The darker side of our beloved comfort movies

Most people that have watched Clueless remember the pivotal moment when the dashing Josh and Beverly Hills princess Cher share their first kiss and “I care about yous” on the steps. Romantic, right? 

But what most people forget is that only an hour before, he was calling her shallow, uncaring, and, yes, clueless. So what made Josh change his mind? Well, let’s look back at another iconic scene from the movie. As she is about to leave for her date with Christian, Josh sees Cher in the famous “It’s just a dress, daddy” dress. Seeing Cher in that tight garment seemed to inspire a revelation in Josh and from that point on, there was an obvious shift from feelings of superiority towards Cher to romantic ones. This type of plot is not just unique to this movie. If it’s not a dress in Clueless, then it’s glasses in She’s All That, or a coverup in Just Go With It. So are these movies teaching girls that showing skin or taking off those glasses is what will make them the romantic interest? Yeah, it looks like it.

Now, I completely understand the attraction of romantic comedies. They’re an escape from our realities into a world where we can be a Julia Roberts and our Hugh Grants like us back. But there are some serious problems in how these movies portray relationships and women. One of these issues is the power dynamic portrayed in heterosexual couples in which the men are always more powerful and feel a certain supremacy over their romantic interests, like Josh did.

For example in Pretty Woman, Vivian, the main character, is looked down upon since she is a sex worker. Her executive love interest, Edward, decides to put aside her “flaws” (aka her profession) and take a chance on her. The audience is constantly reminded of the power difference between the two characters throughout the movie by the advantages Edward has over Vivian such as money and respect. But, hey, romantic comedies love extremes. So if you’re not the helpless, vulnerable female character, then I will bet money you are the one dimensional “ice queen” like Margaret in The Proposal or Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You. And of course, who is the only one we can depend on to melt the ice? A man. We can only hope that as a society who has invented self-driving cars, that we could create an entertaining romantic comedy in which both romantic main characters stand on equal footing. 

I’m not saying to stop watching romantic comedies – but maybe these movies that we watch religiously should be analyzed more because of the underminded impact they can unconsciously have on viewers. Media and representation have a long way to go and understanding some of the flaws in what we watch is a step forward. Instead of jumping to “How romantic!”, stop and think about the reality of the relationship portrayed and who has the power.