Rom-coms are a genre of movies often reserved for “easy-viewing.” They’re the perfect kind of entertainment for when you just want to feel good, laugh a little, maybe shed a few cathartic tears, and go on with your life. And that’s perfectly fine. If rom-coms are your pleasure, you don’t have to feel guilty about it. But even if you’re watching these lighthearted movies somewhat absent-mindedly, you could still be internalizing some of their messaging. And we hate to break it to you, but some of your favorite on-screen romantics give some incredibly bad advice about love.
People (okay, mostly straight men) love to say that romantic comedies give women “unrealistic expectations” that love is all flowers and boomboxes and grand gestures. But that’s not what we’re concerned about here. We’re all for setting high standards and asking for what we want in relationships—and if we want someone to stand outside our window with a boombox, we should get that. What’s more concerning in many of these movies is how they normalize a kind of love that’s actually anything but. The stalking, the cheating, the manipulative behavior, the not taking “no” for an answer, many rom-coms get away with a lot of these behaviors and somehow, still have us clutching the tissue box and rooting for the relationship to work out in the end.
Another disclaimer for this post: These movies are all very straight. Many of the problematic notions in rom-coms are based on outdated gender stereotypes and some pretty heteronormative definitions of love, so that’s something to consider. But don’t worry, we’re not here to cancel your favorite rom-coms, just urge you to please watch with caution.
11 rom-coms that give problematic love advice.
1500 Days of Summer
This movie is basically the textbook definition of the manic pixie dream girl trope. Zooey Deschanel’s character, Summer, loves The Smiths, her name is a season, and that’s pretty much all it takes for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Tom, to fall super hard. The problem is, Summer didn’t want to fall in love with Tom (which she was upfront about), but Tom didn’t want to believe it. Many movie viewers interpreted Summer’s character as evil, but even JGL himself encouraged people to rethink the dynamics. In a 2018, he tweeted, “Watch it again. It’s mostly Tom’s fault. He’s projecting. He’s not listening. He’s selfish. Luckily he grows by the end.”
Loads of sexual harassment in the workplace, multiple jokes about women’s bodies, and powerful men exhibiting toxic behavior—these all sound like reasons to get someone fired. Instead, these are charming plot points to drive along a “love” story. And then there’s that infamous doorstep scene. Mark, poor Mark, is in love with his best friend’s wife, Juliet, so he shows up to her doorstep, tells her to lie to her husband (who is, again, his best friend), then confesses his love to her. And in a very awards for good boys fashion, Juliet gives Mark a kiss right after he’s selfishly put her in a very uncomfortable position.
3He’s Just Not That Into You
The film seems promising at the beginning with an opening monologue that explains, “We’re all programmed to be believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk, that means he likes you.” But instead of actually putting into question the way the men in the film mistreat the women, the flick takes a rather “boys will be boys” approach by painting the women as desperate and naive, putting the blame on them for failing to understand the very basic “rules.” Alex (Justin Long) is the gatekeeper of these rules, and he spends the film oh-so-graciously explaining them to the film’s Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), only to tell her in the end “You’re my exception.” If you’re a woman who’s ever heard some variation “you’re not like other girls” from a man, you’ll understand why this line is much more of an insult than a compliment.
Oh, Sandy, you don’t have to change yourself for any man! That all-black, greased-up look at the end of the film still remains a power outfit and a great Halloween costume in a pinch, but we don’t love the fact that Sandy reconfigured her entire identity for a man who very simply didn’t treat her right and didn’t change a thing about himself. On top of that, the summer loving that kicked off this whole affair really loses its charm when you consider Danny’s boys asking him in the song, “Did she put up a fight?”, sweeping right past this implication of sexual assault. For your next steamy karaoke duet, might we instead suggest “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers?
5How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Here’s the pitch for the magazine article the whole movie centers around: “I could start by dating a guy, then drive him away by doing everything girls do wrong in relationships.” In the film, Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) acts out a series of these “wrong” behaviors by intruding on poker night with the guys, moving her things into her fake boyfriend’s apartment, and getting very upset about a symbolic love fern. Though Andie and Ben (Matthew McConaughey) get together for real at the end (for reasons we still don’t understand) the whole premise of the movie reinforces the idea that women are too clingy, sensitive, and possessive in relationships and men aren’t emotionally equipped to handle it.
6Sex And The City
Ah, the chronicles of Carrie and Big. Can we please stop giving emotionally unavailable men second, third, never-ending chances in 2020? Also, let’s not forget when Steve (RIP to the sweet pre-cheating Steve) uses wedding vows to justify his actions and argue for Miranda to forgive him: “Yeah, I broke a vow. But what about the other vows, like promising to love someone for better or for worse, what about that?” Sure, love is complicated, people have their flaws, but men who cheat and men who can’t commit are not the only options out there.
This film was categorized by one of our editors as a “classic, majorly problematic rom-com.” The quintessential ’80s film has it all: bad perms, tulle dresses, racist rhetoric, homophobic slurs, and rampant sexual harassment. In one scene, the rape culture isn’t even slightly disguised as the lead-heartthrob character, Jake, says this about his girlfriend at the time: “I’ve got Caroline in the bedroom right now passed out cold, I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to.” In the end, this is the same boy Molly Ringwald’s character, Sam, finally gets to kiss. Ringwald herself agrees that this film, along with many others, has not aged well and she even wrote an article for The New Yorker about revisiting her movies in the the age of #MeToo.
813 Going on 30
This one’s especially hard for me—it’s my all-time favorite rom-com. “Love Is A Battlefield” is my go-to karaoke song because of that perfect sleepover scene, and I still secretly dream of a Razzles-flavored kiss in the park. But there’s one thing about that kiss that’s not so romantic after-all: Matty is cheating on his fiancé. It’s easy to forget about Matty’s almost-wife because her character is underdeveloped and only makes brief appearances in order to help signal to the audience that their relationship is rocky, therefore making it NBD when he cheats. But Wendy the anchorperson deserved better!
9When Harry Met Sally
We will always be grateful to When Harry Met Sally for that iconic fake orgasm scene, but we could do without many of the sexist tropes and narrow ideas about gender and sexuality that carry the film along. Aside from the the film’s central argument—that men and women can’t be friends without sex getting in the way (which is obviously not true)—the film perpetuates some really offensives ideas about women. Harry, the infuriating character we’re supposed to swoon over in the end says things like, “There are two kinds of women, high-maintenance and low-maintenance.” Similar to the ending of He’s Just Not That Into You, the still “high-maintenance” Sally becomes Harry’s exception in the end.
Technically, this film could pass the Bechdel test because the two best friends spend far more time talking about their weddings than about their fiancés, but we don’t really know anything about these women except that they’ve both been dreaming about their Big Day since they were small children and they’re now willing to ruin their lifelong friendship over it? In 2020, we would also like to stop pitting female protagonists against each other and do away with the idea that marriage should be a woman’s ultimate goal in life.
We’re sorry to do this to you, but The Notebook has its problems too. There’s one scene in particular that just doesn’t sit right. You know the scene where Noah, an absolute stranger to Allie at the time, hangs off the ferris wheel and threatens to kill himself unless she agrees to go out with him? Yeah, manipulation isn’t cute.