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Act Like a Lady? 7 Romantic Comedies Stuck in the 1950s

Why are rom-coms so regressive?

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3. My Super Ex-Girlfriend

Imagine you could date an actual superheroine, who saved babies with her superhuman strength? That would be awesome, right? OH, OF COURSE NOT, because in this gross revision of a superhero film, Uma Thurman’s “G-Girl” becomes immediately possessive, jealous and vindictive of her mortal boyfriend, and takes the concept of revenge to superhero-scary levels. She throws a live great white shark into his apartment! It’s the crazy ex archetype blown up into a misogynist nightmare, and its legitimately funny parts are depressingly overshadowed by the curdled concept. The end does have a redemptive element, but so does every poorly conceived romantic comedy, and I’m not buying it.

4. Why Did I Get Married?

One of Tyler Perry’s first forays into seriousness outside of his Medea success, I wanted to like this based on the cast: Janet Jackson and Jill Scott!, for two, and Malik Yoba. The premise was realistic enough—a group of black professionals having conversations about the difficulties of their relationships and marriages—but Perry has a problem with stereotyping women, and essentially the script (which he wrote) blames each of the “shrewy” and conniving women entirely for the misery of their male partners, in a way that is difficult to watch. The sequel came three years later, but doesn’t make it better.

5. Shallow Hal

THE WORST: Jack Black’s character Hal Larson falls for Rosemary Shanahan after being hypnotized into seeing only her inner beauty, so instead of an obese and homely woman, he gets Gwyneth Paltrow. Her loveliness transforms him into a reasonable and unshallow person, so when he realizes he loves her—fat Paltrow, not svelte Paltrow—we are expected to believe he is a reformed and newly wonderful dude. We do not.

6. Maid in Manhattan

Interracial romantic comedies are super-rare, and even rarer when they don’t make hay of their interacialness (shout out to Something New and Jungle Fever, though). Jennifer Lopez, being one of the only women of color who’s a staple of the white romantic comedy, is somewhat refreshing even when the romantic comedy is the worst thing ever. Here’s an exception: Maid in Manhattan casts Lopez as a stereotypical Latina maid in a rich Manhattan hotel, where she will be rescued off her feet by Ralph Fiennes’ high-profile politician. It had shades of Pretty Woman when it dropped—and all the gendered classist implications that go along with it—but now it’s got double the ookiness thanks to the specter of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. And yet: she poses as a rich woman (sin of sins) and allows the politician to believe she is someone she's not, offending not just gender but bumming out my class sensibilities. Hollywood needs to call Tropebusters.

7. The Proposal

Here’s another stereotype that all powerful women are manipulative assholes: Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Reynolds’ insufferable boss, who essentially blackmails him into marrying her for a visa by promising she’ll publish his book later. Of course she has no intention of doing so, and hilarity ensues, at the expense of a rare portrayal of a high-powered woman in Hollywood as a complete jerk. Gender roles are reinforced. Their work here is done.


Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.