Romantic comedies, for me at least, function as a guilty pleasure – a very guilty pleasure. While some may be progressive, the majority of romcoms spit out some pretty problematic ideas. What I really hate is that Runaway Bride wedding scene, where, at the end of the movie, the protagonist makes an epic speech, sending the perceived love of their life a plea to leave their almost spouse and run away with them.
Usually, the plea is made by a man to a woman. The hidden (but not really) subtext of this is that the woman doesn’t have the wherewithal to know what she wants.
The Graduate has one of the most notable wedding crash scenes. After Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) convinces Elaine (Katharine Ross) to ditch her fiancé and they are sitting on the bus, they both seem to realize that what they just did was crazy and there’s a whole lot of nonsense they’re going to have to figure out. But what most romcoms fail to do is acknowledge the consequences that come with running out on a wedding in such a dramatic fashion. The drive off into the sunset is viewed through rose-colored glasses.
Romcoms are a good hour and half of not-so-subtle manipulation. There are grooms that go from decent guy to asshole in a flash, last-minute romances that, on a logical level, aren’t very sound, and brides that can barely think for themselves. Hopefully, when someone is getting married, their relationship has some kind of good foundation, that the relationship has weathered some storms and come out stronger.
Instead, as viewers, we enter into a situation where cold feet turns to altar abandonment consistently. When it’s the groom having second thoughts, however, there is typically a deep thinking session where he evaluates the state of his relationship to the bride. Instead of someone objecting on their behalf, they get around to doing it themselves.
Recently, films have tried to subvert these stereotypes. How to Be Single had a scene specifically poking fun at this, where Alison Brie’s character laughs at the cockiness of her friend thinking he could just make a speech and she’d leave her fiancé.
The wedding scene isn’t the only problem with romcoms.
They create unattainable expectations of what romance is and sometimes have not-very-obvious sexism, but I’m not going to stop watching them. The reason they keep being made is because the formula works. And while refusing to watch them might be one way to stop the machine that pumps them out, I find romcoms very delightful and they make me happy. Sometimes, you just want a love story with good jokes and a satisfactory ending.
It’s the same reason why Michael Bay and Michael Bay-esque films are popular. They are non-thinkers. Progressive media shouldn’t be sequestered so just the so-called “elite” can enjoy it.
Ultimately, though, these female characters deserve more development beyond leaving one man for another.