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romantic comedy

A Valentine’s Day Breakdown for the Rom-Com Purists

The reviews for Valentine's Day are out, and critics found no love at all for the ensemble piece. But for the movie's target audience, reviews are fully beside the point. If this is the type of movie you like, you’re going to see it regardless of the amount of hate that Manohla Dargis spews its way. What’s important to you is whether it hits all the right and familiar romantic beats, arcs, and tropes that leave heartstrings plucked, tears jerked, and a general reassurance that love among attractive people is alive and well — the cinematic equivalent of a reflex hammer that taps on all of your awwww nerves. You’re not looking for a review, you need a checklist that evaluates Valentine's Day on how it satisfies very precise rom-com needs, and where it falls on the rom-com continuum.

ROM-COM SUBGENRE
The Kitchen Sink Ensemble, one so sprawling it also accommodates: the Best Friend Who Could Be More, the I've Got a Secret, and the reassuring Lovable Old Folks

CREDENTIALS

Pretty Woman team Julia Roberts and director Garry Marshall, Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30), Anne Hathaway (Princess Diaries 1 and 2; Bride Wars); Bradley Cooper (He's Just Not That Into You; pining, unrequited good-guy pal in Alias), Eric Dane and Patrick Dempsey (Grey's Anatomy), Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment), Topher Grace (Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!)

BARRIER ... TO LOVE
She’s a phone sex worker … and he's a prude!
She had an affair … but he’s understandably anti-affair!
She’s perfect for him … but he sees her only as a friend!
He wants to lose his virginity … but she wants to wait!
He won’t come out of the closet … but other he is way out!

WELCOME CLICHÉS
Precocious little kid with an absentee single mother.
Nefarious cheater whose actions nudge a woman into the arms of a nicer guy.
Name being shouted in a crowd, followed by dramatic kiss, followed by cheers from bystanders.

UNWELCOME CLICHÉS
Chasing departing lover through airport.
Best friends who suddenly realize they’re perfect for each other.

BEST FRIEND WHO IS FUNNY YET WISE
George Lopez as Alphonso, a florist who swears in Spanish a lot (funny!) and doles out advice to Ashton Kutcher’s character, Reed (wise!).

ROMANTIC CRESCENDO LOCATIONS
Bridge
Outdoor Movie Screening
Indian Restaurant
Apartments seemingly too pricey for character's income
TV Studio

ROMANCE/COMEDY RATIO
60/40

TEARS JERKED
3.5. Two jerked from Julia Roberts, who was only onscreen for six minutes

PLACE ON ROM-COM QUALITY CONTINUUM
Sadly, Valentine's delivers neither many laughs, tears, or genuine "awwwws." As seen below on a chart ranging from the worst rom-com (Fool's Gold) to the best (When Harry Met Sally), Valentine's falls well below Love Actually, and even scores lower than He's Just Not That Into You.


Romantic Comedy Continuum

Photo: Warner Brothers