Long before the shorthand “rom-com” started being used to describe romantic comedies, the movie genre was already the butt of a number of jokes. Say all you want, but despite how overdone the rom-com is, it still makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. Luckily, I’ve created this handy guide to some of my favorite rom-coms—with absolutely no Kate Hudson in sight.
Say Anything… (1989)
The best ever-high school romance? I’d say so. An unbearably dreamy John Cusack plays Lloyd Dobler, a sweetly awkward kickboxing enthusiast who’s just graduated high school with seemingly little future ahead of him. On a whim, he decides to ask out the gorgeous, brilliant, and socially-inexperienced class valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye). She’s won a fellowship to attend college in England in the fall, so their relationship is immediately on the clock, counting down to the end of summer. They also have to contend with Diane’s father (John Mahoney), who doesn’t think Lloyd is good enough for his daughter. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, that master auteur of young-adulthood, “Say Anything…” is the perfect coming-of-age romance.
Good Dick (2008)
All title-induced chuckles aside, “Good Dick” is an exemplary rom-com—file under indie, comma, quirky. It’s the vision of 29-year-old Scottish-born filmmaker Marianna Palka, who writes, directs, and stars as a reclusive young woman with an addiction to soft-core porn and an extreme fear of penises. Palka’s real-life beau, Jason Ritter, plays the video store clerk who falls for her, essentially stalks her (charmingly, of course), and inserts himself into her directionless life. It’s an endearingly odd take on an ancient genre. The audience finds out tantalizingly little about the leads—why is Ritter living out of his car? Why is Palka so phallophobic? —not even their names. But regardless of all we don’t know, we discover just enough to fall for our hero and heroine as strongly as they do for each other.
Cher is my person. My hero, my idol, a paragon of humanity in all of its wonder. But that doesn’t mean I’m biased; “Moonstruck” is one of the best romantic comedies ever. Cher stars as Loretta Castorini, a middle-aged, widowed accountant who lives with her parents in Brooklyn. She’s about to settle into a loveless marriage when her fiancé asks that she mend the rift between him and his dashing, one-handed, estranged brother, Ronnie Cammareri (played by a young Nicholas Cage), before the wedding. Loretta tracks Ronnie down and is immediately swept off of her feet. A secondary plot focuses on Loretta’s parents’ (Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia) marital crisis. Perhaps it’s a predictable film, but “Moonstruck” lovingly depicts two tight-knit Italian American families and makes the viewer feel right at home with them.
Probably the most obscure film on this list, “Dogfight” was released in only two American theaters and went straight to VHS in Europe. River Phoenix plays Eddie Birdlace, a Marine who’s in San Francisco with his buddies for just one night in 1963. He’s going to Vietnam as one of President Kennedy’s “advisors.” The Marines take place in a cruel contest, a “dogfight:” they organize a dance, and the man who attends with the ugliest date wins. Naturally, Birdlace sees the error of his ways and spends his whole night with his date, Rose Fenny (played by Lili Taylor, who co-starred in “Say Anything…”). Sure, the plot is nothing new, but Phoenix and Taylor give incredibly touching performances as two very different teenagers who fall into fast and awkward love.