5 Bizarre Rom-Com Movie Concepts
Valentine’s Day is creeping up on us like a stealthy cherub with a hit list, and I find the best way to deal with the holiday is to hunker down with an industrial-sized box of conversation hearts and a collection of bizarro world romantic comedies. The rom-com genre generally plays by a predictable set of rules: Julia Roberts/Reese Witherspoon/Katherine Heigl meets the romantic leading man of the moment, they fall for each other, then a misunderstanding breaks them up just in time for a montage of sadness and a big movie-ending declaration of love. It’s a comforting formula, but sometimes Hollywood decides that edgy is better than comforting. That’s when things can get…weird.
Weird doesn’t necessarily mean bad though (I hear Warm Bodies pulls off a bizarre rom-com concept quite handily), and any attempt to shake the genre from its current creative stupor is one worthy of at least a smidgeon of appreciation. However, there are some romantic comedy concepts that are so outlandish that I can’t help but stand in awe of their very existence. For better and, in at least three cases, much, much worse, the five movies on this list all fall in the latter category.
The Switch wins my award for most obliviously horrifying movie concept of all time. There are more appalling movies out there, but most of them have the good sense to embrace the fact that what they’re doing is terrible, whereas The Switch thinks its hero is an adorable, lovelorn scamp that we should root for. The film stars Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, two of the most likable actors in Hollywood, as best friends, Wally and Kassie. Kassie is single, but she wants to have a child so she decides to be artificially inseminated. Wally is secretly in love with Kassie, so when he gets drunk at her party celebrating the impending insemination and accidentally spills the sample she intends to use, he replaces it with his own sperm without telling her.
Rather than seriously grapple with the issues of non-consent inherent in the concept, the movie fast-forwards seven years and spends the rest of its running time on Wally bonding with his neurotic son, while still pining for Kassie. There is a brief period of angst after Kassie learns the truth, but she still ends up marrying good ole, sperm-swapping Wally in the end. The sad part is, the interactions between Bateman and Thomas Robinson, the adorable moppet playing the son, are genuinely charming. There’s a good movie buried inside The Switch, but it’s impossible to see it beneath the creepy concept at its core.
The concept behind 50 First Dates–a man falls in love with a woman who suffers from anterograde amnesia and forgets who he is the minute she falls asleep every night–sounds far too depressing to be the subject of a romantic comedy, but it mostly works thanks to Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Their chemistry carries the movie even when it threatens to get too bogged down in gross-out humor or the sadness inherent in the premise. The only thing holding 50 First Dates back from being a perfect example of how to be a weird and effective rom-com at the same time is its schizophrenic tonal shifts.
Because watching Barrymore forget Sandler day after day is so soul-crushing, they overcompensate with traditional Sandler-style humor that works against the movie’s sweetness. The end result is a mixed bag of charm and oddities with an ending that is simultaneously happy and heartbreaking.
Any film that asks the audience to believe that Dan Aykroyd is an astrophysicist is immediately suspect. My Stepmother is an Alien goes one step further by asking us to not only accept that Aykroyd is a genius, but also that an alien who looks like Kim Basinger would fall in love with him and move to the suburbs.
The film is a hot mess of silliness. From Basinger’s alien who eats cigarette butts to the dopey world-saving plot shoe-horned in around the traditional romantic comedy beats and ’80s-flavored sex jokes, the film is more likely to induce cringing than laughter. Under the right circumstances, the madness can be entertaining (like when you’re stuck at home with the flu and the remote control is far away on the other side of the room), but mostly My Stepmother is an Alien comes off as a belated and ill-advised attempt to capitalize on the success of Splash.
Full disclosure time: 13 Going on 30 is one of my favorite rom-coms. Jennifer Garner sells the girl-Big plot through the sheer force of her enthusiasm, and her romantic lead is Mark Ruffalo. What’s not to love? Other than the disturbing idea of a 13-year-old girl trapped in a 30-year-old’s body and dealing with sexual advances from grown men? Freaky Friday has been remade enough times by now that I suppose we’ve all decided to handwave the more unsettling issues of body-swap plots and focus on their comedic value, but it’s hard not to pause for a moment when Jenna (Garner) has to deal with her adult self’s naked and befuddled boyfriend.
(Still, I can’t not love a movie with such a fantastic Thriller dancer sequence.)
The Break-Up was a terrible idea. The plot itself isn’t as crazy as the plots of the other films on this list, but the fact that its premise was the exact opposite of a rom-com should have been a warning sign. There are plenty of successful romantic comedies that either end in a break-up (Annie Hall) or focus on one (Celeste and Jesse Forever), and the comedy of remarriage genre served Cary Grant well in the ’30s and ’40s– so the concept isn’t entirely to blame for the film’s awfulness. The real culprit is the execution.
In order for The Break-Up to work, the audience needs to be rooting for Aniston and Vince Vaughn to work things out, but the relationship playing out onscreen as they both refuse to move out of the condo they shared when they were in love is too toxic to bear, let alone to be funny. In that way it fails even as a dark comedy. In the end, The Break-Up is a somber movie about a miserable pair, who would be better served meet-cuting with other people in a happier movie.
What is the most bizarre rom-com movie you have ever encountered? Tell me all about it in the comments!
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