The Truth About What I Want in a Romantic Comedy

Saturday, I enjoyed a popcorn movie I remember initially watching in high school: The Truth About Cats and Dogs. It’s Cyrano De Begerac, only instead of a big nose, our romantic hero is a petite, feminist vet played by Janeane Garofolo.

The movie has its problems. It certainly doesn’t pass the Bechdel test and I would have liked to have seen Uma Thurman’s character given a little more wit, but I finished the movie feeling both good about the way women were treated and questioning the romantic drivel we are given nowadays.

Despite what we're told, Zooey Deschanel is conventionally attractive, even with glasses.

1. Where have romantic leads like Janeane Garofolo gone? What I love about Garofolo’s romantic shtick is that she is quirky, strong, and going to call you out on your bullshit, but she is going to do it without being a manic-pixie dream girl. It seems lately that the only non-traditionally pretty girls are really traditionally pretty except for the fact that they’re brunette and maybe wear glasses. Garofolo does not stoop to this. Sure she can be very, “Oh, woe is me,” in her romantic leads, but ultimately, she gets the guy because she begins the movie as a fulfilled lady with a kick-ass career who is smart and sassy and the guy is evolved enough to find that attractive.

Pretty people I could actually imagine seeing and hitting on in the grocery store

2. I can’t imagine seeing anyone at the grocery store: Romantic comedies these days are so shiny and pretty. Watching Cats and Dogs, I was struck by how I could imagine seeing the characters in the grocery store. Garofolo wears normal, even vaguely shlubby clothes. Thurman, who of course is gorgeous, is never slick. While I rarely see someone of her beauty everyday, I could imagine her out and about in the world. Newer romantic comedies are unrealistically slick and stylish, with everyone in designer duds and never repeating an outfit. Even a movie like Bridesmaids, with its aspirations to gross-out buddy humor, features an unemployed Kristen Wiig wearing a really amazing wardrobe that while adorable, feels financially apart from what I imagine someone in her situation being able to afford. I mean, I saw little difference between what her unemployed ass wears and what Helen’s rich-ass wears.

3. Garofolo is actually a feminist: Garofolo talks the talk and walks the walk. And she gets to be the romantic lead, not the sassy side-kick. Indeed, Uma Thurman is the sassy sidekick in this movie, and she isn’t all that sassy.

A really pretty lady who looks kind of normal

4. Can I talk a minute about how beautiful Uma Thurman is: I don’t do this to gush. I do it to say that she has a womanly beauty. Yes, she’s young. Yes, she’s got amazing genes. Yes, she’s thin. But the lady is a woman. A beautiful woman, yes, but they haven’t done her makeup to make her look girlish or dressed down her curves. Her hair is kind of a mess in some scenes. She’s also really, really tall, which the movie doesn’t hide, either. She towers over Garofolo, but in the movie’s universe, that is totally okay. Today, our pretty types are these über petite girly girls with perfect makeup and hair. What’s more, there is something disturbingly similar about how they all look.

5. I didn’t feel stupid watching this: Yes, it’s a silly romantic comedy. We can’t all be watching serious Lars Von Trier-type films all the time. We’d die of either boredom or depression. We have a right to silly romantic comedies that don’t assault our senses with perfectly made-up women who fit the mold of femininity and always seem to smell of fabric softener.  I request more romantic comedies like this one. Romantic comedies where the heroine is really, truly smart. Romantic comedies where the smart, sassy feminist is not a manic-pixie dream girl. Romantic comedies with people I’d actually see at the grocery store. Romantic comedies where the supposed ugly duckling isn’t an ugly duckling at all and she doesn’t require a makeover to prove it.

Published by

[E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

7 thoughts on “The Truth About What I Want in a Romantic Comedy”

  1. Yes, it’s a silly romantic comedy. We can’t all be watching serious Lars Von Trier-type films all the time. We’d die of either boredom or depression. We have a right to silly romantic comedies that don’t assault our senses with perfectly made-up women who fit the mold of femininity and always seem to smell of fabric softener.  I request more romantic comedies like this one. Romantic comedies where the heroine is really, truly smart. Romantic comedies where the smart, sassy feminist is not a manic-pixie dream girl. Romantic comedies with people I’d actually see at the grocery store. Romantic comedies where the supposed ugly duckling isn’t an ugly duckling at all and she doesn’t require a makeover to prove it.

    YES. TO ALL OF THIS.

    Thank you for writing this post.

  2. Its interesting that some of the things that you like about the movie were born very distinctly of the time-place it was made in, specifically that Garofolo’s character was allowed to be a feminist and that her clothes weren’t skin tight. Its an interesting thing to watch, the sort of beatback of what a woman ‘looks like’ or ‘talks like’ in contemporary popular culture.

    Thanks for reminding us about this movie! Another one to put on my rewatch list.

Leave a Reply