This week, four of our writers are participating in an extremely serious debate regarding which season is the best setting for a romantic comedy. Is it winter, when Nancy Meyers bundles all of her characters in adorable sweaters? Is it spring, when both the ice and Tom Hanks’s cold corporate heart start melting? Is it summer, when everyone is confused about whether to marry Julia Roberts or Cameron Diaz? Or is it fall, when Taylor Swift, who thinks she is in a rom-com, drinks maple lattes? Read on for Nate Jones’s defense of fall.
There are times I envy my co-workers at Vulture, especially when they are doing great interviews or writing funny posts. But today I do not envy them, because today is the day they have to make the case that any season but autumn is the best rom-com season. This is a task at which they are all destined to fail.
Let’s try a thought experiment. I’m going to give you four phrases, and you’re going to imagine a series of images based on those phrases. I’ll tell you mine.
“Winter in New York.” 4:30 p.m. sunsets. Dead-eyed office workers who get 15 minutes of sun a day. A C train jam-packed with red-nosed commuters in down jackets.
“Spring in New York.” Rose blossoms. Allegra. That first warm day. Claritin. Moving the clock one blessed hour forward. Zyrtec.
“Summer in New York.” Sweat. Rivers of sweat. Waterfalls of sweat. Ecosystems of sweat.
“Autumn in New York.” Foliage in Central Park. Maple lattes. Little kids trick-or-treating at 4 p.m. Richard Gere and Winona Ryder engaged in an admittedly unrealistic, yet solidly tasteful, May–November romance.
Okay, so I may have stacked the deck by forcing the other seasons to compete with a glossy romantic drama with a 53 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. But I think the results of my experiment stand on their own: Without question, fall is the most romantic season.
Think about it. The humidity is gone, so everyone’s hair looks good, and there’s not a whole lot of pollen, so our noses are in tip-top shape. Unlike summer, where body-con is the order of the day, fall’s brisk temperatures let you get a nice layering situation going, without having to completely shroud your body from the elements. And while other seasons slowly come in, stay around for a bit, then peter out, fall is marked by a series of rituals: You kick it off with Labor Day, get crazy on Halloween, and celebrate the bounteous harvest at Thanksgiving, which leads us into winter on an emotional climax. There’s a progression to fall that can’t help but add a sense of forward momentum to the season — perfect for any sort of romantic story.
That’s all admittedly anecdotal. Do you want data? I’ve got data. Back when I was single, 46 percent of my first dates in the fall resulted in a second date, compared to 31 percent in the winter, 26 percent in the spring, and 19 percent in the summer. Now, it is possible that this is all small sample-size noise. But it’s also possible that the sheer perfection of autumn aesthetics was able to briefly mask my flaws, as it has for many rom-com characters throughout the decades.
Take this scene from When Harry Met Sally, the best romantic comedy of the past 30 years. Meg Ryan’s pulling off that fantastic hat, and the jacket-sweater combo is working for Billy Crystal, too. They’re both wearing muted colors — appropriate for the serious conversation they’re having — but behind them, the trees of Central Park are positively bursting with emotion.
A decade later, the season once again heralded a new romance for Ryan, as the opening of You’ve Got Mail saw her fall for her internet pen pal amid the changing colors of the Upper West Side, with a musical accompaniment by that most autumnal of bands, the Cranberries. “Don’t you love New York in the fall?” Tom Hanks asks in voice-over. “It makes me want to buy school supplies.”
Are you sick of New York movies yet? That’s okay, lots of places have a fall. Even Texas, where Wes Anderson’s Rushmore was filmed. If you were a nerd (and if you’re reading this site, you probably were), do you remember how exciting the start of each new school year was? How the hallways and libraries seemed to gleam with potential — the start of new adventures, new friendships, new … romances? Rushmore’s opening act pulls off a similar trick, and it’s so enthralling you don’t quite mind that you’re being asked to root for a 15-year-old boy’s pursuit of an adult woman.
You know where else has a nice fall? Rhode Island, which provided a seasonal backdrop to 2007’s Dan in Real Life. The vibe here is autumnal domesticity — cozy sweatshirts and yoga pants — which only makes things more awkward when the titular Dan (Steve Carell) realizes he’s fallen in love with his brother’s new girlfriend (Juliette Binoche). Suddenly all those comforting fall rituals are infused with a strange new anxiety — even the family dance to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”!
Non-Philadelphians, don’t read this part. Philadelphians, hello. The fall of 2008 was a wonderful one, wasn’t it? Not only did the Phillies win the World Series, and Barack Obama get elected president, but the Eagles also turned in one of the last good seasons of the Andy Reid era, as Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and rookie sensation DeSean Jackson carried the team to 9-6-1 record. (This was the “McNabb didn’t know you could tie” season.) Thankfully, there’s an Oscar-winning romantic comedy that functions as a hyperspecific tribute to those wild few weeks: Jennifer Lawrence’s big scene in Silver Linings Playbook is literally her just reciting the scores of Eagles games that took place at the same time as the events in the film. I’m sure at least one famous Academy voter was swayed.
And if you still doubt that fall is the true season of romance, consider how well the lessons of cinema’s best rom-coms were picked up by today’s best rom-com heroine, Taylor Swift. When it came time for Swift to unveil her budding relationship with Harry Styles to the public, she chose an unseasonably warm early December day to take a stroll in Central Park, where the fall aesthetics were working overtime. That scarf! That undershirt! Those leaves!
I’m just saying: Game recognize game, all too well.