In 2009, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds propelled “The Proposal” to nearly $165 million at the U.S. box office. The summer before, Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher spun a profit with “What Happens in Vegas,” which earned $80 million on a $30 million budget. In 1998, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan amassed $115 million for “You’ve Got Mail,” while Julia Roberts and Richard Gere pulled in $152 million for “Runaway Bride” a year later.
All of this is to say that there was once a time when the romantic-comedy genre was a slam dunk when it came to turning a profit at the box office. But in the age of superhero movies and big-budget tentpoles, there’s hardly room for rom-coms. And yet the genre never really died, it just went indie.
The last several years have made one thing very clear: Indie film is the savior of the rom-com. Click through the gallery for 11 great films that prove why.
In adapting the origin story of their own relationship, screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon take what could’ve been a rather traditional culture-clash rom-com and totally upend every convention you think you see coming. The curveball arrives when Zoe Kazan’s Emily falls into a coma, which makes such clichés as “meeting the parents” feel way more unpredictable. The movie wisely doesn’t play the situation for laughs, but it’s such an unusual turn of events for the central relationship that the comedy comes naturally and rather intelligently. It’s part of what makes “The Big Sick” one of the best indies of the summer.
“Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow made a name for himself at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival with this science-fiction/romantic-comedy hybrid starring Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza as two lost souls who spark a connection in the most unconventional setting. Plaza plays a magazine intern researching a classified ad by a man requesting a companion for a time travel trip. The pair connect over this bizarre situation and by sharing stories of loved ones they’ve lost, and it’s equal bits weird and wonderful, funny and thought-provoking.
It took six years for Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris to follow-up “Little Miss Sunshine,” and while “Ruby Sparks” didn’t make nearly the same impression, it’s an inventive slice of rom-com charisma that deserves way more appreciation. All the credit goes to Zoe Kazan’s screenplay, which tells the story of a young author (Paul Dano) who finds himself falling in love with a character he wrote after she comes to life. It sounds a bit twee, but the result is more akin to something Charlie Kaufman might dream up. The fantasy element digs into real human issues about connection and the roles we play in relationships. Guided by the expert chemistry between Dano and Kazan herself, “Ruby Sparks” is sweet, charming and just brainy enough.
The story about the will-they-won’t-they platonic relationship between two friends may sound like a giant romantic-comedy cliché, but never underestimate the edgy charms of Leslye Headland (“Bachelorette”). “Sleeping With Other People has all the hallmarks of a rom-com eye roll, but the original screenplay and undeniable chemistry between leads Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie make the road to the movie’s inevitable conclusion feel well earned. The movie skilfully mixes R-rated raunch with real humanity.
Everybody has that one summer that changes his or life. “Adventureland” is about James Brennan’s. Jesse Eisenberg plays the recent college grad whose plans to attend journalism grad school get derailed, forcing him to take a summer job at the local amusement park. Here he meets a cast of peculiar characters and one charming young woman (Kirsten Stewart), all of whom will change his life for the best. “Superbad” director Greg Mattola knows how to deliver the comedy, but it’s Eisenberg and Stewart’s effortless rapport that brings the surprising romance.
While sharp wit and intricate plotting can carry the day in most other films, romance lives or dies on the people at the center. Nicole Holofcener’s best film features Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfiini as one of the most effortless movie couples in recent memory, primarily because each performer brings entire movies’ worth of oddball charm and on-screen confidence to their relationship. It isn’t a cosmic love story with characters destined to end up with each other, but one about people who’ve experienced love and loss and are willing to take another chance. – Steve Greene
Not all love stories come complete with starry-eyed happy endings, and this 2012 rom-com fearlessly chronicles a romance as it comes to its heart-tugging final end. Stars Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg exhibit a warm, lived-in chemistry, which makes their horrific breakup all the more wrenching. As the long-time couple struggles to draw new boundaries in the wake of their split, they’re both forced to reevaluate the nature and possibilities of love. It’s not all hearts and flowers and candies, it’s something that takes work and drive and dedication, and even that doesn’t guarantee a “Hollywood ending.” It’s the kind of rom-com that’s not a fantasy but a wake-up call to how love really works. – Kate Erbland
Mike Mills’ “Beginners” isn’t always operating as a romantic-comedy, but when it does it’s so wonderfully honest it just sweeps you off your feet. The main story centers around Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and his relationship with his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer in his Academy Award winning role), who comes out as gay just five years before his death. The revelation inspires new romances for the both of them, and that’s where Mills puts his own fresh spin on the rom-com genre.
Julie Delpy turns the “Before…” trilogy inside out with her romantic-comedy entries “2 Days in Paris” and “2 Days in New York.” Instead of focusing on the budding romance and the nurturing of old love, Delpy takes a slightly more cynical and edgy approach in spotlighting the unavoidable differences that threaten to tear a couple apart. In “Paris,” Delpy’s American boyfriend is wildly out of his elemment in her Parisian home (and humoursly confronted by her former lovers). The sequel finds Delpy’s family arriving in New York and meeting her new black boyfriend (Chris Rock), but there’s still a wall firmly built between these racial boundaries. Both movies are so funny because they’re brutally honest and refuse to cater to any of the more dreamier notions of the rom-com genre.
The golden age of the meet-cute rom-com fizzled out long ago, but Ben Palmer’s deeply funny and very sweet “Man Up” fills the gap it left behind with underappreciated ease. Lake Bell stars as Nancy, a ditzy Brit who is pathologically unable to put herself out there, while Jack (Simon Pegg) is a newbie divorcee who still isn’t over his ex. So of course the pair will fall in love after a horrific (and kind of accidental) first date. Fortunately, Tess Morris’ witty script delights in taking the old tropes and turning them into something fresh and new, and she’s helped immeasurably by Bell and Pegg’s charming chemistry. – Kate Erbland