‘Anyone But You’ Showcases the Worst Thing About Modern Rom-Coms

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Welcome to modern rom-com week at The Daily Beast’s Obsessed! In honor of two big romance releases this week—The Fall Guy and The Idea of You—we’re celebrating everything we love about the last 15 years of romantic comedies.

Remember when rom-coms actually looked good? When I think about all of the classic rom-coms that gave teenaged-me unrealistic expectations for my future love life, it’s the atmosphere that most often comes rushing back—the warm autumnal hues of When Harry Met Sally, the sun-kissed Californian glow of Clueless, and the soft, cloudy drowsiness of While You Were Sleeping.

These movies understood that the core of any great romance is its mood—the underlying emotional narrative, which imbues each encounter with its own temperature, taste, and smell. Why is it that now, whenever I watch a rom-com, it feels like I’m sitting through an extremely long and involved infomercial for allergy medication? The vibes are nowhere to be found!

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old woman yelling at a cloud, I cannot think of a single rom-com from the last decade that makes me want to stand under a window holding a boombox. More than anything, I blame the fact that almost every post-2010 rom-com seems like it was shot with about a thousand ring lights.

A photo still of Ali Wong and Keanu Reeves in 'Always Be My Maybe'

Always Be My Maybe

Doane Gregory / Netflix

Clueless heroine Cher Horowitz understood what I’m talking about; when rejected by her crush, Christian, she wondered to herself, “Did I stumble into some bad lighting?” Sadly for the rom-com protagonists of today, there seems to be no alternative. Netflix’s genre entries tend to be the most guilty of this—Set It Up, Always Be My Maybe, and The Holidate could all use a visual spruce-up—but really, the problem extends much further. Ticket to Paradise takes place in gorgeous Bali, but most of it is overlit enough to be a dentistry flier. For much of its runtime, This Means War adopts the same sterile lighting found in the product-testing lab where Reese Witherspoon’s character works. And as enchanting as that helicopter-lift “Unwritten” scene in Anyone But You might’ve been, the rest of the movie was, aesthetically at least, completely forgettable.

Romantic Comedies Just Aren’t Funny Anymore

As with any rule, there are some notable exceptions. As shockingly un-romantic as Rebel Wilson’s 2019 outing Isn’t It Romantic? turned out to be, its lighting actually was pretty alluring—from the warm, peachy hues used in bedroom scenes to the lovely purples in its memorable dance sequence. As with any Jennifer Lopez property, Marry Me knew how to find its ideal lighting. (Would we expect anything less from the Glow by JLO empress herself?)

And to be clear, I’m not saying that all of our modern rom-coms suck. Plenty of them are fun, and some even rise to the level of delightful. But are they romantic? If you ask me (and no one has, but nevertheless, I persist) most newer entries to the genre feel like a rote paint-by-numbers game.Their visuals are antiseptic, and their use of classic rom-com tropes feels defensively self-aware. With some notable exceptions, like the carefully composed Crazy Rich Asians and the startlingly committed Crazy, Stupid, Love, their hearts just aren’t in it.

A photo still from 'Set It Up'

Set It Up


One could argue that none of this really matters—that a sufficiently adorable meet-cute, a tight script, and a couple actors with believable chemistry can overcome even the most uninspired visuals. My editor might or might not have called this pet peeve of mine “neurotic.” (It’s okay, I still love you.) To all of that I say, respectfully, you’re all wrong. We deserve rom-coms that actually feel romantic and don’t look like they were shot in the crying room of your nearest office building. To accept anything less would be a disservice to us all, and to the concept of love itself.

Harry Styles Gets His Own ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ in ‘The Idea of You’

I’ll admit that sometimes, I wonder if it’s actually the high-definition cameras that are burning my retinas. If I believe anything to my core, it’s that love was not meant to be captured in full resolution. Time and time again, however, my mind returns to how much more engrossing these films would be if their lighting actually felt alive.

Other days, I suspect that I’m simply a vampire who hates daytime scenes. But then, I watch Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meandering through an outdoor market in Manhattan in You’ve Got Mail. As I bask in the soft sunbeams hitting their faces, the natural warmth that makes their eyes squint, I know that daylight is not the problem. Say what you will about the toxic relationship dynamics that underpinned that movie, but Nora Ephron knew how to light a love story. If we really want to restore the rom-com to its former glory, we need to bring that energy back.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.