I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. When someone asks me what my favorite type of movie is, my answer is always, without a doubt, the rom-com. The early 2000s were the best years for people akin to the rom-com, there was something for everyone. At that age, I didn’t think much about the implications that the rom-com entailed.
I just thought of it as guy meets girl, they fall in love and that was that (very heteronormative, but pop culture while I was growing up didn’t show the possibility of girl meets girl or guy meets guy). For me the rom-com can’t be defined as a genre, it’s a mood. Since last year and the rebirth of the rom-com with Noah Centineo taking center stage as the male heartthrob, I’ve realized that rom-coms are great for light watches, girly nights, and heightened emotions, but some of them may be problematic.
Last weekend, I watched Netflix’s The Perfect Date, and on the surface, it was your typical feel-good rom-com. The guy meets cute, they become fast friends, they realize they have feelings for each other, and eventually they end up together. The predictable plot wasn’t what irked me.
There was one scene in particular where protagonist Brooks Rattigan (Centineo) writes a letter to Celia (Laura Marano), expressing how he truly feels and he says that before she came into his life, there was this inherent emptiness within him, and I think that was the problem; the story revolved around this teenage boy who didn’t understand who he was, and suddenly his journey of self-discovery came to a close because of this one girl.
The entire movie is based around Brooks trying to figure out who he is to write his college essay for Yale. At the end, there’s this scene where both characters, having been estranged, meet at a coffee shop. A lot of emotions and hopes rest on this one table. Brooks hands Celia this paper, saying he’s finally written the statement, (subtext: finally understood who he is) but the essay ends up being addressed to the Admissions office at “The University of Celia” and is just cringeworthy and sappy on a whole. The notion that these movies are teaching the younger generation that you need another person to somehow feel whole is the problem.
The Perfect Date warps audience-beloved Noah Centineo into this compulsive liar and manipulator. Even when Brooks and Celia pretend to be dating to make their love interests jealous, it was just plain bad. Brooks’s character is your typical annoying high school jerk. His entire scheme of creating an app to ‘service’ women also leaves a bitter taste. His goal in life to be something, to change the world in a Steve Jobs way, but he doesn’t know what he wants to change or how or why. His misconstrued idea of being special banks on popularity, wealth, getting into an Ivy League, and the hottest girl in school. Cause that’s what everyone’s dream is right?
Wrong. It isn’t.
The movie relies on Centineo stealing the audience’s heart solely because of how he’s been built up in his other films released last year like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Sierra Burgess is a Loser. His fans were craving a chance to fall in love with Brooks like they did with Peter Kavinsky in TATBILB, but it wasn’t the case. SBIAL was also incredibly problematic; I don’t know if the leads of these rom-coms being manipulative liars are supposed to appeal to the common movie watcher, but for me, I just felt weird.
Rom-coms from the early 2000s still had that whimsical glow of the happily ever after that weren’t as problematic as these films. But what happened to the rom-com? Why did it take this on-screen presence that we loved so dearly and mold itself into a Noah Centineo shrine that accepted all his character flaws without even considering the wider consequences?
Imagine a young girl watching A Cinderella Story, or Sweet Home Alabama, or A Lot Like Love and thinking that’s how relationships work, seamlessly transitioning into a happy ending. Imagine her mapping that rhetoric out in her own relationships, what does that set her up for? It isn’t happiness, and it isn’t the so-called happy ending.
This is not to say that I’m not going to watch these rom-coms, because I will still enjoy them, but that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize them or call them out. Everyone claims to be “woke” and understanding of the concept of what’s politically and socially correct, and for me, The Perfect Date just did not cut it. Aside from that, I am at that age where I can truly just enjoy a film for fun, but it does have a greater impact on the younger generation. There is a risk that a big chunk of the impressionable audience will start believing that the Sierras and the Brooks out there are good people because they end up getting the boy/girl. Except, life isn’t about finding someone to make you whole. That empty feeling – it won’t really go away until you’re truly self-reliant.
The Perfect Date showed me just how imperfect rom-coms can be. My inner romantic writes this even though I know I’ll keep watching, but I just wish there was the perfect rom-com with the perfect message.