Since the beginning of cinema, one of the most revered genres has been the romantic comedy. The rom-com has persisted through the modern era, evolving and experimenting with actors, tones, and even other genres, from silent film to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Rom-coms are frequently misunderstood or written off as “chick” movies, but they are much more.
The rom-com genre has produced some genuinely subversive works over the course of its history. These movies, which range from Prizzi’s Honor to Punch-Drunk Love, revolutionised the romantic comedy subgenre, whether as a result of their biting humour, thought-provoking themes, cynical humour, or a combination of all of these.
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‘Harold and Maude’ (1971)
Awarded picture from Paramount Pictures In Hal Ashby’s brilliantly dark romantic comedy Harold and Maude, Ruth Gordon co-stars with Bud Cort. The connection between Maude, a 79-year-old woman with an unusual perspective on life, and Harold, a 19-year-old who is preoccupied with death, is shown in the movie.
Harold and Maude is a daring representation of love and is very probably the most unusual romantic comedy in the history of romantic comedies. The film’s intimidating, unrelentingly forceful style will likely scandalise many, but that’s what makes Harold and Maude so exceptional, so rebellious, and so essential for a genre that typically settles for the bare minimum.
‘Prizzi’s Honor’ (1985)
Anjelica Huston co-stars in the 1986 Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winning black romantic comedy Prizzi’s Honor, directed by John Huston and starring Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner as competing assassins who fall in love before understanding they must kill each other.
Prizzi’s Honor is a unique romantic comedy that offers a profoundly cynical view on love and some genuinely unsettling moments. The sentimental clichés of the genre are gone, replaced by a persistent love story that some may find refreshing but others may find downright unsettling. Huston’s unique style gives an already lethal comedy a layer of assurance and cynicism, and Nicholson and Turner create a fantastic acting duo.
‘Punch-Drunk Love’ (2002)
In Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan is pictured holding a thermos while standing stationary and gazing off into the distance.
Photo from Sony Pictures Adam Sandler plays one of his best on-screen performances in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 absurdist romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love. The actor portrays Barry Egan, an abused, erratic, and socially anxious man who develops feelings for his sister’s coworker.
Punch-Drunk Love is restless and interesting, like most of PTA’s movies. The outcome is a weird but honest portrayal of love and loneliness that benefits from Anderson’s style and Sandler’s larger-than-life comedy persona. Anderson brings out the best in Sandler. Punch-Drunk Love is a charming, enjoyable, and unexpected addition to the rom-com genre that never fails to impress.
‘Raising Arizona’ (1987)
Picture courtesy of 20th Century Fox The 1987 criminal comedy Raising Arizona, directed by Joel Coen, stars Oscar winners Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage. After learning that he and his wife are infertile, the ex-con in the movie takes a baby to fulfil his wife’s wish for a child. The couple’s new family is in danger when the baby’s wealthy father sends a bounty hunter after the abductor.
Raising Arizona is smart, humorous, and biting like most Coen Brothers comedies. One of the duo’s most outlandish productions, the movie takes an amusing look at the absurd extent individuals would go to pursue love and benefits from Nicolas Cage, the eccentric eccentric’s eccentric. Raising Arizona is exuberant and amusing, completely unforgettable, and unlike any romantic comedy in the industry.
‘Romance & Cigarrettes’ (2005)
For his black musical romance comedy Romance & Cigarettes, John Turturro put together an amazing cast that included the late James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, and a scene-stealing Kate Winslet. The movie centres on Nick and Kitty Murder, a married couple whose relationship suffers after she learns he has been seeing Tula, a much younger woman.
Romance & Cigarettes, with its lovely music and one of Winslet’s craziest performances, offers a singular, albeit disjointed, look at marriage and faithfulness. The film, which is absurd but engrossing, subverts conventional ideas of love and approaches its issues with a sardonic but sympathetic tone.
‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (2012)
Silver Linings Playbook, a romantic comedy from 2012, stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The movie centres on Pat Solatano, a bipolar man who befriends a young widow as they prepare for a dance competition.
The movie Silver Linings Playbook succeeds as a rom-com, a dark comedy, and a sports drama. Despite lacking typical romantic comedy tropes, the movie soars because of Cooper and Lawrence’s electric chemistry. Silver Linings Playbook takes a refreshingly open-minded approach to mental health and romance while still being charming and heartfelt.
‘So I Married An Axe Murderer’ (1993)
So I Married an Axe Killer, a romantic black comedy from 1993, stars Mike Myers. Charlie, a newlywed on his honeymoon, believes his wife might be a famed serial killer who kills her victims when they are on vacation. Charlie is the protagonist of the novel.
So I Married an Axe Killer is an original interpretation of the rom-com genre and features one of Myers’ most subtle performances. The movie is far from perfect, but it manages to be lovely and generally optimistic in its depiction of love. So I Married an Axe Murderer is a fun spin on the traditional rom-com, helped by Amanda Plummer’s hilariously bonkers acting.
‘The Lobster’ (2015)
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz star in the absurdist black comedy The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos. The story centres on recently divorced David’s search for a spouse in a hotel where visitors are required to find a mate within a set amount of time or risk being converted into animals.
A morbidly humorous portrayal of love, The Lobster finds humour in the horrific. The Lobster is a subversive achievement because of Lanthimos’ very weird style. The film, which is romantic but dark, is a ludicrous indictment of society’s increasingly automatized and conventional notions of romance and the notion that having a spouse gives life any purpose.
‘The Opposite of Sex’ (1998)
The Opposite of Sex, a biting dark comedy from 1998, stars Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow in performances that are Oscar-worthy. Ricci portrays 16-year-old Dedee Truitt, who seduces her step-male brother’s lover and persuades him to steal $10,000 and go with her.
The naughty and funny The Opposite of Sex stars Ricci and Kudrow at their most incisive. The movie offers a genuine portrayal of love at a time when society is sceptical of it, complete with funny dialogue and likeable people. The Opposite of Sex is a romantic comedy for the new era that is to a fault acerbic yet endlessly enjoyable. It is also one of the most unfairly missed movies of the 1990s.
‘The War of The Roses’ (1989)
One of the decade’s most recognisable actors, Kathleen Turner appeared in many of the most memorable films. She co-stars with Michael Douglas in Danny DeVito’s The Battle of the Roses as an affluent married couple going through a contentious and increasingly violent divorce.
The Battle of the Roses is persistent in its portrayal of the gloominess of marriage. It is also wicked and frequently downright brutal. A pair of magnificent and unrelentingly grim performances by Turner and Douglas transcend the film’s depressing and ultimately tragic picture of love and the institution of marriage.
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