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The romantic comedy is back, or at least in the very early throes of coming back, thanks to films like “Book Club,” the upcoming Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder reunion “Destination Wedding,” and a slew of Netflix originals churning out at a rapid pace. In fact, it may be that Netflix is the one saving the genre, or at least reminding viewers just how much fun it can be to watch two nice people fall in love against a backdrop of misadventures and high jinks. This week sees the release of the streamer’s latest original, “Set It Up,” which joins a healthy selection of rom-coms currently available for instant streaming.
From classics like “The African Queen” (sadly, one of the few older films currently available on the service) to festival breakouts like “The Incredible Jessica James” and unexpected gems like “I Give It a Year,” Netflix is filled with prime examples of all the loving, funny offerings the genre still has to offer. Here’s 10 you can watch right now.
1. “Set It Up”
The newest title in Netflix’s burgeoning library of original romantic comedies, Claire Scanlon’s charming throwback relies on some old staples of the genre: adorable leads with big chemistry and a slightly convoluted plot designed to throw them together as frequently as possible. Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are a pair of overworked assistants whose lives are dominated by their demanding bosses, but when the pair meet-cute in the lobby of their office building, they hatch a plan to set up their superiors (played by Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs), all in hopes that a romance will distract them from further ruining their lives. Inevitably, it’s Harper and Charlie who fall for each other, but Katie Silberman’s script has a lot of fun getting them to that point, and damn if it isn’t a joy to see a new pair of rom-com superstars emerge in Deutch and Powell.
2. “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”
As IndieWire’s own David Ehrlich noted earlier this month, “In some respects, ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ hasn’t aged particularly well. A teen rom-com that’s set during (and thoroughly defined by) a New York indie rock scene that lasted for the length of an Interpol song, Peter Sollett’s follow-up to ‘Raising Victor Vargas’ was never going to age particularly well. On the other hand, good movies have a way of surviving their own obsolescence, of proving themselves to be more of a time capsule than a relic, and this charming downtown adventure is growing up along those lines.”
“Nick & Norah” can’t help but charm, bolstered by the darling chemistry between Michael Cera and Kat Dennings and the full force energy of setting a film across one blazing, youth-fueled night on the town.
3. “Alex Strangelove”
Craig Johnson’s high school-set rom-com gamely tackles issues regarding sexual identity with a rare mix of honesty and sweetness. Semi-eponymous lead Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny) is the kind of awkward and sweet teenager that has long populated such films, and the film initially seems to be preoccupied with the classic “sex pact” trope that still inspires such features (like this year’s winning “Blockers”), but Johnson puts a big, timely twist on it: Alex and his best-friend-turned-girlfriend haven’t had sex because Alex hasn’t yet figured out his sexuality. As Alex seeks advice from those around him — a lot of it bad, most of it well-meaning — he grapples with what how labeling himself will alter the rest of his life, and the film doesn’t shy away from adding in the kind of raunch familiar to actual teenagers. It leads up to a big, dance-set declaration of affection (complete with matching kiss), a neat spin on an old genre.
4. “Sleeping With Other People”
Leslye Headland’s feature debut, “Bachelorette,” made it clear that the playwright and filmmaker (she adapted her own play for the film) wasn’t at all interested in sickly-sweet movies about nice people doing nice things. The ladies of “Bachelorette” are bad, but the honesty that Headland mined from them marked her as a clear-eyed creator to watch. Her follow-up feature, “Sleeping With Other People,” didn’t back down on the truth-telling, but it also folded in a pair of characters well worth rooting for, flaws and all. Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) first meet as horny co-eds, and when they’re reunited years later, that hasn’t changed, though it’s taken on a darker cast: they’re sex addicts, and both of them have ruined nearly every relationship they’ve been in. As the pair attempt to be just friends — their crazy chemistry doesn’t help matters, but it’s sexy as hell to watch on-screen — they also try to better themselves, with Jake working towards a healthy relationship as Lainey tries to cut ties with the toxic Matt (Adam Scott, going whole-hog on playing the asshole).
5. “The African Queen”
Romulus Films/Park Circus/REX/Shutterstock
Netflix’s dearth of classic films is well-documented, and while the streaming service only offers a small selection of films from Hollywood’s Golden Age, at least one standby is available to watch right now. The 1951 John Huston feature “The African Queen” is one part adventure film, one part mismatched romance, and all of it still sparkles. Starring Humphrey Bogart (who won his first and only Oscar for his performance) and Katharine Hepburn as a pair of unlikely lovers, the film adapted the C.S. Forester novel of the same name and uses — of all things — the backdrop of World War I and an ill-fated mission to frame up a story about love and literal battle.
6. “Love Actually”
No, it does not need to be the holidays for audiences to enjoy the only romantic comedy to ever use the overplayed trope of “all of these people seem like strangers, but they are actually linked to each other in a myriad of ways, all playing service to the greater forces of love” effectively. Yes, we’re looking at you, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “New Year’s Eve,” and “Valentine’s Day.”
7. “I Give It a Year”
Filmmaker Dan Mazer previously co-wrote both “Borat” and “Bruno,” so it should come as little surprise that his directorial debut is a screamingly funny send-up of the genre that subverts expectations at every turn. Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) meet, fall in love, and get married — and that’s before the film even hits the two-minute mark. Turns out, this isn’t a match made in heaven, and despite all their best attempts, Nat and Josh just aren’t supposed to be together, but damn if they’re not going to try to hold things together. When they meet Guy (Simon Baker) and Chloe (Anna Faris), a bad (but funny!) situation gets so much worse, as Nat develops feelings for Simon, just as Josh crushes on Chloe. Even their big plan to bring Chloe and Guy together backfires, and their marriage further crumbles as their actual love interests fall for each other before their very eyes. It sounds mean, but Spall and Byrne infuse it all with so much good-natured nuttiness that “I Give It a Year” manages to make a bad marriage something to love.
8. “The Incredible Jessica James”
This 2017 Sundance premiere will likely feel familiar to fans of filmmaker James Strouse’s brand of quirky humor, the kind that doesn’t shy away from using big problems — divorce, infidelity, professional failure — to earn both its laughs and relatability. But it’s star Jessica Williams who pushes the material to a higher register, if only by the sheer force of her talent and charm. If you’re going to build an entire film around one actor, Williams is a pretty safe bet. A floundering playwright who pays her bills by teaching kids theater — an endeavor that she never treats like a second-string assignment — Jessica may have big dreams, but she’s remarkably pragmatic in her approach, and the film follows her as she works her way towards professional fulfillment and an unexpected romance with the equally as endearing Chris O’Dowd.
9. “For a Good Time, Call”
Jamie Travis’ Sundance premiere isn’t exactly a rom-com; instead, it’s a raunchy, wild tale of female friendship that smartly uses the framework of the genre to tell a story about the power of platonic love. First, though, there’s the phone sex hotline. Lauren (co-writer Lauren Miller) has just been dumped (hard) and is desperate for a new place to live far away from her douchebag ex, so when her friend Jesse (Justin Long, joining a long line of actors making supporting roles absolutely pop) tells her that his other good friend Katie (Ari Graynor) is in need of a roommate, it seems like a perfect fit. It’s not. Straight-laced Lauren clashes with the free-spirited Katie, and when she loses her publishing job, Lauren is forced into business with her wild new roommate, who operates a phone sex line out of their swanky apartment. As is so often the case with a good rom-com, this mismatched pair comes to love and need each other, a basic idea played up to adorable extremes when they have their first big fight. It’s not a rom-com, but it feels like one, and it’s as satisfying and sweet as any other love story.
10. “13 Going on 30”
One of the last early aughts rom-coms to use a classic construction — it’s basically a gender-swapped “Big” that manages to avoid the sticky questions of that Tom Hanks-starring classic — to tell a fairy tale-like story, Gary Winick’s feature follows an awkward teen who, thanks to the power of wishes and also glitter, transforms into the kind of glamorous adult she can’t imagine ever growing into. Jennifer Garner’s wide-eyed innocence is a perfect fit for Jenna Rink, who instantaneously goes from dorky kid to high-powered adult, and discovers that getting what you wish for isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The film folds in lots of fun touches, from Judy Greer in the best friend role (with secrets!) to a large-scale dance sequence set to “Thriller,” but it really excels when Jenna goes after her childhood bestie Matt (Mark Ruffalo), who need to be convinced that she’s still the girl he loved when they were just kids.
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