On dark, rainy days, there’s nothing I like doing more than lounging in my living room, rewatching my favorite romantic comedies. There are few films that are so easily able to make someone laugh, cry, and plan their fictional wedding all within an hour. But as I grow older and more aware of the world around me, it’s hard for me to keep watching these films that once brought me such joy. I can no longer overlook how problematic they are.
As I rewatch some classic films, I’ve noticed a glaring consent issue. A lack of consent, to be specific.
Some films are disturbingly ok with their nonconsensual dynamics – in fact, they form the core of the plot. 365 Days, though not a rom-com, is a perfect example of this glorification. The film features a mafia boss who kidnaps a woman and tells her she has a year to fall in love with him. The film drew incredible controversy with people criticizing its problematic storyline, and rightfully so. The film unabashedly glorifies violence, sexual harassment, and misogyny.
But sometimes, it’s not so obvious. Sometimes these highly dangerous actions and ideals masquerade as the epitome of romance.
Love Actually, a winter favorite is incredibly problematic. Specifically, the plotline with Juliet and Mark. Mark is in love with his best friend’s wife, Juliet, but he’s never told her anything about it. Throughout the film, Mark exhibits creepy behavior towards Juliet. During her wedding, he takes videos that focus and zoom entirely on her. And towards the end, he shows up at her house and professes his love for her.
In Crazy Stupid Love, Jessica sends an underage child that she was babysitting nude pictures as some sort of gift. The scene is supposed to be comical and actually make Jessica seem bold and cool. In reality, it’s highly inappropriate and problematic behavior.
Not even Bridget Jones’ Diary escapes the curse. In the movie, Bridget is subject to predatory behavior from her colleagues and one of her love interests, Daniel. Daniel constantly sends her disturbing emails and when they’re in an elevator together, he grabs her without her consent. While Daniel is portrayed as somewhat of a jerk, he’s also presented to Bridget and the audience as charming, flirtatious, and romantic.
And of course, there’s everyone’s favorite trope – the “stop talking” kiss as seen in films like Much Ado About Nothing. In the film, Benedick kisses Beatrice when she’s trying to fight with him by kissing her and saying “I’ll stop your mouth.” Instead of listening to what she has to say, he decided to shut her up by kissing her (without her consent).
Romantic comedies are also filled with emotional manipulation that is typically disguised as love and dedication. For example in The Notebook, Noah threatens to kill himself if Allie doesn’t agree to go out with him which basically forces her to say yes to him. In this case, just because she “agrees” to go out with him doesn’t mean it’s consensual.
These tropes and so many more constitute a large part of the grandeur and romance of our most classic romantic comedies. In each of these scenes, we’re not supposed to hate the men and their behavior. It’s exactly the opposite.
These films set the standard for romance in our society. As we watch them, we’re supposed to swoon, dream our ideal love stories based on them. I, like so many romantics, dreamed about having a prince charming show up at my door. But those charged scenes that once made my skin tingle are no fantasy. They’re dangerous.
Each of these scenes perpetuates the harmful idea that women actually appreciate this sort of predatory behavior.
But we cannot keep pushing these disturbing ideas of romance. The media and narratives that we consume have a huge impact on the way we perceive our world, the way we behave. I don’t doubt at all that so many young people have shaped their ideas about relationships. Even as I watched these films, I wished I had my own Mark or Daniel.
But Mark and Daniel don’t belong in our fantasies. Their behavior isn’t acceptable just because they’re handsome and charming. They belong in the trash and scrapped storylines of the writer’s room.
It’s simple – if it’s not consensual, it’s not romantic and it’s certainly not comedic.
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