The Romantic Comedy is what dreams* are made of. It seems like those dreams have filtered out of the public consciousness in recent years. We’ve seen an uptick in Marvel movies, more documentaries than ever before, and the proliferation of the limited series, but the place for romance has been conspicuously missing. In fact, when I tried to make a list of my top RomComs of all time based on The Ringer’s list, I hadn’t even watched most of them because they were made when I was too young to watch non-animated movies.
*the dreams of my childhood as someone who (thought I) fit into the cis, straight, allo, primarily white box that the romcoms of the early 2000s almost unfailingly remained inside.
That is why, upon seeing previews for Ticket To Paradise (2022) on my TikTok feed, I quite literally put the release date on my calendar. I could hardly believe that a movie filled with witty banter and palpable romantic tension in the trailer alone, was going to be on the big screen this year. That very same weekend, I was sitting in seat 13 G next to a friend, because like Harry Styles said (in an unrelated but nonetheless iconic quote), “You know, my favorite thing about the movie is, like, it feels like a movie…It feels like a real, like, you know, ‘go to the theater’ film movie.” The movie made me laugh out loud, my friend cried, and we both left feeling deeply joyful. So what took so long for a romcom to come back to the theater?
As the movie industry has grown and progressed, we’ve fallen victim to two types of movies: big budget blockbuster films and Oscar bait. Just looking at the box office is evidence enough for that—Black Adam and Smile (the former type), Tár and My Policeman (the latter). It seems that mid-budget movies only have a place in straight-to-TV cinema.
If you wanted to watch a romcom any time in the last five years, you were forced to watch a Netflix original (or a similar quality movie on another platform). There’s no doubt that due to the sheer number of movies Netflix produces, the majority are nowhere near the same budget, quality of writing, and star power as theatrical releases. There are notable exceptions, especially in the high school coming of age genre—such as The Half of It, The Duff, and To All the Boys I Loved Before—but for the most part, we haven’t seen an adult-focused romcom with classic romantic comedy energy in years. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is the most recent romcom with a widespread cinema release, but since then, I (and other romcom fans, I’m certain) would argue that most of the released romantic comedies are not “good” movies.
In order to truly bring back the romcom, there needed to be a trifecta of perfect conditions: actors with widespread appeal, a cinema release, and a marketing scheme that caters to the whims of social media. That’s exactly what happened with Ticket to Paradise. Julia Roberts and George Clooney are iconic romantic comedy actors who are movie stars in the broadest sense, appealing to audiences both young and old. Most likely as a result of their star power, the movie made it to the cinema as opposed to a streaming service release. The movie had people tweeting about it, making TikToks about it, and generally hyping it up. I fully believe Julia Roberts is one of the last great movie stars—her ability to act is equal to her attractiveness, rather than relying on looks as a crutch. It took both her and Clooney to bring back the romcom to the theater, and now I can only hope that it remains there.
Ticket to Paradise was a cheesy, relatively predictable story that was enhanced by the parallel yet opposite storylines of divorced couple Georgia (Roberts) and David (Clooney), and Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) and Gede (Maxime Bouttier). It positioned Dever and Bouttier as the future of romantic comedy, and they executed flawlessly. They had chemistry, appeal in the genre, and the attractiveness that plays a role (pun intended) in driving people to the theater.
With all of that, this movie still could have flopped. Had there been no demand for romantic comedies on the big screen, we would be having a very different conversation right now. Instead, Ticket to Paradise has already made over $100 million in the box office, with an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. It filled seats not just because it checked each of the above boxes, but because in 2022, people are craving stories that make them feel good. As the world fractures into increasingly polarized segments and our human rights are taken away, comfort media are necessary.
What Ticket to Paradise did flawlessly is empower the women in the movie as much as it empowered the men. This is a modern change from the traditional romcom, where a woman who cared about her career and education was a frigid antagonist, and the “correct choice” for the man was a woman with significantly less power and ambition. Both of the main women characters in this movie were inspiring in their own right, completely separate from the men they were pursuing. Lily had just graduated college and was set up to become a high-powered lawyer. Her mother, Georgia, worked in the art world and opened the movie bidding an obscene amount on a painting. These women don’t need men, but romance is in the stars—this is a deep comfort in an otherwise difficult time.
All that said, this is my plea to bring back the romantic comedy as a regular feature. Bring us a (less problematic) Pretty Woman. Create a masterpiece such as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Blow our minds with a modern Friends With Benefits. Twitter will rally behind it. I will single handedly drag people to the theater if that’s what it takes! We want romantic comedy masterpieces in theaters, and I hope that Ticket to Paradise paves the way for their return.