In Defence of Festive Rom Coms

Guest writer Vicki Notaro on why this is the time of year to indulge our most sentimental side.

Credit: Patrick Quinn Byrne Credit: Patrick Quinn Byrne

My name is Vicki and I love romantic comedies. Often dismissed as “chick flicks”, derided for being cheesy and slagged off for being sentimental, admitting you enjoy rom-coms to some is like confessing to a lobotomy. Yet while some are offensive and ridiculous, many other films with a romantic bent are so wonderful that they occupy a special place in our hearts, the part that critically acclaimed but less tender movies never quite reach.

When Harry Met Sally, for example, has one of the best screenplays ever committed to film as well as the ability to turn us to mush. The Notebook would make even the most cynical person shed at least one tear, and How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days is just plain brilliant. Don’t even get me started on You’ve Got Mail – the technology may be dated, but the love story is timeless.


I’ve spent many an hour defending the rom-com. I have a degree in Film Studies from Trinity College which many people (read: men) think is very cool until I tell them that I wrote my thesis on ‘the substitute mother in the maternal melodrama’, an offshoot of the women’s film genre popularised in post-war Hollywood. That language is designed to make it sound high-brow and lofty; it was really an excuse to draw parallels between Terms of Endearment, Beaches and Stepmom. But because of that, I feel qualified to take down even the snarkiest of people (usually male people) dying to poo-poo a genre that has brought many people great joy. These are the same people that adore superhero films, yet manage to feel intellectually superior to me. Ho-hum.


However, there’s a sub-genre of rom-coms for which even the snidest of cynics hold their snark, and that’s the Christmas love story. Because this is the time of year when sentiment is acceptable, and romantic love championed. You might think February is the time of year when rom-coms and romance reign because of the 14th, but no – and that’s because nobody has ever made a truly brilliant movie about Valentine’s Day. Love is all around us at Christmas – 20% of Irish couples that get engaged each year do it in December - which is why even the most problematic rom-com gets a pass for the festive period.

And maybe that’s why many of the best rom-coms ever made contain seasonal scenes. It’s Christmas Eve when young Jonah rings a radio show to ask for a new mother in Sleepless in Seattle. It’s New Year’s Eve when Harry confesses his undying love to best friend Sally. And it’s at her mother’s Boxing Day turkey curry buffet that Bridget Jones first sets eyes on Mark Darcy and his reindeer jumper.


But even better are the romantic films in which Christmas is a central theme. Love Actually may have many gaping plot holes and improbable scenarios, but do we care? Hell, no! We’re happy to watch as many vaguely interlinked tales of love and loss at Christmas as Richard Curtis can fit in one film. The Holiday’s premise is equally dubious, mainly because Kate Winslet’s character gets a very raw deal in the romantic hero department, but because there’s snow and festive whimsy nobody cares that Christmas week is about three weeks long and most of the characters are insufferable. There’s a snowy English town and cute kids, hurrah!

We overlook a veritable sibling wife swap in The Family Stone, incredible deceit in Serendipity, stalking in While You Were Sleeping and how terrible Ryan Reynolds’ fat suit is in Just Friends. And that’s because we want to believe in true love at this time of year even more than we want to believe in Santa. Christmas is meant to be a time of redemption, when we bask in the glow of good will to all men, tell the people we love how we feel about them and end the year on a high. The festive season is often dominated by the kids in our lives as its magic and mischief is infectious. But we grown-ups are captivated by it too – sure why else would we lose the run of ourselves with mistletoe at Christmas parties?

I’ll be watching every one of the aforementioned movies before the 25th, along with my absolute favourite, The Muppet Christmas Carol. Anyone who thinks that isn’t romantic clearly hasn’t seen the original cinematic version, in which Scrooge’s girlfriend Belle dumps him for working too much. She sings a song that would bring a tear to a glass eye and leaves him in the snow, turning his heart to ice only to be defrosted by Christmas spirit. Apparently the scene was cut to keep the kiddies interested, but in this writer’s humble opinion the film is the worse for removing the main thing that humanises ol’ Ebeneezer – love. Go forth and enjoy the blatant sentimentality that goes hand-in-hand with December, but try not to burst a blood vessel crying at Emma Thompson in Love Actually.


Do you indulge in a bit of unashamed Christmas rom-comage this time of year? Or are Christmas movies like Die Hard or Gremlins more your bag?

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