The Mindy Project never met a rom-com trope it didn’t like. Mere minutes into the pilot episode, Dr. Mindy Lahiri exclaimed, “I’m Sandra Bullock!” The majority of its characters have participated in some form of dramatic rom-com run. (In the best iteration, Jeremy ran in the rain all the way to his best friend, Dr. Jody Kimball-Kenny, before Jody leaves for Africa.) The show even gave its parade of love interests very rom-com jobs: Seth Meyers was an architect, Allison Williams showed up as an oceanographer, and Anders Holm played everyone’s favorite pastor-slash-DJ. Sure, there isn’t an actual rom-com about a doctor falling for a pastor-slash-DJ, but I would totally pay good money for one. (It would be called Heartbeats and the tagline would be #Blessed.)
Beyond playing with rom-com tropes, The Mindy Project also paid homage to many of the genre’s modern classics. (Yes, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is considered a classic in this scenario.) Now the series finale has aired — and Mindy Lahiri, inventor of Wreath Witherspoon, finally got the happy ending she’s always wanted — Vulture is looking back at the show’s greatest tributes to her favorite type of movies. As The Mindy Project proves, one can be completely in love with something and also be able to poke fun at its ridiculousness.
When Harry Met Sally…
Easily the most name-checked rom-com on The Mindy Project. This makes sense since Mindy and Danny are basically Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) and Harry Burns (Billy Crystal), two friends who bicker with each other until they realize they are completely in love. It’s Mindy favorite movie, a movie which Danny refers to as “When Doofus Met Dummy.” Sick burn, Castellano. While I’ll never not laugh at Danny paraphrasing “I’ll have what she’s having” into “I’ll order whatever gave her an orgasm,” the best tribute to the film comes halfway through the first season when Latin professor Jamie (B.J. Novak) arrives to woo our heroine in the appropriately titled episodes “Harry & Sally” and “Harry & Mindy.” Jamie is seemingly perfect for Mindy, except for one tiny problem: He has a best friend named Lucy (Eva Amurri), and they are clearly in love each other. The two episodes have lots of references to the film — the batting cages, a double date gone horribly wrong — and in the end, Mindy realizes that she has somehow become the supporting character in Jamie and Lucy’s romantic comedy. She is basically Rob Reiner’s mother.
Here’s the real trick, though: While Mindy feels like she’s being edged out of a story about two friends finding one another, she is actually beginning that same story with Danny. Over the course of those two episodes, Mindy and Danny grow closer and closer as friends. At the end of the second episode, when Jamie makes a big speech to Lucy after she hits it off with Danny on a double date, we’re not paying attention to Jamie and Lucy finally hooking up — we’re watching pals Mindy and Danny walk off together and share a heartfelt moment of friendship. We’re watching the beginning of Mindy and Danny’s story.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
The Mindy Project never did a specific homage to the movie adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary (itself a Pride and Prejudice adaptation), but the show screams Bridget Jones from the pilot: the voice-over, Mindy’s obsession with her weight, the vivid fantasy life, her weird group of cohorts, the fact that she’s smart and somehow good at her job even though she is a scorching hot mess. And don’t forget about her choice of suitors: In the pilot, Mindy is hooking up with Jeremy, your basic Daniel Cleaver–esque English Lothario. On the other hand, there’s Danny Castellano. He’s terse, thinks he’s smarter than everyone, and he finds Mindy ridiculous until he gets to know her. (Okay, he still finds her ridiculous after that, but he is charmed by that ridiculousness.) Put the guy in an ugly reindeer sweater and you’ve got yourself Mark Darcy. So it comes as no surprise that the book Mindy turns to when she’s not feeling well is Bridget Jones’s Diary. In season two’s “Indian BBW,” after Danny and Mindy have been dating in secret and both wind up in the hospital with viral meningitis, Danny makes a very swoony gesture by getting into Mindy’s hospital bed and reading from her favorite book. He even does the voices. And that’s how Danny Castellano got the nickname Tiny Italian Mark Darcy. Or, at least, he should have.
Season one hit the rom-com tropes pretty hard, typically by taking a romantic-comedy premise and letting it blow up in Mindy Lahiri’s face. Many rom-com premises would be terrifying if placed into the real world, and The Mindy Project is at its best when it exposes those types of truths, like its role-reversal take on Pretty Woman. In “Pretty Man,” Mindy accidentally sleeps with a prostitute named Adam (Josh Meyers) and he is no Julia Roberts. The guy is very into kissing, giving him a wardrobe makeover isn’t as fun as Mindy hopes, and he writes some offensive original music. (That last one has nothing to do with Pretty Woman, but it is a perfectly crafted cringeworthy moment and deserves recognition.) This experience with Adam is yet another blow to Mindy’s rom-com-loving heart. As much as she may want to be, Mindy Lahiri is no Richard Gere.
Sleepless in Seattle
It’s all about the Empire State Building, you guys. The big romantic conclusion of Nora Ephron’s masterpiece about the magic of falling in love takes place at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. After lots of shenanigans, American standards, and cross-country plane tickets, Tom Hanks’s sad hot dad Sam Baldwin lays eyes on Meg Ryan’s impeccably coiffed Annie Reed for the first time on top of that giant building and they just know they are meant for each other. Tom Hanks reaches out his hand toward Meg Ryan, asks “Shall we?”, and we are all left swooning as they take the elevator down to the ground floor. They don’t even kiss and it is still one of the most romantic scenes of all time.
No wonder Mindy Lahiri is obsessed with finding true love at the Empire State Building. She is so obsessed, in fact, that she spends time hanging out in the lobby waiting to bump into Mr. Right. Of course, she ends up getting arrested out of fear that she’s a terrorist (saying things like “Boom, fireworks” and “I am a true believer” don’t help her situation), but that doesn’t dash Mindy’s hopes of finding love at her most sacred of places. She has such a reverence for the Empire State Building that when B.J. Novak’s character wants to take her up to the top for a romantic Valentine’s Day date in “Harry & Mindy,” she refuses, because she knows he’s actually in love with someone else. It would be offensive to go up there with him. Of course, that reverence also makes it the perfect place for Mindy and Danny to officially get together. In this scenario, though, Mindy has to take the stairs all the way to the top, so she is a sweaty shell of a human when Danny finds her lying on the ground. Even still, their makeout sesh is just as swoon-worthy as Tom and Meg’s hand-holding elevator ride.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
The premise of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is perfect rom-com fodder: Andie Anderson (of course that’s her name) is a magazine writer (of course that’s her job) who’s writing an article about the things women do that make men want to break up with them. And so she chooses Matthew McConaughey’s smooth ad dude, Benjamin Barry (!) as her unwitting accomplice and they end up falling love. Basically, it’s a movie about how Andie sucks at her job but looks great in a yellow dress. Mindy takes the How to Lose a Guy premise in season two’s “French Me, You Idiot” and uses it to get her boyfriend Cliff (Glenn Howerton) to dump her so that she can be with Danny. She tries going to the bathroom with the door open, telling Cliff that her psychic told her they’d have eight kids but she only wants six, and the classic: “If you break up with me, I’ll kill you and all of your friends.” None of these work. You know what does? Mindy and Danny almost burning down the church during Cliff’s grandmother’s funeral as they secretly make out in the back. Kate Hudson never tried that!
Season five’s “Hot Mess Time Machine” homage to Groundhog Day is pretty much right on: Mindy wakes up to the same song every morning (Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” is replaced by Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”), spends the beginning iterations of her day living the high life once she realizes there are no consequences to her actions (for Mindy, this means breaking into vending machines and spending $100,000 on lunch dates with Oscar Isaac), until she realizes, like Phil Connors before her, that this time loop is all about love. In other words, Mindy needs to win back Nurse Ben (Bryan Greenberg). It is the perfect rom-com for The Mindy Project to parody, because, let’s face it, Mindy Lahiri is pretty much Phil Connors. Ultimately, she has to overcome her selfishness and win over Ben by actually listening to him and considering his feelings for once. That X-Men Storm costume doesn’t hurt, either.
There are so many memorable moments in the John Cusack ’80s classic about lovesick Lloyd Dobler: “I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.” Lloyd’s epic speech about not wanting to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. And every Say Anything fan thinks about the movie while waiting for the “fasten seat belt” sign to turn off during a flight. But, of course, the biggest moment is Lloyd’s grand gesture: He shows up outside Diane Court’s window, and holds up a boom box blasting “In Your Eyes.” The Mindy Project, a show obsessed with grand gestures, does a twist on this scene twice. In season one’s “Harry & Sally,” Danny tries to win back oceanographer Jillian (Allison Williams) by showing up at her work with a stereo (which he has Morgan hold), but he winds up blasting Korn instead of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” This does not work as well as Lloyd’s romantic serenade. But even when a Mindy character gets “In Your Eyes” correct, the rest of the gesture goes horribly wrong. See Cliff’s attempt to make amends with Mindy in season two’s “French Me, You Idiot.” He uses “In Your Eyes,” but it’s played by a live mariachi band at 6 a.m. in her apartment hallway because, come on, that’s hilarious.
13 Going on 30/Sliding Doors
We’re combining these two films because that is exactly what happens in season four’s premiere “While I Was Sleeping.” (Hey, that’s another rom-com!) In 13 Going on 30, teenage Jenna wishes she was a cool 30-year-old and wakes up as Jennifer Garner with her dream life, only she comes to realize her dream life isn’t so dreamy after all. (But she does get an entire room of snobby fashionistas to do the Thriller dance, and if that isn’t a true accomplishment, I don’t know what is.) In Sliding Doors, we watch Gwyneth Paltrow live out two parallel lives, one in which she catches a train, dumps her cheating boyfriend, meets her soul mate, and after a big kiss in the rain, gets hit by a van and dies. In her other life, she misses that train, is stuck with the cheating boyfriend, and falls down a flight of stairs, but eventually runs into that soul mate at the end. So yeah, not exactly a comedy.
In the Mindy version, Mindy is upset that Danny will never propose, goes to bed wishing she had fallen for someone else, and when she wakes up, she’s married to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Matt, a very handsome Real Housewives producer. As it turns out, they got together on that fated Danny and Mindy makeout flight, only this time Danny never ran to the back of the plane to tell Mindy how he felt. She instead winds up meeting Matt, who comes out of the bathroom and mistakes her for a small Native American man. Though things seems ideal at first (also, Kaling and JGL’s chemistry is off the charts), Mindy realizes Danny is the one she loves, and she professes her love to him in the rain, and then gets hit by a bus. Mindy wakes up back in the universe we know and love. Danny finally proposes, and Mindy is not a 13-year-old who has an addiction to Razzles.
You’ve Got Mail
Season two’s finale, “Danny and Mindy,” has lovely references to Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, but it is overwhelmingly and wonderfully a tribute to You’ve Got Mail. Since Danny has screwed things up with Mindy, he needs to find a way to win her back. He does this by pretending to be a hot dude who had a moment with Mindy on the subway — connecting with her over email, of course. Meanwhile, he’s also trying his best to be her friend again. You know, not unlike Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) trying to win over Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), the independent bookstore owner he’s put out of business, who also happens to be the woman he met online and fell madly in love with, the Shopgirl to his NY152. There are lots of scenes of Mindy and Danny writing to one another, he comes over and sits on her bed when she’s sick, they walk all over New York City together: all shots that could be taken directly out of Ephron’s original film. Danny’s plan doesn’t go as smoothly as Joe Fox’s, but let’s be real: No one does it like Tom Hanks.