (except, of course, the satirical bent of "Deadpool”).

Let rom-com lovers have their own cinematic universe. Hearts everywhere are dependent on it.