The Romance of a Thousand Couples: The Romcom Journey

My only means of qualification is that I am really, really, really sick and tired of the Generic Romcom Formula.

The Romance of a Thousand Couples: The Romcom Journey

Let's get my credentials established. I am not a movie critic. I have not done film studies at all. I have no background in any of this at all. My only means of qualification is that I am really, really, really sick and tired of the Generic Romcom Formula. I'm a writer and -yes- I have used some romance tropes in fanfic, but gosh darnit, you'd think the pros would switch things up more than a little.

All Romcoms have a three act structure, and pretty much all of them have the same plot. There's some differences in gender presentation depending on who the writers have chosen as their Pursuer, but it's usually all clag from the same pot. So let's get right on down to it with the characters.

The Pursuer: The main character. The person we are supposed to sympathise with, empathise with, and/or laugh at. Generally something of a low-grade self-centred buttmunch in Act One, but has learned to be a better person through the Power of Love(tm) by the end of the film.

The Prey: There's no way around it. If you cut a typical Romcom from the point of view of the love interest, it would read more like a horror movie than anything light-hearted, fluffy, or even slightly romantic. Begins the movie oblivious to the Pursuer's existence in Act One and has fallen deeply by the end of the film, regardless of any number of red flags waving in the air.

The Quirk: The movie's agent of chaos and simultaneous voice of reason(ish) who gets away with everything short of murder in the movie because they're the hilarious weird BFF. You can have multiple Quirks in a romcom.

The Obstacle: Can be a person, and is generally male if so. Usually the girl's father or closest father figure. Can also be the bossman and is rarely the Pursuer's father. Always portrayed as having a hair up his butt about something that's gradually seen as less important as the film progresses. If the Obstacle is a thing, it must be defeated, worked around, or otherwise accepted as unimportant by the end of the film.

The Wise: The older, slightly parental, softer nurturing figure in the movie. There to give permission to the Prey to let the Pursuer catch them. Also there to get the Pursuer to wake the heck up to what a buttmunch they've been and thereby prompt the Pursuer to change their ways. If the Wise appears to both romantic leads, they are rarely the same person. May include elements of Magical Minority.

Starting to sound like this might be a thing? Let's move on to the plot.

We start, of course, in Act One, establishing the world. The Pursuer is generally the first character we meet, with the trials and tribulations of the Prey ignored until the Prey becomes relevant to the romance(tm). The Pursuer always has their shit together, they're headed towards big things, and they're going to make someone (or themselves) proud by acquiring some physical reward. Everything is coming up roses for the Pursuer.

The Quirk, the Obstacle, or circumstances beyond the Pursuer's control change things for the Pursuer. Sometimes, it's the Wise with some form of Minority Magic that upsets the metaphorical apple cart, but whatever it is, the Pursuer is pointed directly at the Prey.

Cue the Stalker Moment where the camera takes the Pursuer's point of view and we see the Prey being a perfect being for maybe a maximum of five minutes. This is how we know the Pursuer has fallen in love. Sometimes, the exact relationship between Pursuer and Prey is initially antagonistic because of the Obstacle, but regardless of what's happening, the Pursuer can't possibly be honest about themselves with the Prey.

This, for those of you studying at home, is Red Flag #1. If you can't be honest with your love, maybe it's not actually love? If a love interest isn't honest with you, maybe they're not that good for you in the first place?

In the real world, it's red flag city, but in a Romcom, it's the cue for Whacky Hijinks as the Pursuer attempts to lead a double life satisfying their own selfish needs and gradually seeing the Prey as a person.

Real-world Red Flag #2 right there, folks. If the one you're with treats you like any other of their prized possessions - run.

Of course, in Romcom land, the Prey isn't merely viewed as a person. They become a person worth knowing. They become interesting. They develop as a character. Optionally, the Pursuer's Quirk acts as wingman/assistant in the cover-ups, and the Prey's Quirk tries to warn about how the Pursuer is a buttmunch. Heavy denial is necessary for the Prey to avoid any warnings. Just like in real life.

Of course, the delicate balance can't be maintained. The Prey discovers the ploy, and is understandably outraged about the deception. This is usually the result of an accidental reveal or (very rarely) the Prey putting things together and the Pursuer being unable to obfuscate any longer. Extremely rarely, the Pursuer decides to fess up and just takes the outrage like the heel they are, fully realising they've hit rock bottom.

This is the You Used Me moment for the inevitable breakup/sad patch at the cusp between Act Two and Act Three. There's a montage with sad music outlining how sad both sides are, and how empty their lives are without the alleged love of their life no longer in it.

The Wise turns up somewhere during this part to highlight exactly how the Pursuer fucked up to the Pursuer, or how much in love the Prey is to the Prey. The Prey dawdles about making up with the Pursuer in what might possibly be the only sensible decision they make in the entire film.

That doesn't last, either, because the Pursuer has a Eureka Moment and proceeds to enact a Grand Gesture, often public, that tugs at everyone's heartstrings, and is tailored to the Prey's loves/wants/needs. This comes with a sincere apology and -believe it or not- this is Red Flag #3.

In the real world, gestures like this from someone who has used you for their benefit is one of the stages in the cycle of abuse. The abuser will do literally anything to gain the forgiveness of their prey and seem like such a nice person, right up until the honeymoon phase is over and the abuse starts all over again with the building tension.

However, in Romcom land, this shows that the Pursuer has Transformed into an actual good person and that leads to the Of Course I Forgive You Moment where all is set right once more.

Then they kiss.

Cue optional credits moment where everyone is friends and success comes to all in a truly happy ending for all our protagonists... with an option for pie in the face of any antagonists in the movie. Life is better once everyone is paired up and all is right with the world.

If there's a Romcom that does not fit this extremely generic pattern, then I have not seen it. Thanks to my Beloved, I have seen a LOT of Romcoms. Far, far too many in my point of view.

Isn't it time for on-screen romance to change?