What's the Difference Between Okay Rom-Coms and Great Ones?

What's the Difference Between Okay Rom-Coms and Great Ones?

9 min read

I recently watched a rom-com on two consecutive Friday evenings. It was not intentional. I don’t plan my day around a rom-com, the way I would a new action movie, a heralded drama, a buzzy comedy, or even the umpteenth Star Wars rewatch. Maybe I’m alone in this, but rom-coms tend to be the fallback option, the thing I pick when nothing else jumps out at me, or if I’m in the mood for something light. Sure—let’s watch this.

I enjoy rom-coms, in the same way I like Little Caesar’s pizza or yellow Starburst.1 Most of them are fine. Some few are legitimately great. 

Defining ‘Rom-Com’ Is a Slippery Slope

I started filling out my personal Mount Rushmore of rom-coms, but quickly quit because I haven’t seen many of the all-timers in so long, and usually only the once, that I couldn’t be objective. Everyone says When Harry Met Sally is the greatest, but my heart leans Can’t Buy Me Love because I’ve probably seen it 20 times.

I briefly glanced at Vanity Fair’s list of the best rom-coms and closed my browser when I saw Coming to America. Look: I am a certified Eddie Murphy truther. I think he’s the greatest comedian of all-time, and Coming to America is one of his best movies. But is it a rom-com? Really? What about The 40-Year-Old VirginThat’s a no for me, dawg.

Both of those movies fit the legalistic definition of rom-com. I maintain they are comedies, straight up, with romantic subplots. True, Coming to America is about Akeem finding his queen. I don’t care—it’s a comedy about finding love, not a romantic comedy. There’s a difference. It may only matter to me, but there’s absolutely a difference.

If comedy and romance are buckets, and we have 100 Hersey Kisses we can distribute to determine which way the movie leans, I’d put 95 chocolates in Coming to America’s comedy bucket. When Harry Met Sally is closer to 50/50. That’s the difference.

I watch Coming to America for Sexual Chocolate, the fish out of water hijinks, Prince Akeem slumming it at McDowell's, Soul Glo, and the barber shop quartet. The romantic subplot never even crosses my mind. Meanwhile, I’d watch When Harry Met Sally for a heartwarming love story that’s often hilarious.2

Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate - Coming to America
Sexual Chocolate! Paramount Pictures