Inspired by the release of “Isn’t it Romantic?” and a recent surge in the genre, critics pick the best rom-coms of the last 10 years.
Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What is the best romantic comedy of the last 10 years?
Ken Bakely (@kbake_99), Freelance for Film Pulse
Perhaps its basis on real-life events goes some of the way in getting it there, but “The Big Sick” is a wonderfully affecting and funny movie, and one of the reasons it works is because of how well it examines its characters, their backgrounds, and their personalities. Romantic comedies are dependent on the strengths of how the characters are developed, and while co-writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani may have used autobiographical inspiration in setting the stage, their storytelling talents ensure that the film’s world is thoughtfully realized, richly textured, and fully coherent from start to finish. A superb cast, led by Nanjiani himself, rounds off the film’s accomplishments and brings the vibrant script to life in continually surprising and endearing ways.
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
With a mission clarified by Dana Schwartz’s recent set of rom-com criteria (especially the first—centrality of romance), I wonder: is “The Future” funny? Miranda July’s 2011 film is one of the great cinematic romances, which accords romance a centrality of cosmic dimensions; so, for that matter, does Abbas Kiarostami’s film “Certified Copy,” from 2010; so does Terence Nance’s 2012 film “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”; and the desire to place them at the head of the list suggests the odd fact underlying the question: the romantic comedy is just about done, because almost no one wants to admit putting romance at the center of life, and the act of admitting as much (let alone actually doing it) is now gravely, urgently, calamitously dramatic. That’s why the best romantic comedies of recent years are by filmmakers of a aestheticized ethical classicism—Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress” and “Love & Friendship,” Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck”—or of an intellectually reflected sensuality—Claire Denis’s “Let the Sunshine In.”
Casey Cipriani (@CaseyCip), Bustle, Freelance
“Enough Said.” Nicole Holofcener’s 2013 rom-com is like a rom-com for grown ups. Not only is it charming, funny, and completely watchable even in its cringe-worthy moments, but watching it now provides an added melancholy considering it was one of James Gandolfini’s last performances. Seeing the tough Tony Soprano himself be so warm and lovable proves that Gandolfini was an incredibly versatile actor. And let’s not forget about the incredible Julia Louis-Dreyfus who tones down her usual physical comedy here in a much more subtle and reserved performance. It’s a really lovely story, hilarious, and the best of the last decade.
Robert Daniels (@812filmreviews), 812filmreviews, ThatShelf, Freelance
Romantic comedies follow a familiar path—usually a sunshine and rainbows affair retreating for a short detour into gloominess, but Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” is the anti-romantic comedy: a dreary dystopian affair whose most endearing moment occurs when the lead violently and bloodily gouges out his eyeballs to be with his true love.
The genre has witnessed a resurgence. While I’ve ironically chosen a film with an all-White cast, recent releases: “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Big Sick,” have found massive success embracing diversity. Romantic comedies will continue to see success through repackaging familiar stories to audiences who have often been neglected by major studio releases, so we’re basically due for a boom.
Roxana Hadadi (@roxana_hadadi), Pajiba, Chesapeake Family magazine, Punch Drunk Critics
Photo by Nicole Rivelli
The best romantic comedy of the past 10 years is “The Big Sick.” Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s story of cross-cultural love resonated with me personally as an Iranian-American trying to balance two identities while in a relationship with someone of another racial and ethnic background, and overall, the film’s specificity is its strength. This is a story that we haven’t seen onscreen before, with a Middle Eastern love interest who is adorable and funny and insecure and flawed, and with a family whose priorities and hopes for their child are not just, “fall in love and be happy.” Real life is more complicated than that — real life involves cultural barriers and unexpected illness and the struggle that comes with figuring out who you really are, who you want to love, and who will support you throughout your life. “The Big Sick” is a step forward for the romantic comedy genre, one that takes it past the world of magazine editors and frenzied New York City living and white women desperate for love from unavailable guys (so many of the cliches of the genre until this point), and into a space that is more inclusive, realistic, resonant, and, well, funny.
Luke Hicks (@lou_kicks), Film School Rejects/One Perfect Shot, Birth.Movies.Death.
In a traditional sense, the rom-com is not just a genre, but a studio framework. Usually the product is stale, unfunny, and cheap, but filmmakers like Mike Mills have breathed life into the antiquated and overworked outline through great films like “Beginners.” However, if I’m thinking of romantic comedies as romantic films that are comedies (or vice versa) opposed to that framework we imagine when we abbreviate it to “rom-com,” the first films that come to mind exist far outside of that structure.
So, without further ado: I pick Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice.” Don’t try to tell me that a hilarious film with a batshit crazy web of love and lies, Reese Witherspoon smoking a post-sex joint on a couch, and a Katherine Waterston foot job is not a romantic comedy just because it’s bizarre and nearly impossible to follow. Every time I watch Anderson’s star-studded masterpiece, I oscillate between tears of hilarity and appreciation just as I get tractor-beamed into every sexy and sensual movement, turn of phrase, or plot development. It’s absolutely intoxicating in every way.
Fran Hoepfner (@franhoepfner), Bright Wall/Dark Room
In the afterglow of “Russian Doll,” allow me to holler from the rooftops about Leslye Headland’s “Sleeping With Other People,” a romantic comedy that’s both actually very funny as well as so poignant and difficult I had to take several walks around the block after seeing it. The movie centers around the relationship between Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) as they combat their inabilities to stay faithful or committed in their relationships with other folks. Their conversations––about dating, sex, their shared college past––are easy and funny and insightful.
Sudeikis and Brie have a natural chemistry and talk to each other like two people who have known each other for years, and the supporting cast, consisting of Amanda Peet, Adam Scott, Katherine Waterston, Natasha Lyonne, and especially Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage, make this particular universe feel big and unique to itself. (Adam Brody, in only one scene in the first act of the movie has one of the most quotable movie meltdowns in the last ten years.) Jake and Lainey begin to use each other as crutches as they deal with their own complicated sexual relationships, all the while falling into what is an intense, dependent emotional affair. The movie looks at how we use people, how we fill holes in our hearts, and the messy boundaries that can exist between friends. “Sleeping With Other People” is true Headland: wry and sharp and dark and quietly devastating.
Courtney Howard (@Lulamaybelle), Freelance for Variety, SheKnows, FreshFiction.tv
This week’s question is like asking me to choose my favorite child (if I had kids, mind you). But I feel very confident with my pick: writer-director Leslye Headland’s “Sleeping With Other People.” In the film, Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis play relationship self-saboteurs Lainey and Jake, who meet-cute again 12 years after they first slept with each other. Determined to not mess up fate’s gift, they form a pact to keep things platonic. However, their resistance proves futile – and funny. Headland’s drawn a dynamic portrait of modern love and romantic struggle that feels real and raw.
Without an ounce of contrivance or manipulative device, it’s grounded in a sense of vulnerability and relatability. It takes the genre to refreshingly honest, heartfelt heights and to places that would make both Harry and Sally blush. Not only that, it contains a killer dance number set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” and choreographed by “So You Think You Can Dance’s” Mandy Moore. I’ve returned to this one a few times since its release in 2015 (thanks to the easy accessibility on Netflix) and find my love for it growing more intense with each viewing.
Ally Johnson (@AllysonAJ), TheYoungFolks.com , CambridgeDay.com , ThePlaylist.net
It’s time for the romantic comedy to have a resurgence. 2018 alone gifted us with films such as “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “Set it Up” and “Love,Simon” which ranged from inoffensively enjoyable to genuinely terrific. While there have been a smattering of greats in the last decade (“The Big Sick”) it’s still a genre that studios and audiences don’t take seriously because the target audience is women. A greater shame, considering if you dig deep beyond the Meg Ryan and Julia Robert lead films (great in their own right) there’s a large selection of films that either pushed boundaries or opened up a platform for diverse voices to thrive with films such as “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “Saving Face” and “Love & Basketball.”
If there’s one film that should be studied for its modernistic and humanist revival of the genre, it’s Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” starring a never better Jenny Slate. Labeled as the anti-romantic comedy where one of the leads main plots explore her getting an abortion following a messy one night stand it’s a film that is unabashedly feminist while sticking by some of the more familiar romantic comedy threads. It isn’t a cynical film like many of the genres televised counterparts choose to be in order to wrangle in all viewership and instead is rallying and charming and honest to a cringe inducing degree. It celebrates women’s autonomy, is strikingly funny and sincerely heartfelt in how it depicts all of the relationships onscreen. It understands that a romantic comedy is only as good as its leading lady, and Slate’s is deeply flawed while being someone worth celebrating.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG), Contributing Editor of Wicked Horror, freelance for Birth.Movies.Death, Vague Visages, The List
I’m somebody who hears that the rom com is dead and gets incredibly, inexpressibly angry. The last decade boasts a wonderful assortment of romantic comedies from the Daniel Radcliffe-Zoe Kazan two-hander “What If” (also featuring everyone’s boyfriend Adam Driver), to last year’s brilliant “Set It Up.” The best of the best, though, the one that’s up there with “When Harry Met Sally” et. al is the severely underrated “Man Up.” A British rom com that’s sharper than the typical Richard Curtis variety, featuring Lake Bell with a London accent so perfect it’s only natural she studied there, and a charming Simon Pegg as her foil, the flick is a sweet, frequently very funny, and proudly female-focused movie (written by Tess Morris).
Bell stars as the likeable, witty Nancy and Pegg the blind date meant to meet somebody else whom she quickly realizes is the man of her dreams. The story takes place over the course of just one night in London, taking in various cool little hotspots in the capital (a novelty bowling alley, for instance) while a cast of brilliant supporting actors, including Ken Stott, Sharon Horgan, and a scene-stealing Rory Kinnear, pop up at various points to complicate matters. “Man Up” is witty, clever, true to life and the emotional payoff is keenly felt and, more importantly, totally earned. Neither Bell nor Pegg is positioned as the bad guy and both inhabit their roles completely. They’re totally believable as hopeless singletons, but their path to each other isn’t annoyingly predestined either.
Just like all the best rom coms, “Man Up” sucks you in by making you care about the couple at its center without it ever like a sure thing that they’ll end up together. It’s also surprisingly raunchy, endlessly quotable, and deserves to be seen by everyone.
Kristen Lopez (@Journeys_Film), Forbes.com, Remezcla, Culturess
There’s a reason that numerous articles have been written about the “return” of the romantic comedy, and that’s because for the last ten years there’s just been an absence of anything that overtly fits the genre’s parameters. It’s like 2008 happened, a few rom-coms came out, and that was it. So stretching the definition is a must. For me, a rom-com can be encapsulated in the relationship between the same sex (hence the “bromance” period of films) and if we’re talking the best rom-com of the last decade I gotta go with the 2012 comedy “For a Good Time Call.” Yes, this relationship does have two girls looking for romance, but the true comedy and love is what blossoms between besties/phone sex operators Lauren (Lauren Miller Rogen) and Katie (Ari Graynor).
Like any good rom-com couple these two are poplar opposites upon first meeting: Katie is loud, brash, and kinda dumb, while Lauren is a Type-A personality who doesn’t have a lot of friends. The two are thrown together through narrative convenience and when Lauren discovers Katie works as a phone sex operator the two decide to start their own hotline. Outside of the sex subplot “For a Good Time Call” is pulled straight from the world of screwball romances and it’s amazing. Katie and Lauren do love each other, as friends, and that’s presented as a relationship as romantic and sweet as any heterosexual relationship. The movie even makes overt callbacks to how the love between two friends is presented as romantic and owns it. It’s a fantastic movie about women coming together (pun totally intended) and finding out that true friendship is sexier than any fleeting romance with a dude.
Joel Mayward (@joelmayward), Cinemayward.com
I have an unconventional pick, a film which doesn’t follow the traditional rom-com tropes or assumptions: Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” my favorite film of 2016. Romantic? Absolutely. The complex marital love between bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver) and free-spirited artist Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) serves as both an emotional anchor and a foil to Paterson’s love for poetry and the world around him–waterfalls, matchboxes, routines, interruptions, friends, strangers, stories. “Paterson” revels in the grandeur and sublimity of the mundane and ordinary, a decidedly Romantic tone. Comedic? Certainly. Whether it’s Paterson’s wonderfully antagonistic relationship with Marvin the bulldog, the daily complaints of Paterson’s co-worker Donny, or the delightful repeat appearance of twins/pairings, the humor in “Paterson” is joyfully dry. It’s certainly not a tragedy; the film is imbued with wonder and happiness, even a sense of therapeutic peace. So, is “Paterson” a poetical idiosyncratic rom-com? Hmm … aha!
Anne McCarthy (@annemitchmcc), Teen Vogue, Ms. Magazine, Bonjour Paris
“Bridesmaids” will always have a special place in my heart. I am writing this from Australia; being here has me reflecting on all the great movies starring Aussie actors I love: Hugh Jackman, Geoffrey Rush, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchette, Toni Collette, Rose Byrne, and the late Heath Ledger. (Coincidentally, “Isn’t it Romantic,” out this month, stars two Aussies: Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth.) Aussie Rose Byrne, in “Bridesmaids” – to use the parlance of the day – slays. Byrne, along with American castmates Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy and the rest of the cast, makes magic from what could otherwise (in the hands of a less capable director than Paul Feig) be a farce full of cheap laughs. The beauty of “Bridesmaids” is that the heart of it lies within the love found in the friendship of Maya and Kristen’s characters – and that’s always a love worth celebrating.
Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat / Screen Rant
I’d have to choose “The Big Sick.” The obvious reasons are because it’s both romantic and funny, which are the bottom-line necessities for any good rom-com. What really elevates it, though, is that it rings true. (Being based on actual events partially accounts for this.) Far too many romantic comedies are driven by conventions and contrivances. They feel like the work of screenwriters adhering to a proven formula. In contrast, for this film, writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon stick to the emotional truths of the story they’re telling and the characters who inhabit that story. There are no false moments. Consequently, the romance plays with sincerity and the laughs hit harder.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail, Film Festival Today
My choice for best romantic comedy of the past decade is Gillian Robespierre’s 2014 “Obvious Child,” which manages the surprisingly hard feat (for the genre) of being sweet but not saccharine. Featuring engaging lead performances from Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy and an equally winning turn from supporting actress Gaby Hoffmann, the movie offers not only genuine romance but appealing comedy. Even better, the central conflict arises from a situation that is hardly laughable – an accidental pregnancy – thereby mining laughter from true tears, mixing humor and drama in a way that reinforces both. There is nothing obvious about it.
Don Shanahan (@casablancadon), Every Movie Has a Lesson and Medium.com
I’m betting I’m one of many that feel like there are not just fewer romantic comedies than two decades ago, but fewer truly great ones. Somewhere since the turn of the century, the raunchy man-child subgenre took the romantic comedy’s place of favor. Too often since the heydays of Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron, cinematic romance devolved into crude farce, sight gags, cringe comedy, and really repetitive predictability. There’s fun to be had in that energy for sure, but I feel like the missing ingredients in most romantic comedies lately have been patience and smarts. Not enough movies slow down and truly challenge us.
Nailing those forgotten traits, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” shines the brightest for me. This sly charmer, directed by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, plays with light and heavy moves across personal reinvention, mentoring, courtship, fighting for love, and the idea of soulmates. Compared to most rom-coms, that’s more layers than a deep lasagna. The melding action of romanticizing Ryan Gosling’s womanizer and emboldening Steve Carell’s schlub created a dynamite pairing of charisma and appeal. At that time in 2011, neither actor had ever been freer on screen. Flush with Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, and on down to the encircling kids, there’s not a wasted character and everyone is a riot. Through its genius course of entanglements, each angle shatters the bindings of their initial trope with a bevy of surprising revelations, giving “Crazy, Stupid, Love” more jaw-dropping twists than most big budget thrillers. All of that worthy pizazz is packaged with complete coolness and fresh style.
Danielle Solzman (@DanielleSATM), Solzy at the Movies/Freelance
It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but I’m going with “(500) Days of Summer” from director Marc Webb and the Oscar-nominated duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Call it a rom-com or anti-rom-com but the love story between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) –however doomed they are–is beautiful. It’s a film that we’re still talking about some ten years later following its Sundance premiere in 2009. No disrespect to the ten films nominated for the Oscars for that year but surely there was room for a lovable rom-com such as this one.
As far as the current state of rom-coms, love is different for everyone. I don’t know if I’ll ever find it and I’ve got the trans card going against me for starters. One thing that I would like to see–and this was discussed during the transgender storytelling panel at Sundance–is a romantic comedy with a transgender actress in a leading role. Maybe even trans actors in both leading roles. We can talk about representation all we want but I would love nothing more than to see trans actors leading rom-coms and maybe even subverting the genre.
Katey Stoetzel @kateypretzel), The Young Folks, Film Era
“Bridesmaids,” hands down. Not only does Kristen Wigg and Chris O’Dowd have great chemistry, but this film also puts female friendship at the heart of the story. What I love about this film is that Annie has a lot of flaws, but they make her incredibly relatable. Her best friend is about to get married, which should be a happy and joyous time, but for Annie, the news that she’s about to lose her friend comes right after her business goes under and her ex leaves her. The timing of events sucks and all of that tension builds until she just utterly explodes at the bridal shower. It’s totally selfish, but it also gets right at the heart of the complicated human emotions that occur when your friends and family seem to be moving on without you. Annie and Lillian (Maya Rudolph) make up, but only by understanding the emotions they each are going through. Score one for hard core female friendships.
Plus, the comedy is raunchy as hell, proving this area of comedy doesn’t just belong to the men.
Andrea Thompson (@areelofonesown), Freelance for Chicago Reader, The Young Folks, A Reel of One’s Own
Rom-coms are definitely experiencing a resurgence right now, and it’s fun to see how people are adding new layers to the genre. But people seem to forget that a genuinely revolutionary romantic comedy came out 10 years ago that showed us just how much they could really do: “I Love You Phillip Morris.” For one thing, it’s a gay love story in a genre that’s still overwhelmingly heteronormative. It’s also hilarious, takes some genuinely unexpected turns, features one of the best performances by Jim Carrey in years, and some great supporting turns from Ewan McGregor as the man Carrey’s con artist Steven Russell falls for, and Leslie Mann as Carrey’s ex-wife. Based on real events, it’s also an absolute delight to watch Carrey run around conning all the Texas brands of toxic masculinity he encounters. Did Phillip Morris deserve better? No question. But Steven Russell not be his best or even his most enjoyable mistake, but he’s probably his most memorable one.
Luiz Gustavo Vilela (@luizgvt), Freelancer
I think that the best rom-com of the last decade must be “About Time”. It is, after all, as charming and delightful as can be, with is the ultimate goal of the genre. At the same time, however, the Richard Curtis script makes an interesting manipulation of the very fabric of cinema as a language. When you have a time-bending protagonist as a gimmick, you can use the edit as a way of convey style. Can you imagine that? A Tarkovskian romantic comedy? Of course that is a stretch, but “Sculpting Time” is the name of his famous book on cinema.
Tim, Domhnall Gleeson’s character, can travel through his own time-line. There’s one or two catches, but essentially that’s it. He can relive his most joyful days and try to change the bad ones. But he only cares for fall in love. Time and space can be bent for him to enjoy life as much as he wants. He does with his life the same thing that moviegoers does with films, reliving that experience over and over again.
Besides the intellectual appeal, “About Time” have just too lovable characters to count. But is even better when you realize that Curtis is more interested on their relations — father-son; brother-sister; man-woman — than in their narrative paths. Growing is learning to live the moment, even for a person who can relive the moment over and over.
Also, “About Time” depicts a love so pure that even having a chance to sleep with Margot Robbie, without any consequences or repercussions (he only would have o get back in time and nothing would have happened), he chooses not to do it. Because he would know and that’s enough. Magical!
Sarah Welch-Larson (@dodgyboffin), Bright Wall/Dark Room, Think Christian, Freelance
I will be the first to admit: romantic comedies are not really my thing. I think this might be some internalized misogyny that I’m still working through. I definitely watched “The Predator” for the first time on a Valentine’s Day in college, in part because I was a “one-of-the-boys” girl and I had a reputation for being interested in “cool” things that I felt I needed to uphold. At the time I argued that rom-coms are formulaic and all the same and therefore uninteresting, which is stupid, because my genre fiction of choice, sci-fi, isn’t immune to being formulaic either. Any genre movie, when done right, brings something new to the table. They can use the tropes that make up the genre as a framework to explore questions about what it means to be human, or they can attempt to subvert those tropes entirely and comment on the genre itself. I like how “(500) Days of Summer” pulls off the latter.
The unseen narrator tells us up front that it isn’t a romance movie, but it is about romance, and it is bitingly, painfully funny, so I classify it as a romantic comedy. Wherever you want to put it on the spectrum, it’s a commentary on the unfair expectations we bring to relationships, the way we expect rom-com sunshine from our significant others, and the way our expectations come crashing down when reality kicks in and our partners turn out to be not who we thought they were, but their own people all along.
Clint Worthington (@clintworthing), Consequence of Sound, The Spool
It may be a cliche among #FilmTwitter circles, but by golly “The Big Sick” was quite the motion picture, huh? A beautifully-rendered version of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real romance, Michael Showalter’s rom-com is a heartfelt, complicated look at the ways we react to the many unexpected complications that arise in our relationships. It’s strange to lend so much credit to a movie in which one half of the film’s love story is in a coma for much of the film’s runtime, but “The Big Sick” is strangely served by letting its couple suffer in separation. For Kumail, a second-generation Pakistani-American, the crisis forces him to contend with his parents’ traditional expectations about relationships, while viewing a potential future with Emily through the lens of her embattled parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who just about steal the movie from under Kumail).
Every element of the movie just absolutely clicks – Nanjiani and Gordon stand-in Zoe Kazan have easy, formidable chemistry, and his family effortlessly juggle the cliches of the conservative Hindu family with unexpected emotional depth. Showalter’s direction is unsophisticated but assured; he’s clearly an actor’s (or more accurately, comedian’s) director who prefers to step out of the way and let the story take center stage. It succeeds as a rom-com, a story about intercultural conflict, and a Chicago movie in equal measure, and those are just some of the reasons it should be celebrated. That, and “we lost 19 of our best guys that day” is maybe one of the best, most unexpected punchlines of any comedy in the last ten years.