Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite genre of cinema is the romcom. I could feign favour for more critically-acclaimed movies like The Godfather trilogy or an iconic Jordan Peele horror – which are still some of my most-watched – but nothing quite draws me in like a will-they-won’t-they, focused on a pair that are destined for each other… probably.
The alchemy of curly-haired heroines, twinkling city skylines flecked with New York City skyscrapers, softly-spoken heartthrobs and memorable witticisms – all set within a 90s framework – have soothed me and helped me find warmth during a year of isolation.
Having the privilege to work from home and catch up with friends on Zoom has made this third lockdown easier. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t sorely missed the butterflies-in-the-stomach excitement I get from having Deep and Meaningful Chats with uni friends in the early hours of the morning, sitting on the grass with my mates in the local park, or momentarily brushing against a cute guy on the tube.
In order to try and conjure up the feeling of closeness I get when I’m surrounded by my friends, I decided to rewatch a few of my most-loved romcoms.
I started with You’ve Got Mail (1998), an effervescent 90s flick that sees Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan reunite for their second Nora Ephron feature. It follows Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) and Joe Fox (Hanks) as they develop an emotionally intimate yet anonymous relationship online, only to find out that in real life they are business foes. Ryan’s character experiences bouts of financial and emotional loss, as many of us have recently, but she still manages to find the silver lining in every trial that comes her way. Her contagious optimism is a personality trait I’ve actively romanticised in the hope that I’ll develop it too.
“Like George does Julianne, my friends have comforted me through every high and low I’ve experienced this year. Every time I rant to them over Zoom, or send them melodramatic voice notes on WhatsApp, I’ve relied on their emotional generosity as a form of support.”
Next on my list was My Best Friend’s Wedding, starring none other than romcom supreme, Julia Roberts. You could argue that director P.J. Hogan’s 1997 film isn’t a traditional fit for the genre, because in the end the girl doesn’t get the guy. Instead our fiery heroine Julianne is left heartbroken, but she finds hope and solace in the form of her faithful best friend George (Rupert Everett). Like George does Julianne, my friends have comforted me through every high and low I’ve experienced this year. Every time I rant to them over Zoom, or send them melodramatic voice notes on WhatsApp, I’ve relied on their emotional generosity as a form of support. By centering their story, Hogan celebrates the infallibility of platonic friendships in a way that most romcoms rarely do.
The last film on my list was Ephron’s 1993 classic Sleepless in Seattle. I was inevitably bewitched by the subtle yet incredibly magnetic chemistry between Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) and Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks). The two actors only share the screen three times over the course of the movie because their characters are always missing each other by chance. As a viewer I was hooked until the end, sustaining myself on the heady optimism of any good romcom.
In the Guardian, Luke Walpole writes that “Bad romcoms overly focus on the performative acts of love as opposed to the muted”. He’s not wrong. Despite their differences, what ties all of my favourite 90s flicks together is that instead of sustaining each romance on extraordinary declarations of love, the writers celebrate how the most ordinary of acts can become extraordinary when you experience them in love.
“The lack of interaction and physical touch I’ve shared with people has meant that I’ve had to rely on myself to recreate that same warmth.”
After watching films like You’ve Got Mail, My Best Friend’s Wedding and Sleepless in Seattle, I’ve been romanticising fairly mundane rituals, which I’ve used to mark my week in place of meeting up with friends, going to the cinema or going out to eat.
Unlike Julianne Potter, Annie Reed and Kathleen Kelly, I haven’t been able to prop myself up against a 90s brat pack/Timothee Chalamét-lookalike. Instead, I’m learning how to recreate the fluttery and exciting nature of romance on my own.
As we enter 2021, just like Sam and Annie, I’ve been wondering when I’ll next have the chance to embrace my loved ones. The lack of interaction and physical touch I’ve shared with people has meant that I’ve had to rely on myself to recreate that same warmth, finding pleasure in dancing in my bedroom to Maggie Rogers, creating the perfect Yorkshire Tea brew, pulling the first turtleneck jumper of the season over my face, or letting the sun kiss my face in the fresh, cold air.
Transient moments of joy rarely seem to generate the same enchanting effect as a classic romcom, but they don’t feel too far off. Every one of these actions has given me a similar rush of endorphins I feel when I’m with the people I love – even though I’ve experienced them alone.
Sana is a journalist and pop culture fiend. Her first love is literature because she believes it can be an artistic form where stories from the fringes of society can be brought to the fore. @sananoorhaq
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