Emma Thompson Defends Rom-Coms: Genre Is ‘No More Formulaic’ Than Other Films

"What’s interesting is that the male storytelling, the 'this is where I save the world,' it’s just as obvious, just as if not more repetitive," Thompson said of the action-superhero genre.
Emma Thompson at the "What's Love Got to Do with It?" premiere
Emma Thompson at the "What's Love Got To Do With It?" premiere
Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty

Emma Thompson is talking some sense and sensibility into the modern romantic comedy debate.

The “Sense and Sensibility” and “Love Actually” actress recently called out the assumption that rom-coms hinge on formulaic tropes, comparing the genre to other types of films, such as presumably male-centric action movies.

Romantic comedies are no more formulaic than any other kind of movie. We’re just ruder about them in the same way as what was described even by Jane Austen as ‘stupid female literature,'” Thompson told Variety. “George Eliot said all of these gothic romances that started when women started to write books were absolutely shat upon from a great height by pretty much everybody. But what’s interesting is that the male storytelling, the ‘this is where I save the world,’ it’s just as obvious, just as if not more repetitive.”

Thompson continued, “A really good romantic comedy is actually quite hard to come by. And the really good ones are the ones that take their inspiration from people like Jane Austen, who at the same time as, yes, creating a story at the end of which give you the happy ending that clearly she felt was important, but the journey involves a really interesting examination of where society is and where everyone is within that society at the time. So a really good romantic comedy will be multicultural. Absolutely fantastic when it can be that, and also when it can have a really large cast of people.”

The “What’s Love Got to Do with It” star added, “So it’s not just about those two romantic people connecting with each other. It draws a really specific world. And I think that’s why this movie’s successful, because you see all sorts of relationships drawn in it. …Even George Eliot, who was one of the greatest intellects of her time, wrote books where two people at the end who want to get married, get married, like Dorothea and Will Ladislaw. And yet, the journey towards it is absolutely fraught, and also fascinating. There is this incredible portrait of human life. It’s just a kind of hook, isn’t it?”

Rom-com queen Julia Roberts revealed in 2022 that she had not read a “good” romantic comedy screenplay in 20 years. “People sometimes misconstrue the amount of time that’s gone by that I haven’t done a romantic comedy as my not wanting to do one,” the “Pretty Woman” alum said. “If I had read something that I thought was that ‘Notting Hill’ level of writing or ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ level of madcap fun, I would do it.”

“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” icon Kate Hudson similarly voiced her belief that rom-coms have become “dumbed down” in recent decades. “[They need] an actually good story, let’s start with that,” Hudson said. “I think sometimes people think rom-coms are all about the ‘meet cute.’ A great rom-com is about meeting love, discovering love, falling in love, love falling apart, and then how you come back together. That’s a very traditional rom-com structure. The ones that we love are with two movie stars in a love story. They’re shiny and they’re bright and it’s like wish fulfillment. It’s supposed to make you feel fuzzy, and then they stay with you forever. They’re the most classic. But just because they’re supposed to feel bright doesn’t mean they need to look so bright. A lot of times, again, I think the genre gets kind of dumbed down because they think they know.”

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