While critics everywhere are praising Amy Schumer in Trainwreck (and admittedly she’s really great in it), it may behoove us to remember that in the end the film is just another romantic comedy about mismatched lovers getting over their baggage in a series of wacky situations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s what romantic comedies are all about.
But do they always need to feel like the same damned movie? In some respect, the romantic comedy we all know and love hasn’t really changed since 1934’s It Happened One Night. The same tropes, over and over again. Which is why it’s always refreshing to find a romantic comedy that feels different or tackles the subject a different way. And it’s especially exciting to find one that feels like it actually relates to how relationships work in the 21st Century, instead of recreating the same old early 20th Century fantasy that’s been recycled for 75 years.
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This week on Now Streaming, we’re highlighting the best modern romantic comedies, the ones that feel like they matter today, that are currently available on the various instant streaming services you have accessible from your couch. Can’t afford to go out this weekend? Get that Trainwreck spirit at home for free with the following five recommended flicks.
Enough Said (HBO GO)
Critics went gaga over Nicole Holofcener’s mid-life rom-com, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini meet, find a slight attraction, but become slowly undone when our heroine finds out way too much negative information about her new boyfriend from his charismatic ex, played by Catherine Keener. At its best, Enough Said is a sweetly acted, meaningful examination of the way we really talk about our lovers and ex-lovers behind their backs, and the way our friends can influence – for better and worse – our romantic relationships.
I wasn’t one of the film’s biggest fans, but I admit that it’s more thematically ambitious than most other contemporary rom-coms, it does come across a little lopsided. The whole film takes place from our heroine’s perspective, and as a result Gandolfini’s character comes across more like a martyr than as a fully realized character with good and bad qualities of his own. Enough Said could be a better film but it’s a well-intentioned one with a refreshing look at love outside of the teen-twenty-thirty-something demographic.
Love & Air Sex (Amazon Prime)
Brian Poyser’s affable Love & Air Sex flew under most people’s radar when it snuck into theaters in 2014, but they missed out on a charming and unusual film about two former couples trying to get back together – and stay far apart – against the backdrop of an Austin, TX competition about miming bizarre sexual conquests. It’s a fun framework for a low budget indie: universal relationship squabbles, intercut with a strange series of comic interludes about invisible tiny penises and giant vaginas.
It’s not quite as profane as it sounds. In fact, Love & Air Sex has a very sweet quality about it. All of its characters are well-meaning people with very real problems who are just trying to make their relationships work, or set out on new ones while still dealing with understandable emotional baggage. Romantic comedies don’t have to be complicated or groundbreaking, they just need to find a new way to dramatized situations that have been dramatized millions of times before. With a charming 1990s indie cinema vibe, Love & Air Sex gets the job done and somehow feels contemporary and fresh.
They Came Together (Netflix)
The perfect for romantic comedy if you hate romantic comedies from rich, personal experience. David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer) directs this vicious spoof of ultra-white New York City cheese films that tears You’ve Got Mail and its ilk apart like a rabid wolverine. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler star as insufferable honkies who meet, hate each other, then decide they love each other because they both like “fiction books” and then split apart because Rudd’s candy conglomerate is threatening to close Poehler’s charming sweet shop.
Some of the jokes in They Came Together are for everyone – like a weird interlude about Rudd’s boss pooping in his Halloween costume and refusing to take responsibility for it – but most of the non-stop gags are laser-targeted riffs on oft-repeated rom-com tropes. If you can recognize even a fraction of them, They Came Together will probably split your sides. If you’ve never seen a single Meg Ryan or Jennifer Aniston movie, it might not be the right fit. But for the weird cross-section of people love and hate rom-coms equally, They Came Together is comic perfection.
Silver Linings Playbook (Netflix)
Despite all his Oscar nominated credibility, director David O. Russell actually only makes old-fashioned genre movies nowadays. The Fighter is a conventionally structured boxing flick, American Hustle is the same but with the con artist genre, and Silver Linings Playbook is a dorky romantic comedy, complete with mismatched lovers, a dance contest, spurious emotional growth and a black sidekick who teaches them how to shake their booty.
So it’s not quite as revolutionary as it’s made out to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, Silver Linings Playbook is actually one of the best straight-up romantic comedies of the last few years. Russell doesn’t break the mold but he does inject his films with more character and personality than most, and he’s got a great cast here, particularly Jennifer Lawrence as a strong-willed heroine who’s more than willing to own up to her flaws, and Robert De Niro as Bradley Cooper’s gambler father, who wants to help his mentally ill son but doesn’t have any idea how. Silver Linings Playbook gives you all the cheesy pleasures of a tacky rom-com but makes you feel like you watched a smarter film instead, and there’s something undeniably impressive about that.
Don Jon (Netflix)
Don Jon is sort of a romantic comedy, and sort of the opposite. It’s the story of a porn-obsessed ladies man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed) who thinks he’s found the perfect woman in a textbook-sexy club hopper (Scarlett Johansson). But all of his relationships are sabotaged by the unrealistic expectations pornography has instilled upon him, and all of hers are sabotaged by the unrealistic expectations romantic comedies have instilled upon her.
Into his life comes a refreshingly down to earth widow (Julianne Moore) who challenges our hero to live his life instead of comparing it to fiction, which is an extremely potent and relevant message for all of us to remember in this culturally deluged age. What’s more, Levitt directs the film with abundant personality and energy, getting strong performances out of his whole cast and editing his film with youthful verve. The message is mature but it never feels like a sermon. It’s a funny and serious film that tackles romance in a fresh and entertaining way.