To All The Boys I've Loved Before; Book Club; Crazy Rich Asians: 2018 saw a return of the rom-com
Crazy Rich Asians, made on a ‘small’ $30M budget raked in over $230M globally, not just because it was a cultural milestone of sorts, but because it was a true-blue rom-com.
Hollywood’s formula for blockbuster films has been rewritten drastically over the past two decades. If it isn’t a superhero or disaster film, or anything that lends itself to the IMAX 3D experience, what’s the point?
People who spent their early theatre-going years in the ‘90s would remember hit films like When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, One Fine Day and Chasing Amy. The romcom used to be legitimate ‘blockbuster’ material till VFX took over. This genre had all but petered out by the turn of this decade, barring a few films like Trainwreck, Bridget Jones's Baby and last year's The Big Sick.
2018, however, saw some significant signs to indicate a return of the genre across cinema and streaming platforms.
To start with, there were a couple of decently big box-office successes, something that’s been missing in the space for years. Crazy Rich Asians, made on a ‘small’ $30M budget raked in over $230M globally, not just because it was a cultural milestone of sorts. A skeptic would put this down to an unlikely combination of factors that made the film unique, but strip it down and the film has all the ingredients of a classic romcom—romance, fun, laughs and larger-than-life characters.
Nothing warms the cockles of one’s heart like a good romance, well told with good looking people who can make you laugh. And the proof of success lies in the intensity with which you find yourself shipping the main cast. Take Book Club, for instance. The film boasts of a cast, all in their 60s, 70s and 80s and is a story of sisterhood, but also deals with hope and later-life romance. The film surprised pundits by grossing over $90M globally, proving that there is an older audience out there who misses this kind of content.
Then there were the critical successes. When Juliet, Naked premiered at the Sundance festival earlier this year, it generated the kind of buzz seldom seen these days with something as mundane as a classic love triangle. We are, after all, living in an age where critical acclaim mostly comes to films that reflect hard reality and the hopelessness of the world we live in. That a story so simple moved the audience, speaks of a much-wanted return to that familiar territory, with its sharp wit and tender moments.
While there’s little doubt around the existence of an older audience who misses these films, one can’t help but feel that the research engines driving Hollywood have missed a trick or two when it comes to luring in the younger lot. Wasn’t love and romance supposed to be primarily for younger people after all?
Love, Simon was the other film this year that made critics stand up and take notice. This teen romance tells the story of a 17-year old who’s yet to come out of the closet but is in love with someone he’s met online. The film is sweet and moving but more importantly represents the potential of the genre in 2018: mainstream in its storytelling, yet talking to a largely unaddressed audience. Why has nobody attempted to make a ‘mainstream’ romance film for gay teens till now?
Where the studios failed to pick up on a possible renaissance of the genre, Netflix hasn’t missed out and has slowly been testing the waters with a spate of small films. Their notable releases in 2018 were To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth, differently paced films but films that have seen immense success nevertheless. It’s no secret that kids these days associate romcoms with cozying up on the couch; ‘Netflix and Chill’ didn’t just become a thing.
The return of the romcom to larger screens might just give one more generation the unforgettable experience of holding hands in a dark corner of a theatre for the very first time, and that really is something you can’t do better in 3D.
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