Joanna Rossiter

The romcom is dead

The traditional boy-meets-girl formula belongs to a different time

  • From Spectator Life
Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks and Ross Malinger in Sleepless in Seattle [Alamy]

From bucket hats to Britney Spears, the 1990s and 2000s are back in vogue. Who could have predicted that the cringe-inducing baggy trousers and All Saints-esque crop tops that filled teenage wardrobes 20 years ago would be resurrected with such gusto by Gen Z? But there’s one part of turn-of-the-century culture that remains firmly consigned to the past. Unlike the clothing of the era, the romcom has proved remarkably resistant to modern reinvention – no matter how hard Hollywood tries.

Last month, two romantic comedy veterans – Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher – reunited in a stoic effort to woo audiences back to the genre. But their film – Your Place or Mine – was quickly panned by critics and has floundered at the box office despite its Valentine’s Day release. Likewise, Nancy Meyers – who directed The Holiday (2006) and What Women Want (2000) – has just had her latest romcom dropped by Netflix before it even reached production.

So why, despite a resurgence of other Nineties and Noughties trends, is the romcom failing? It is certainly difficult to believe that this small-c conservative film genre once had the cultural clout to turn the likes of George Clooney, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts into household names. Against a backdrop of gender fluidity, online dating and MeToo, the traditional boy-meets-girl formula suddenly looks outmoded. Are today’s audiences just too cynical for the kind of romantic idealism and economic aspiration that these films promote?

Before the advent of the internet, the idea of perfect strangers meeting by chance certainly held more mystique than it does in 2023; now, we have apps to do the hard work for us. Perhaps the modern dater – all too familiar with ghosting and two-timing – simply can’t stomach the doe-eyed optimism of lines like Sam’s in Sleepless in Seattle: ‘I knew it the very first time I touched her.

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