Since the earliest days of cinema, the romantic comedy has been a mainstay. Many of those whom we think of as “the greats” – from Cary Grant to Katharine Hepburn – were not ever playing trauma survivors, or gaining a hundred pounds. They were getting into scrapes, learning some life lesssons, and falling in love. And that was fine by us.

Niamh Hargan, Twelve Days in May

Niamh Hargan, Twelve Days in May

The genre appeared to be going strong all the way through until the ’90s, attracting big name talent and even critical acclaim. Julia Roberts was nominated for an Oscar for Pretty Woman. Hugh Grant won a BAFTA for Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Then, maybe somewhere around the early noughties, the public’s appetite seemed to shift. Men didn’t like romcoms, and a lot of women claimed not to, either. They weren’t cool. They certainly were not the way to win awards. For years, my job took me to film festivals around the world, and, in conversation with filmmakers, guess what never came up? Even separately, the words “romance” or “comedy” were mentioned very infrequently, unless – of course – in reference to black comedy. If you ever meet a filmmaker, and he is a man, and you’re not sure what to say to him, simply utter the words “Wes Anderson” and I promise you’ll be off to the races.

Lately, though, the tide seems to be turning. Post-Covid, I’m finding myself having different conversations with filmmakers who want to lean in to the genre. There seems to be a new recognition that making a successful romcom is actually not easy. Why else would so many efforts have come up short? Collectively, we now appear to agree that, when done right, a romantic comedy is worthy of respect. Furthermore, it’s hugely commercially lucrative. Netflix’s romance and ‘holiday’ movies are eagerly awaited, and 2022 has already seen some star-vehicle romcoms perform well in cinemas. On TikTok, achingly cool teenagers recommend the latest romantic comedy novels, wearing t-shirts with NORA EPHRON printed boldly across the front.

What, I’ve wondered, is behind this shift? In the midst of what feels like one societal crisis after another, do we have a renewed need for love stories – for jokes, for happily ever afters? Perhaps that is a part of it. Mostly I think it is just that people – often women – have become more willing to unashamedly like what they like.

Of course, there is a conversation to be had about how to modernize and expand the genre. Some of the tropes we’ve seen in the past seem questionable (at best) under contemporary scrutiny, and there’s an appetite for much more diverse characters and relationships on screen and in literature. But the romcom’s essential ingredients will surely remain unchanged. In the 2020s, as in the 1920s, give us misunderstandings and near misses; give us airport chases, and snappy dialogue, and the realization that there is only one bed.

I, for one, am here for all of it.

About Twelve Days in May

For Lizzy Munro, working at the Cannes Film Festival doesn’t just mean cafes, champagne and celebrities. It also means the reappearance of Ciaran Flynn, a man she hasn’t spoken to in 12 years.

While Lizzie works for the Scottish Film Board, Ciaran is the man everyone is talking about: heartthrob of the moment and director of the hottest film of the year. When his film hits a huge snag, Lizzy is the only person who can save it. And it’s a film that bears a striking resemblance to their relationship all those years ago…

But fairytale endings only happen in the movies. Is this one love story that’s just too good to be true?

About Niamh Hargan 

Niamh Hargan was born and raised in Derry, Northern Ireland. An entertainment lawyer by profession, she first attended the Cannes Film Festival several years ago and found the experience to be both exactly like, and nothing at all like, what she had expected. When it became impossible to travel to Cannes in May 2020, she began to write about it instead.