There are plenty of reasons to enjoy romantic comedies. It's a big scary world, and sometimes all you need is light humor and a low-stakes scenario in which two heterosexual people inexplicably discover love conquers all. These movies can be fun, but it's important to view them with a critical eye. Some of these beloved films are the most toxic romantic comedies that are notorious for misrepresenting relationships and love, but the issues run deeper than an unrealistic portrait of romance. These movies often perpetuate toxic stereotypes and encourage unhealthy behaviors, and most rely on stereotypes about women, femininity, and gender roles in relationships.
It's also important to critique the romantic comedy ending, which is most often a wedding or the promise of long-term love. In American society, marriage and domesticity are treated as the ultimate goals a woman should aspire to. In these films, personal or professional achievements not seen as important in comparison to character's relationship status. The root of these issues in romantic comedies are the result of a genre that primarily targets women, but is primarily written and directed by men. In the early 2000s, this was true ten-fold.
Here are some of the most toxic romantic comedies.
1. 'How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days'
Andie Anderson (who has a rom-com alliterative name) is a magazine writer who aspires to be a hard-hitting journalist. Instead, she has to write an advice column. In order to impress her editor, she decides to write a piece about "all the things women do wrong in relationships." She meets Ben Berry (also an alliteration), an advertising executive who personifies traditional masculinity. The "behaviors" that she exhibits reinforce the idea that women are clingy and men are noncommittal.
Kathryn Hahn told Elle in a 2015 interview: "I've got to be honest. That movie did crazy well, and I still don't quite know what it is about." In the final scene, Andie is on her way to a job interview in DC. Ben rushes to her, and she just decides against the whole career thing and turns back to be with him forever. Sigh.
2. 'The Break Up'
In this 2006 rom-com, Jennifer Aniston breaks up with her immature boyfriend played by Vince Vaughn. The movie reinforces harmful gendered stereotypes: Aniston's character is cast as an uptight, Type-A woman, who can't handle her hapless, messy, free-wheeling significant other. Every single scene of this movie ends with a sexist or homophobic punchline.
3. 'What's Your Number?'
In this romantic romp, Anna Faris' character reads in a magazine that a fictional study from Harvard found women who have a certain amount of sexual partners in their lifetime will never get married. Her friends confirm this to be true, because they're friends who subscribe to certain tropes about being a woman. She hires Evans as a private investigator to find her exes so she can try and fall in love without going over her "number."
We all deserve better than this movie's ridiculous, sex-negative plotline, and the many misogynistic jokes that come with it.
4. 'Two Weeks Notice'
This movie, which stars 2000s rom-com regulars Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, turns into a story about two smart women fighting over an undeserving man. An environmental lawyer named Lucy Kelson takes a job working on a community center with a billionaire real-estate developer named George Wade, but she quits because he's indecisive, unpleasant, and ridiculously co-dependent. She hires another lawyer named June Carter, but she becomes so jealous of her replacement that she reconsiders leaving the job and Wade.
Even putting Wade's unhealthy behaviors aside, a movie about two women fighting over a needy milquetoast dude is a big thumbs down.
5. 'Knocked Up'
When Katherine Heigl notoriously called Knocked Up "a little sexist" in a 2007 Vanity Fair interview, director Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen were not pleased. Heigl said in the interview:
“It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”
She has since apologized for her comments over, and over again for over the past decade. Rogen brought this incident up again in an interview as recently as 2016 during an interview on Howard Stern's Sirius XM radio show. Rogen said:
"People seemed to like it. We were funny together. I was having a really good time, and then when I heard afterward that she didn’t like it, that she seemed to not like the process, and she did not like the end product either, I think when that happens — also your trust feels somewhat betrayed."
6. '27 Dresses'
Heigl also appeared in this movie about a woman who is a career bridesmaid. She then meets a journalist played by James Marsden, and they become close until he publishes an article about her repeat bridesmaid service. Then all her friends encourage her to keep dating him anyway, which honestly, romantic comedy protagonists friends are the least realistic characters in film. Marsden and Heigl get married. Sigh.
7. 'The Proposal'
In this movie, Sandra Bullock plays a powerful book editor and, like many professional women in romantic comedies, her character is portrayed as mean, cold, and asexual. That is, until she falls in love with one of her employees and he defrosts her cold, icy heart. On the way there, it puts Bullock's character through a series of humiliations that are difficult to watch.
8. 'Bridget Jones Diary'
Bridget Jones Diary is yet another movie that asserts that even if a woman has professional achievements, healthy friendships, and a cozy flat in London, it's all for naught if she's, gasp, single. Jones is an easy protagonist to root for, but this movie is riddled with issues, from normalizing sexual harassment at work to the fact that she treats being single is the greatest tragedy to befall the earth.
9. 'The Ugly Truth'
This rom-com is yet another that claims to expose "the truth" about men and women. Spoiler alert: the supposed truth is that men just want to objectify women and treat them badly, and women shouldn't expect anything else. This movie isn't worth exploring further.
10. 'Bride Wars'
Would you or anyone you know throw away a lifelong friendship to secure a venue for your wedding? Of course not, but for some reason that's the plot of Bride Wars. This unfortunate movie is a double-whammy that pits female protagonists against each other and treats marriage as the number one endgame.
11. 'Love Actually'
This movie has nine romantic storylines, and almost every single one is questionable. Where to even begin? The fact that the movies most self-sufficient and interesting women are treated as undeserving of love, or that it fully endorses stalking your best friend's wife?
12. 'My Best Friend's Girl'
It's not like a movie featuring Dane Cook would have high-expectations for feminism, but this movie about a man who gets hired to publicly humiliate women so they'll return to their undeserving exes. The film is particularly egregious.
13. Jerry 'Maguire'
Cameron Crowe isn't exactly known for writing complex female characters, and Jerry Maguire is no exception. The film follows a sports agent who quits after a disagreement with upper management, and tries to start over with only the help of an accountant named Dorothy.
This movie has a whole salad of issues, and here they are in no particular order: Maguire's fiancé is slut-shamed and treated as a vacuous and obsessed with money. She is also pitted against Dorothy, who becomes involved with Jerry. Dorothy has little autonomy: she's a single-mother, and she risks everything to start the new agency and relationship with Jerry. When neither pan out, she decides to move away for personal and financial reasons. Jerry proposes to make her stay. There's also a divorced support group that makes these "sad, single" women the butt of a joke by portraying them as shrews. This movie is just one big no-thank you, and given its influence, it might be to blame for some of the other offenders on this list.
The good news is that the romantic comedy genre is changing. There are contemporary film writers and directors who are taking the initiative to make the genre more realistic. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's cowrote The Big Sick, proves that the rom-com genre can be used to examine how family dynamics impacts a relationship, and it realistically portray the ups and downs of dating. These movies don't have to be toxic, and the genre can be further reclaimed by giving more women creative control.