When you hear the words romantic comedy, do you smile or groan? As a millennial woman, growing up in the ‘90s exposed me to many romantic comedies. Unfortunately, the genre has fallen by the wayside in recent times. There’s been a resurgence from Netflix, most recently with Always Be My Maybe. Unfortunately, there is still a negative stigma regarding these films in regard to the box office.
In the early days of Hollywood, the Academy nominated some romantic comedies for Best Picture. To date, two have won: It Happened One Night and Annie Hall. While the roles of women in these older rom coms might leave a lot to be desired, they tended to be more respected with some of the finest filmmakers and actors involved.
Still, nothing beats the heyday of the ‘90s and early ‘00s rush of romantic comedies! That’s why I jumped at the chance to attend Rom Com Fest in Los Angeles, created by Miraya Berke, the founder of Dessert Goals. The festival was a way to revisit films we loved as preteens while also introducing new ones in the genre. I was lucky to go on Saturday and wish this would become an annual event.
I attended the first screening on Saturday, a short film called Girl Friend, written, directed, and starring Laura Holliday. It was about a couple, Ella (Holliday) and Ben (Ali Ghandour), who are trying to define their relationship. It was pretty funny and very realistic.
After Girl Friend, they played Two in the Bush: A Love Story. This was a different kind of romantic comedy. It focuses on Emily (Sarah Mitchell), a woman whose girlfriend has left her for her male best friend. Then, she loses her crappy job as the assistant to a documentary filmmaker. While crashing on a friend’s couch, she takes a job working as an assistant for Nikki (Caitlin Aase), a dominatrix. This film explored bisexuality, polyamory, and the stigma of sex work in society. I’m very glad that Rom Com Fest gave this film attention because to be honest, I don’t know I ever would have seen it otherwise. It tackles some important issues but never felt like it was preaching. It was all about keeping an open mind.
The highlight of the day was the screening of Never Been Kissed. It has always been one of my favorite movies and this one was curated by Rachel Bloom. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, it’s about a young copy editor, Josie Gellar (Drew Barrymore), who goes back to high school on an assignment. An unpopular nerd the first time around, she is able to finally achieve popularity but at what cost. As a nerdy kid with social anxiety, this film spoke to me on multiple levels. And the kiss at the end still leaves me swooning as well as the incredible soundtrack. However, as we all learned rather quickly, the movie can be awkward to watch in a post-#MeToo society. This is due to the fact that her love interest is one of her teachers who believes she is seventeen.
As my final event of the day, I attended a table read of a script that won their screenwriting contest, Whipped by Morgan Thompson and Luca Servodio. This included a full cast on stage, including Alexandra Chando, who I loved in The Lying Game many years ago. The script had many different elements, including BDSM and an adorable gay couple. They flipped expectations so that the male lead was actually the one who could lose it all by the end which was appreciated. Sadly, some of the characters fell into certain tropes that were ultimately disappointing. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more polished version on screen one day!
The Treats, Crafts, and Music
Since Berke also runs Dessert Goals, a dessert festival in New York and Los Angeles, there were so many delicious treats to choose from! Yes, they served the standards of popcorn and movie theatre candy but they also offered some truly mind-blowing snacks. They had different flavored marshmallows from Squish Marshmallows and peanut butter cups by Jessie’s Nutty Cups. Amborella Organics brought lollipops with seeds that you can plant after eating. I purchased one of Stuffed Cookies’ delicious Oreo Bday Cake Cookie with cookie butter stuffing and tons of sprinkles. They also sold Cake Bams’ decorated rice cakes, Lady M chocolate eclairs, Two Chicks in a Mix red velvet brownies, and finally My Mo mochi ice cream. For drinks, they served rosé, beer, and cold brew. What a dream.
After Never Been Kissed, they had a table set up to make a heart-shaped clay lapel pin with Makers Mess. I watched some girls make them and it looked really cool. I’m sad I couldn’t fit it in. I also want to chat about the music that was playing in the space and between movies. It was a perfect mix of all your favorite songs from romantic comedies. They also included “Bye Bye Bye” and “S Club Party”, which was delightful.
Laura Holliday joined Berke after the screening of Girl Friend for a conversation. She mentioned that her favorite romantic comedy is (500) Days of Summer. Her inspiration for Girl Friend was non-monogamous relationships and the need for labels and ideals in that situation. She praised her crew and preferred acting because of the creative control. After being asked for advice to future screenwriters, she said to “take time to listen to yourself and don’t feel pressure to do something that doesn’t feel right,”. Her chat was inspiring, and I hope to see more of her work soon.
Rachel Bloom showed up to talk with Berke about the state of romantic comedies, Never Been Kissed, and her recently-wrapped show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She started by stating that she “forgot the movie was about f*cking your teacher” to a lot of laughs. Also, she commended one of the actresses in the film, Marley Shelton, for stopping James Franco’s character from assaulting her. The reason this movie resonated with her was because she was also very unpopular in middle school. The popular kids even pranked her in a similar manner that they did to Josie. This led her to wonder whether kids are influenced by movies with mean popular kids as teen movies are watched more by middle schoolers. Middle school is technically the worst.
Though things turned out okay for Bloom as after the prank, people turned on the popular kids and she became popular. She wound up making homecoming court! She also noted that the reason she and Josie were so unpopular was that they so desperately wanted to be popular. That’s what makes Leelee Sobieski’s character, Aldys, “a badass” in the movie because she didn’t care about popularity.
In regard to the slightly inappropriate relationship between Josie and Mr. Coulson (Michael Vartan), she admitted to being involved with the music director of her high school musicals. He was only eighteen but she was aware of the difference in the power dynamic and how it’s not okay. She does say that Mr. Coulson never does anything outright “harassy” but does stare at her longingly and possibly reveals too much about his own relationships outside of school.
The film has a scene where it discusses how penguins mate for life and how important it is to find that one person. Bloom rejects that notion, calling it undated and damaging for people, especially young girls to believe. She prefers ambiguity in romantic comedies as putting love on a pedestal makes a less interesting narrative. She recognizes that the movie isn’t perfect, but Never Been Kissed still resonates because it plays to her emotions and reminds her of when she was a loser. Another thing she mentioned was that for a long time, women could only see themselves on screen in these romantic comedies as they were made “for women”.
During the audience Q&A, Bloom decided to call on the attendees as Mr. Coulson, staring creepily and calling everyone Josie. An attendee asked what other romantic comedies she enjoys, and she revealed that the end of The Break-Up opened a world of possibilities by leaving the door open. Someone mentioned La La Land ends similarly and she agreed but said the set up was weird and Ryan Gosling could have gone to Paris with Emma Stone. She also declared Forget Paris as one of her favorites.
When asked about newer romantic comedies, such as Always Be My Maybe, she praised the writers for structurally taking a romantic comedy and turning it into its own thing. Another good question was about whether we should be showing young girls the romantic comedies from our youth as the newer ones have a better grasp of society and women. She replied that it’s all about the context. Discussions are necessary for certain older films because of how much the world has changed.
There were quite a few questions regarding Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and her upcoming tour where she tries to figure out what to do next. Because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had such a focus on mental illness, some attendees asked about how to work through your illness and make art. She responded by encouraging therapy and that no one should lean into their mental illness to create great art.
All in all, I had a wonderful time at the festival with the Never Been Kissed screening and conversation with Rachel Bloom as a major highlight. It was a day full of happiness and joy as that is what romantic comedies always give me. I hope Berke plans another festival full of interesting movies and conversations!